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Research Guides

Citation Styles & Tools: Citation Basics

Quick help on citing sources and tools for storing and organizing sources.

What is a citation?

Citations are a way of giving credit when certain material in your work came from another source. It also gives your readers the information necessary to find that source again-- it provides an important roadmap to your research process. Whenever you use sources such as books, journals or websites in your research, you must give credit to the original author by citing the source. 

Why do researchers cite?

Scholarship is a conversation and scholars use citations not only to give credit to original creators and thinkers, but also to add strength and authority to their own work.  By citing their sources, scholars are placing their work in a specific context to show where they “fit” within the larger conversation.  Citations are also a great way to leave a trail intended to help others who may want to explore the conversation or use the sources in their own work.

In short, citations

(1) give credit

(2) add strength and authority to your work

(3) place your work in a specific context

(4) leave a trail for other scholars

"Good citations should reveal your sources, not conceal them. They should honeslty reflect the research you conducted." (Lipson 4)

Lipson, Charles. "Why Cite?" Cite Right: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles--MLA, APA, Chicago, the Sciences, Professions, and More. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2006. Print.

What does a citation look like?

Different subject disciplines call for citation information to be written in very specific order, capitalization, and punctuation. There are therefore many different style formats. Three popular citation formats are MLA Style (for humanities articles) and APA or Chicago (for social sciences articles).

MLA style (print journal article):
 

Whisenant, Warren A. "How Women Have Fared as Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Since the Passage of Title IX." Sex Roles Vol. 49.3 (2003): 179-182.

APA style (print journal article):

Whisenant, W. A. (2003) How Women Have Fared as Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Since the Passage of Title IX. Sex Roles, 49 (3), 179-182.

Chicago style (print journal article):

Whisenant, Warren A. "How Women Have Fared as Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Since the Passage of Title IX." Sex Roles 49, no. 3 (2003): 179-182.

PRO Tip

You are most likely to have easy access to all of your citation information when you find it in the first place.  

No matter which style you use, all citations require the same basic information:

  • Author (when available)
  • Title
  • Date of creation or publication
  • Publisher 

Take note of this information up front, and it will be much easier to cite it effectively later.

For tips on how to generate quick citations from the web, check out the Quick Citation Generators page of this research guide.

Video: Elements of a journal article citation