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Citing Sources

It might be hard sometimes, but it does not have to be.   There are a few rules that you need to know, and they will help make citing your sources easy and fun. Check our other handouts for details on the how of citing your sources.   As for the why, keep reading...

Why do I need to cite sources?

Whenever you write an essay that uses outside sources (e.g., a research paper or a literary analysis), you need to acknowledge those sources properly. This is very important for several reasons. First, you have an ethical responsibility to give credit to sources. Also, if you fail to do so, you have committed plagiarism, a very serious academic offense which can result in expulsion for students or a loss of credibility for professionals. In addition, you should acknowledge your sources for the benefit of your reader, who might want to look up an interesting source or who might simply be curious to know where you got your information.

What should I cite?

You should cite all information that comes from outside sources, whether you quote it directly, paraphrase it (put it entirely in your own words), or summarize it. You should not only cite statistics or facts; also cite ideas, arguments, and other thought processes. In a research paper, for example, you will cite everything that you gained from sources, but you will not cite your own comments, ideas, experiences, etc. It is not necessary to cite "common knowledge"--the type of basic, factual information that appears in multiple sources (such as undisputed historical facts.)

How do I know what format to use when citing sources?

Several different formats exist. Nobody memorizes all the details of any one format; instead, scholars learn to look up the details in handbooks. The MLA format is always used in our English department, and many of NOVA's professors across the disciplines will approve of MLA for your papers in their classes. However, do not assume that MLA format is always appropriate. For example, your psychology professor might prefer the APA (American Psychological Association) style, while your history professor might prefer Turabian. Be sure to ask your professor for guidance. And remember: the OWL has lots of resources, too.

What are the Basics of MLA formatting?

If you are using MLA format, you should acknowledge your sources by using parenthetical citations and by including a Works Cited page at the end of your paper. The parenthetical citations usually include the author's last name and the page number(s) of the quotation or the information. (If the source does not have an author's name, the citation should include a key word from the title.) The purpose of the citation is to provide a link for the reader back to the Works Cited page. For example, let's say that I am intrigued by a quotation in your paper. The citation will give me a name and page number, so that I can then turn back to your Works Cited page, look for a listing by that name, and see all of the bibliographic information for that source. Now I can find that source easily, turn immediately to the proper page, and start reading.

How do I write a works cited page?

Basically, the Works Cited page is an alphabetical listing of all the sources that are cited in your paper. (The entries are alphabetized according to the first word that appears--usually the author's last name, but sometimes a title.) MLA gives a rigid format for how you should arrange each entry. The entries are different for all different types of sources, including books, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, television shows, and interviews.  Refer to the MLA WORKS CITED PAGE handout here on the OWL, and follow the instructions exactly; this handout will show you what information to include, what order to put it in, and how to punctuate it.




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