Learning Objectives

By the end of Tutorial 6: Citing Sources, you should know how to:

  • Explain when and why to cite sources.
  • Define plagiarism.
  • Identify the bibliographic elements essential for properly citing a source.
  • Apply the concept of fair use.
  • Choose the appropriate citation style for your discipline.

Estimated tutorial time: 30 minutes

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.


What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of appropriating and using the ideas, writings, or works of original expressions of another person as one's own without giving credit to the person who created the work. This may encompass portions of a work or an entire work. Works of original expression include but are not limited to papers, speeches, poetry, movies, videos, protected pieces of art, illustrations, and musical compositions.

Plagiarism can be intentional or unintentional. Intentional plagiarism is when you knowingly use someone else's work and present it as your own. This deliberate plagiarism is considered an especially serious offense. Unintentional or accidental plagiarism can happen if students take incomplete notes or do not understand best practices and procedures for citing sources. If you accidentally plagiarize your instructors can help you understand what to do differently next time, but there might still be negative consequences. You can learn more about the possible consequences for students who plagiarize by reviewing CSB and SJU's Plagiarism Policy.

Plagiarism is an act of dishonesty and violates the mission and spirit of the educational enterprise at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University. It also violates the rights of other students.

CSB and SJU Academic Affairs Plagiarism Policy

Examples of plagiarism include:

  • Writing down information word for word, and neglecting to note the author and source
  • Taking notes without distinguishing between your words and another author’s, and then presenting the ideas as your own
  • Copy/pasting from the Web into your work without crediting the author
  • Using unique phrases or sentences of another author without acknowledgement
  • Using a classmate’s work and turning it in as your own
  • Buying or acquiring a research paper and turning it in as your own
  • Self plagiarism: Resubmitting something you did for a previous class
  • Direct quotes without acknowledgement: using the unique phrases or sentences of another author without including citation or attribution
  • Paraphrasing without acknowledgement: using the ideas of another author, even if you have summarized or reworded things, without including citation or attribution

Avoiding Plagiarism

To avoid plagiarism, scholars take accurate notes when gathering original material, use citations in the text of their paper, and create an accurate works cited list/bibliography at the end of their paper.

  1. Make a list of the authors and sources you find while gathering your research.
  2. In your notes, separate the exact words of an author from your own ideas by using quotation marks around the original author’s words.
  3. In the text of your paper, carefully cite each author and source. Each reference in the text of your research paper should link to a full citation in the Works Cited list at the end of the research paper.

If you have questions about plagiarism, reach out to your instructor, the Writing Center, or ask a librarian.

ChatGPT and Other Generative AI Tools

If you're planning to use ChatGPT or similar on an assignment, check with your instructor first about their expectations! This technology has only recently become widely available, and there's still a lot of discussion around when, how, and to what extent it should be used by students during their research and writing processes. Some instructors are fine with students using it, others are only comfortable with students using it for specific purposes, and some consider any use of it an act of academic dishonesty or plagiarism. If your instructor lets you use ChatGPT, you should also ask them if they want you to cite it or otherwise acknowledge its use.

Some section content reused from Cabrillo College's Info-Lit Canvas page, "Understanding Plagiarism."

Anatomy of a Citation: Bibliography Elements

The anatomy of a citation consists of bibliographic elements, which are the specific pieces of information for things such as 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.

Citation Styles

Citation styles provide standard guidelines that help you determine what information needs to be included in a citation, as well as the order of that information, punctuation, and other formatting. One of the most important aspects of citation is consistency within a paper, and citation styles provide that consistency.

Some of the citation styles you might be asked to use at CSB and SJU include:

  • MLA (Modern Language Association): used in English and other disciplines in the humanities; uses in-text citations (also called parenthetical citations) that list the author's surname and the page number, enclosed in parentheses 
  • APA (American Psychological Association): used in psychology and other social sciences disciplines, including economics, business, and education, as well as the sciences; uses in-text citations that list the author's surname and publication year, enclosed in parentheses 
  • Chicago or Turabian (Author-Date): another option used across the humanities, social sciences, and sciences; the (Author-Date) version uses in-text citations that list the author's surname and publication year, enclosed in parentheses 
  • Chicago or Turabian (Notes & Bibliography): used in history and other humanities, arts, social sciences, and sciences disciplines; the (Notes & Bibliography) version uses footnotes (citations with additional "notes" information at the bottom of each page) or endnotes (at the end of the paper)

Why are there so many citation styles? Many academic disciplines have developed their own specialized citation style that is specific to their needs (as an example, Chicago style handles non-text based sources more easily than MLA). Most instructors or departments at CSB and SJU will expect students to learn and use their preferred citation style. Check with your instructor to see if there's a style they want you to use in their course.

Style Manuals

One of your textbooks for Learning Foundations or Transfer Seminar might be a style manual. Style manuals are detailed print or online guides that help you organize and present your work according to the rules of a particular style (e.g., MLA, APA, Chicago). Your instructors - and many publishers, if you go on to write professional research papers - often require you to follow a set style when you submit your work.

Part of each style manual goes over how to create citations. If you don't have your own style manual or you need to look up guidelines for a different style, you can use the Libraries' Citation Help page to access official print or online style manuals for MLA, ALA, Chicago, or CSE or to look up helpful guidelines and examples for several styles using the Purdue OWL website. 

Citation Tools: Quick Citation Generators

There are two kinds of tools to help you create citations: quick citation generators and citation managers. Using quick citation generators is an easy way for you to create a draft bibliography.

Note: Computer-generated citations often contain formatting errors! Before you turn in an assignment, be sure to check any computer-generated citations against an online or print style guide to make sure they "follow the rules" for that citation style.  

Finding the Quick Citation Generator in the Catalog

The library catalog, many library databases, and resources like Google Scholar have built-in citation generators. 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 Quick Citation Generator 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

Citation Tools: Citation Managers

Citation managers help you save, organize, and format your citations in one place. They're especially useful if you're using lots of sources for a big assignment or if you want to keep track of citations for multiple assignments. Once you've collected your citations and are ready to create a bibliography, you can choose which citation style to apply.

You can create a free account for the EndNote Web citation manager while you are a student at CSB and SJU. Review our EndNote Tutorial for details or schedule an appointment with a librarian for help using EndNote. Starting in 2023-2024, we can also help you learn to use Zotero, a citation manager that you'll continue to have free access to after you graduate. 

Copyright and Fair Use

The Copyright Law of the United States provides legal protection for intellectual property. An information source does not have to be registered with the Copyright Office to be covered by copyright; it is copyrighted as soon as it is created. When an information source is copyrighted, you should cite it if you quote or paraphrase it in your assignment.

In your search for information, you should assume that all materials you find are copyrighted, unless a source specifies that it is licensed under Creative Commons, which might allow specific types of use, or is in the public domain, meaning it can be used freely by anyone. The doctrine of fair use allows copyrighted works to be used for purposes such as criticism, parody, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. Fair use generally applies to nonprofit, educational purposes that do not affect the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. Section 107 of the Copyright Law describes four factors to consider in deciding when fair use appliesFor further information see the Copyright Act and other important documents relating to the law and its interpretation.

Watch the following video to better understand copyright and fair use:

Source: Common Sense Education. "Creativity, Copyright, and Fair Use." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 4 September 2020. 23 August 2023.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons offers creators an opportunity to license new work to share in varying levels, rather than the traditional "All rights reserved" copyright. Watch the following video for a description of the various licenses under Creative Commons:

Source: University of Guelph McLaughlin Library. "What Are Creative Commons Licenses?" Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 21 September 2018. 23 August 2023.

Quiz 6: Citing Sources