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Citing Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism: Anatomy of a Citation

Anatomy of a Citation: Bibliography Elements

Each citation includes different bibliographic elements, which are specific pieces of information for things like an author's name, a title, or who published a book or article. Your instructor may ask you to use a particular citation style, such as APA, MLA, or Chicago. These styles may have different rules about things like capitalizing or ordering the bibliographic elements within a citation. However, the bibliographic elements you need to create a citation are the same, no matter the citation style.

Common Bibliographic Elements

These are common pieces of information that go into most citations (noting, of course, that print books probably don't have a DOI or URL, and web content may not have formal publication or pagination information):

  • Creator – Authors, editors, composers, photographers, or another person who has made some sort of creative contribution to the work.
  • Title – The FULL title of a work, including everything before and after a colon.
  • Publisher – The name of the organization, company, or group that published the work.
  • Place of Publication – The place where work was originally published, typically the name of a city (or sometimes a state, province, or country). 
  • Year of Publication – The year when the work was published. 
  • Edition – Some works are republished in different editions over time. Sometimes there are only minor changes between editions (for example, the page numbers are slightly different or a new introduction or conclusion is added to reflect on developments or major findings since the first edition), and sometimes there are more substantive changes (for example, an additional editor is involved, or some original chapters or essays are replaced with completely new content).
  • Pagination – The specific page numbers where the information came from within a work, which is important to have so that others can locate your source or specific ideas or information you refer to within that source. 
  • DOI (Digital Object Identifier) – A string of numbers, letters, and symbols used to permanently identify an article or document and link to it on the web. 
  • URL – The web address for a specific online web page where the information source was found. 

Finding Bibliographic Elements

Below are examples of where you can find the bibliographic elements of citations in common types of sources you might use in your research. It is important to be aware that different publications will put the information in different places! Look at the PDF examples to get a better idea of where to look in your sources to find key bibliographic elements.

Books and eBooks

If you are looking at the record details for a print book or eBook in the library catalog:

  • Title information is always found at the top of the record page.
  • Many other bibliographic elements are provided in the top section of the record, including Creator (Author and/or Editor), Publisher, Place of Publication, and Publication Year information. You may need to scroll down and click on the View Description heading to view all of the details.

bibliographic elements in a catalog book record

If you are looking at the actual book (again, either in print or as an eBook):

  • The title page near the start of the book includes the bibliographic elements for TitleCreator, and Publisher.
  • The copyright page (or "verso page," which is on the other side of the title page in print books or is the page immediately after the title page in eBooks) is where you can find Publisher, Place of PublicationPublication Year, and Edition information.

These bibliographic elements are highlighted in the example of a book's title page and copyright pages below.

In an edited book with multiple authors, be sure check the table of contents for the Author, Chapter Title, and Pagination (page numbers) of the chapter. The book editor or editors will usually be on the book's title page instead of authors. 

In the PDF example of an edited book below, these bibliographic elements are highlighted on the title, verso, and table of contents pages. 

Articles from a Database

Bibliographic elements of a journal article will appear in different locations according to the journal in which the article was published and/or the database in which you found the article. 

In EBSCO databases, such as Academic Search Premier, most bibliographic elements will be listed on the article record page you see when you first click on a title from the results list. In the example article record below, find the Article Title, Authors, Journal Title, Journal Volume and Issue, Publication Date, and Pagination (pages in the journal where the article is). 

bibliographic elements of an article in a database

Bibliographic elements can also be found in the full text article PDF, usually along the top or bottom of the page. Where exactly the information will be located on the pages is the choice of the publisher, so pay careful attention to the margins of your article.

In the example below, the bibliographic elements for the journal volume and issue numbers and the publication year are at the top of the first page of the article. The first page also has the article title and the authors. On the second page the bibliographic elements for journal title, publication year, journal volume and issue numbers, and pagination are in the top left margin.

Bibliographic elements are essential to identify before assembling them into a citation following the format of a specific style.