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Citing Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism: What is a Citation?

What is a Citation?

citation is a reference to a book, article, video, website, or other information source for the purpose of giving credit to the author. Citations also give your work more credibility because your readers can find out exactly where you got your information from. Citations typically include: author names, title, publisher, publisher location, date of publication, journal title, volume, issue, and/or page numbers.

You will often be asked to compile a list of citations for the sources you've used at the end of a research paper or other assignment. Depending on the citation style you use, this list is called a "Bibliography," "Works Cited," or "References" page. 

When Should I Cite?

When in doubt, cite! You should acknowledge whenever your work is based on someone else's ideas or content. This is true not only when you use direct quotations, but also when you are paraphrasing or summarizing someone else's work! For example:

Quote: When you use phrases or sentences exactly as they appear in the source document. Note the quotation marks.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “…not all those who wander are lost” (182).

Paraphrase: When you restate an idea from the source document using your own words.

In Lord of the Rings, Tolkien speaks about wandering adventurers who may seem lost, but instead are on a personal quest (182).

Summarize: When you provide a brief version of what you learned from the source document.

Not everyone who wanders is necessarily lost; it's okay if my personal path in life doesn't always seem clear to others. (Tolkien 182).

Why Should I Cite My Sources?

Citing your sources is a fundamental research skill. Whenever you do research, you need to acknowledge the sources you used that informed your own work. It is an important practice for showing academic integrity as a student and is crucial for avoiding plagiarism. By including citations, you are:

  • Giving credit to other researchers and creators, by acknowledging their original ideas.
  • Backing up and strengthening your arguments by providing evidence from other scholarship or research on your topic.
  • Enabling your readers to examine the sources you used for themselves and expand their own research.

Watch the following video for a short introduction to citation:

“Citation: A (Very) Brief Introduction” by North Carolina State University Libraries is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC-SA US license.

Building Citations with Quick Citation Generators

The library catalog, many library databases, and resources like Google Scholar have built-in citation generators or "Cite buttons." These tools or buttons provide a quick and easy way to create draft citations for your sources. Since computer-generated citations may contain formatting errors, though, it's important for you to check any computer-generated citations against an online or print style guide to make sure they "follow the rules" for the particular citation style you are using.  

Finding the Cite Button in the Catalog

In the library catalog, look for the Cite button in the listing for your book or article - it's often in the upper right-hand corner.

quick citation tool in the library catalog

When you click on the Cite button, a pop-up box will let you select the citation style you're using. Then you can copy and paste the provided citation into your assignment or draft bibliography.

library catalog citation tool pop up window


Finding the Cite Button in a Library Database

Different databases might put their Cite icons or links in different places. In an EBSCO database like Academic Search Premier, article records include a Cite option under the Tools menu on the right-hand side of the page:

Database ciation tool location

The Cite button displays a pop-up window listing computer-generated citations for the article in several citation styles. Scroll through the list to find the style you want and then copy and paste the citation into your draft bibliography: 

Database citation tool pop-up window