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Citations 101

About this guide

Use this guide to learn how and why scholars cite their sources:

  • To leave a trail for future scholars to follow.
  • To portray themselves as creative, thorough, flexible thinkers.
  • To give credit to others for their ideas.

Leaving a Trail

One of the most striking differences between academic writing and other forms of writing is the number of citations. It can seem like scholars cite everything

This is because scholars cite their sources for multiple reasons. Many writers will quote an impressive expert or cite a useful statistic. These practices add strength and authority to persuasive writing. Scholars do this too.

But scholars are also leaving a trail with their citations. They think of citations as something other people will want to find and use in their own work.

Scholars use sources to place their own work in context—to show where they fit in a larger conversation. And they cite those sources so their peers can explore that conversation themselves.

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

photo of a hand with thumb up against a white backgroundImagine you have landed an internship at a company you really, really want to work for someday. Your new boss asks you to research a new scheduling system for the department and make a recommendation.

It seems likely that your boss is going to draw some conclusions about you based on what you turn in, doesn't it? 

What do you want her to think -- about you, your work ethic, and your approach to tasks?

The sources you consult to make your recommendation say something about all of these things. If you are creative, diligent, thorough, objective and efficient in your research, your citations will help you present yourself that way.

Academic citations works the same way. They tell anyone who reads your paper what kind of a thinker, researcher and writer you are.

Image credit: Charles LeBlanc

When do I cite?

You undoubtedly know that you should cite your source whenever you use a direct quotation in an academic paper.

As an academic writer, though, you will be synthesizing information from a variety of sources. Sometimes you will directly quote it, sometimes you will summarize it and sometimes you'll paraphrase it. 

In all of these situations, you should cite your sources!

To find out more about quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing, check these links:

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