Citing sources: how and why

Start with a short video from the Writing Center, University of North Carolin at Chapel Hill on Why We Cite.

In academic research it’s considered crucial to acknowledge your sources for several reasons:

  • it allows your reader to find your sources for additional information
  • it bolsters your credibility in arguing (so that you have some support for your facts and claims)
  • it gives credit to the work of others, distinguishing what is your original idea from which of your ideas rest on or respond to the previous work of others (allowing you to enter into a dialogue with other scholars, the heart of academic work)
  • it prevents you from the unfortunate consequences of charges of plagiarism

There are many systems by which this citing of sources is done, but for any citation system this involves two tasks:

  • you must tag each quotation or paraphrase or summary from your original source to identify where you found that info
  • you must include complete bibliographic info for that source in a list at the end of the paper

Remember that in any of the following cases you must provide proper documentation:

  • You used a direct quotation from one of your sources
  • You mentioned some fact not considered to be common knowledge that you obtained from one of your sources
  • You refer to some idea or theory that you learned about in one of your sources

Disciplines in the humanities often use MLA documentation rules (so-called because the guidelines come from the Modern Language Association). Click here for a handout from BCC’s Writing Center about MLA documentation. If you need more information, see the Purdue OWL’s section on MLA documentation, or visit the Writing Center (or me!)

1. In-text citation.

Every place in your text that uses information from a source (whether it’s a quotation, summary, or paraphrase) MUST INCLUDE an in-text citation that identifies the source you used.

In MLA format, this in-text citation is usually either the last name of the author, or if a source has no author, the title of the article or webpage. One other common situation: you have an article written by Joe Brown, a journalist who quotes Mary Green, an expert on global warming. That case is handled in this way:

Mary Green, president of the National Council of Blah-Blah, has pointed out the <a signal phrase that gives the author of the quote> “Some clever quote that makes an important point” <the quote you extracted> (qtd. in Brown). <qtd. in stands for quoted in–gives the author or the article, as it’s listed in your Works Cited page>.

2. Works Cited page.

(This is the second phase of the citation process–though you may want to get it out of the way early on. As soon as you decide that you’ll definitely use a source, you could go ahead and do Works cited entry.) The Works Cited page(s) at the end of an MLA research paper include the complete bibliographic information necessary to find your sources. To construct these entries, you need to know first what type of source you have. This handout from BCC’s library  gives some models to follow for various common types of sources; for more complete info consult  the Purdue OWL’s MLA section (see menu on the left of page). Easybib and Citation machine are online citation makers that many students find useful. If you’ve found other ones that you like, please mention in a comment below.

I’ll do a video in the next few days to show how to use some of these sites. MLA guidelines have changed as of spring, 2016, and I need to update my video.

Be sure to pay attention to what info is required, the order of info and how it’s punctuated, how titles are capitalized, the format of dates and page numbers. Be sure to include the format of the source (typically Print or Web) and the date of access for web-based sources –it’s all a Dream for those of you who love details!

Once you get the entries done, the completed Works Cited page should appear as a separate page at the end of your document (not applicable for blog version), with entries alphabetized, double-spaced, and set with a hanging indent. (I’ll add info about formatting when you have a research-based paper due.)

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