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Seven Steps - A Research Strategy: 7: Citation

(formerly IvyTILT)


Why Cite?

When you research a topic, you might use information from articles, books, or the Web to support your ideas. You credit the authors of these sources by citing them. Failure to acknowledge information from others is plagiarism, a form of theft.  In addition to avoiding plagiarism, cite sources to:

  • indicate where you found information so that others can find that information again. In this way you build upon previously established ideas and knowledge--and continue a scholarly conversation.
  • establish the authority of the information, using the knowledge and wisdom of experts to inform others or build a better argument.

Citation and Plagiarism

Select the tabs below to learn more about source citation.

Books:  When citing a book, you may need the

  • author’s name
  • book title
  • publisher
  • year of publication
  • city where the book was published
  • name of resource if an ebook (for example Ebook Central).

You can find this information in your library catalog’s (IvyCat) record for the book, as well as in the book itself.

Articles: For articles, you may need the

  • author’s name
  • title of the article
  • and the title of the journal in which it is published
  • date of publication
  • and/or volume, issue, and page numbers, if available
  • name of the resource (for example: Academic Search Premier or PsycArticles)


Websites: For websites, take note of the

  • name of the author or publishing body
  • title of the webpage
  • date of publication (or last webpage update)
  • URL of the webpage
  • date you accessed the source


There are a number of different styles or formats for citations.  The style you use is determined by your instructor. Each citation style includes the same basic information but is organized differently.

APA Style
(American Psychological Association)


Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th ed.
  • Used in the social sciences
APA Style (generic):
Lastname, F. M. (Year). Book title. City, State: Publisher.
Example (book, one author):
Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984). The monsters and the critics and other essays. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
In-text citation: (Tolkien, 1984, p. 34).
MLA Style
(Modern Language Association)
MLA Handbook, 8th ed.
  • Used in languages, communication, and English
MLA Style (generic):
Lastname, Firstname, M. Book Title. Publisher, Year.
Example (book, one author):
Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. Houghton Mifflin, 1984. 
In-text citation: (Tolkien 34).

Notice the similarities and differences in these two citation styles.  

  • The MLA and APA formats both make use of the "hanging indent," which places the first line next to the left margin and indents subsequent lines.
  • Each of these styles follows different rules for the capitalization of words in the book title.
  • Note differences, too, in the in-text citation.  The in-text citation is the parenthetical citation placed in the body of a paper after the use of the information from the source. 


Citation Tips:

  • Take clear, accurate notes about where you found specific ideas.
  • Write down the complete citation information for each item you use.
  • Use quotation marks when directly stating another person's words.
  • Always credit original authors for their information and ideas even if you paraphrase.

Citation Tools:

  • Supplied citations
    Many resources available through the library's website, such as EBSCO's Academic Search Premier, provide citation information.  A citation may be included with the text or accessed by clicking on a link.  These mostly computer-generated citations may have problems with formatting and other flaws. Before using these citations in your paper, be sure they are complete and formatted correctly.
  • NoodleTools is a resource for creating lists of citations and in-text citations in APA and MLA format. Enter information from a source and NoodleTools creates a Works Cited or References list ready for copying and pasting into your paper.

  • Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL)
    APA Formatting and Style Guide
    MLA Formatting and Style Guide

Plagiarism is presenting the words or ideas of someone else as your own. If you don’t credit the author, you are committing a type of theft. Whether you quote directly or paraphrase ideas, you must acknowledge the original author.  It is plagiarism when you:

  • Use the words or ideas of another person without citation.
  • Paraphrase that person's words or ideas without citation.
  • Buy or use a term paper written by someone else.
  • Copy words from a print or electronic source and use them without citing them.
  • Reuse a previously written paper without the consent of the instructor.

For more information about recognizing and avoiding plagiarism, check out this brochure.  


Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism

  • Use and emphasize your own ideas. Your original thoughts and conclusions should be the focus.
  • Use the ideas of others to reinforce your position and not as a substitute for what you have to say.
  • When taking notes, be sure to take note of the source and author.
  • Use quotation marks  "     "  when directly stating another person's words.
  • Consider citing any information that is not common knowledge.
  • When in doubt about plagiarism, ask your instructor for guidance.

Is It Plagiarism?

Plagiarism ranges from copying word-for-word to paraphrasing a passage without credit. Below is a sentence from a book. The original source is followed by its use in three student papers.  As you read, try to identify which of the students have committed plagiarism.

Original Passage:  "Still, the telephone was only a convenience, permitting Americans to do more casually and with less effort what they had already been doing before." (Boorstin, Daniel J. The Americans: The Democratic Experience.  New York: Random House, 1973.)

Meg: The telephone was a convenience, enabling Americans to do more casually and with less effort what they had already been doing before.

Brian: Daniel J. Boorstin argues that the telephone was only a convenience, permitting Americans to do more casually and with less effort what they had already been doing before.

Peter:  Daniel J. Boorstin has noted that most Americans considered the telephone as simply "a convenience," an instrument that allowed them "to do more casually and with less effort what they had already been doing before" (Boorstin 390).

In these examples, both Meg and Brian have committed plagiarism.  Meg doesn’t acknowledge that the words and ideas she uses belong to Boorstin, leaving her readers to think they are hers.  Although Brian acknowledges his source, he has copied Boorstin’s original text word for word but has not supplied quotation marks to indicate direct quotation.

Note how Peter's use of Boorstin's words and ideas differs.  By naming the author, he has established the authority of his source at the beginning of his sentence. Peter has also provided an in-text citation giving the author and page number (MLA citation style).  He has paraphrased some of the author’s words and directly quoted others. His use of quotation marks makes it clear to the reader which words are his and which belong to the author.   

A copyright is a set of legal rights that an author has over his or her work for a limited period of time. Images found on the web, sound or music files, text in print or online--all of these created works might have restrictions on their use by anyone other than the copyright holder.

Copyright ensures that the person who created something (a book, a song, a painting, an idea, etc.) is reimbursed for his or her intellectual property. If there were no copyright protection, there would be no economic incentive to create these works. Most information is protected by copyright. The exception is “public domain” work, which is work that can be reproduced or used by anyone. The use of public domain resources still requires giving credit to the author.

Here are some examples of public domain sources:

Publications of the U.S. Government:

  • Examples: U.S. laws and other publications of federal and state governments, such as census reports and education papers

Copyright that has been waived by the author:

  • Example: Software called freeware

Works on which the copyright has expired:

  • Example: Works by William Shakespeare or Mark Twain

Fair Use

Copyrighted works can be used, copied, or displayed without permission or paying of fees under certain circumstances. To determine if you have “fair use,” you must analyze and weigh four factors to balance the rights of the copyright holder and the user.

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.


Disclaimer: The information provided here is not meant to be legal advice. If you are not sure if your use is covered by the Fair Use doctrine, consult an attorney.

Now, try these self-check questions as
an informal quiz of your understanding. 

Citation and Plagiarism

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