5.1 Citations

Citations are the way in which you give credit to others for their work and avoid committing plagiarism. They are also the way in which you join the professional or scholarly conversation on a given topic.

Watch this short video to learn more about why citations are important.

Citation Video from NCSU
Video credit: Citation: A (Very) Brief Introduction by NCSU Libraries, CC: BY-NC-SA 3.0 US

Citations come in two forms: in-text citations and full citations.

There are many different citation styles. Two of the most common academic styles are American Psychological Association (APA) and Modern Language Association (MLA). For academic assignments, your instructor will usually specify which style you should use. Generally speaking, MLA is used more frequently in the humanities, while APA is used more commonly in the social sciences and sciences. However, some subjects may have their own discipline-specific citation types, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) style for the mechanical engineering field. Whatever style you choose or are asked to use, remember to stick with it consistently throughout your report.

In-text citations

In-text citations are used within the text of your paper and indicate to your readers from which source listed in your works cited or bibliography you are extracting information or quotations. That way, even if you have multiple sources, it is always clear which source you are using at any given time. As with full citations, discussed below, format of in-text citations differs depending on which citation style you are using. APA uses the author-year format, while MLA uses the author-page number format. Other styles of in-text citation include footnotes or endnotes, in which continuously sequenced numbers refer the reader to a list of citations elsewhere in the document. Some examples are below.


Students should choose their study locations carefully for best results (Lei, 2015).


Students should choose their study locations carefully for best results (Lei 197).

In-text citations should always have a corresponding full citation on the References or Works Cited page at the end of a paper.

Full citations

Full citations generally have three major parts, though the order and formatting of these parts depends on the citation style you use.

Major parts

  • Information about the person or body that created it – the author(s), editor(s), speaker(s), etc.
  • Information that distinguishes the content of the specific work being cited – the title of an article, chapter, book, or presentation
  • Information about the location or creation of the work – usually, where and when it was published or presented. This can include whether or not the work is part of a larger publication or series (volume and issue numbers), the number of printed pages it contains, or the web address (URL), and date it was accessed.

Below is an example of an article citation – the full citation for the in-text citation above – using MLA and APA styles.  Notice the common elements that are present in both. You find the elements for a citation in the fields of a database or library catalog record or on the information item itself.

Author – Lei, Simon A.

Article Title – Variation in Study Patterns among College Students: A Review of Literature

Source Title – College Student Journal

Volume and Issue – Volume 49, Issue 2

Publication Date – 2015

Page Numbers – 195-198


Lei, S. A. (2015). Variation in study patterns among college students: A review of literature. College Student Journal, 49(2), 195-198.


Lei, Simon A. “Variation in Study Patterns among College Students: A Review of Literature.” College Student Journal, vol. 49, no. 2, 2015, pp. 195-198. Academic Search Premier. Accessed  27 May 2016.

Luckily, you do not need to memorize citation style formats. There are excellent online guides and tools that will help you cite sources correctly. Additionally, you can always ask your instructor or a librarian for help if you have a question or a difficult source to cite.

Online guides and tools to consult:

  • Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL): Invaluable for MLA, APA, and Chicago styles, this guide covers in-text citations, bibliography/works cited pages, and guidelines for citing many types of information sources.
  • Citation Builder: From the University of North Carolina, the Citation Builder is an automated form for creating citations. You select the style, enter the information, and it generates a citation. It’s always a good idea to double check these citation-generator tools!
  • Zotero: Developed at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, Zotero is a sophisticated research management tool. You can use it to save and organize your sources and create citations. As a more sophisticated tool, it requires a little more time and efforts to learn, but the time is worth it when you’re researching and writing a lot.

In addition to these tools, many research databases and library catalogs offer citation tools that help you create a citation for an item you’ve located using that service. Look for a button or link labeled cite or citation. Again, with these automatically-generated citations, be sure to double check it for accuracy. They aren’t always correct.

Figure 1. example of the citation button in PubMed Central, a freely available research database.


Pub Med Cite Button


Citation Builder. (n.d.). University of North Carolina. Retrieved from http://library.unc.edu/citationbuilder/.

Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). (2015). Purdue University. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/.

Zotero. (n.d.) Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. Retrieved from https://www.zotero.org/about/.

Chapter Attribution Information

This chapter was derived by Annemarie Hamlin, Chris Rubio, and Michele DeSilva, Central Oregon Community College, from Citations: A derivative from Citations by Virginia Tech Libraries, CC: BY-NC-SA 4.0 and Citing Sources: Overview by MIT Libraries, CC: BY-NC 2.0


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Technical Writing Copyright © 2017 by Allison Gross, Annemarie Hamlin, Billy Merck, Chris Rubio, Jodi Naas, Megan Savage, and Michele DeSilva is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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