Citing Is Important. Here's Why.

It’s likely that you’ve had the importance of correctly citing all your sources drilled into you by now. But what you might not have been told are the reasons why this not-to-be-skipped formatting step is so essential to your academic work. Let us fill you in on the power of a properly formatted works cited page and in-text citations:

Sort Facts from Fake News

Most of us are now familiar with the term “fake news.” It’s essentially a deliberately misleading form of journalism or propaganda, which uses both mainstream media and social media to push misinformation, often for a political agenda. While the rise of fake news attacks can have far more serious consequences, they can also cause confusion among the public as to whether reported information is fact or fake.

Citations can be a powerful tool to tackle fake news and prevent it from spreading further. If a student is required to cite sources, they’re likely to look closely at whether the source is a reputable one that they feel happy to reference.

Facilitate Fact-Checking

Of course, not all inaccuracies constitute malicious “fake news.” Sometimes information may be out of date, misinterpreted or there may have been a mistake made somewhere along the way. If you’re in any doubt as to whether a piece of information is factual or not, you’ll want to double check it—the same goes for your instructor. Including clear and accurate citations will allow the person reading your essay to quickly check your sources. It’s also very useful if the reader wants to research a topic further, or if you want to refer back to your sources at any point in the future.

Prevent Plagiarism

One of the most obvious reasons why students are required to cite their sources is to enable instructors to differentiate between a student’s own ideas and someone else’s. This ensures that all parties are properly credited for their work.

The rise of the Internet has unfortunately increased the opportunity for ideas or information to easily be plagiarized by another person—you can even purchase ready-written essays on a long list of popular topics online! However, some forms of plagiarism are far subtler and not necessarily intentional. A student may read about the themes of Macbeth, for example, and relay this in their work. Without clear a citation, a tutor could assume that the ideas are the student’s own, which would amount to plagiarism, whether intentional or not.

Show What You Know

Citing a variety of quality sources, preferably with differing viewpoints on a topic, is a great way to show your instructor that you really know your stuff. It not only illustrates that you’re developing excellent research skills and have thoroughly read around your topic, but also that you are able to show and discuss the topic from multiple contrasting angles—hopefully resulting in a well-balanced, well-researched paper!

Power of Persuasion

While putting opposing opinions into your paper may seem counterintuitive, it can actually help to persuade the reader to stand on your side of the argument. Citing varying viewpoints gives you the opportunity to discredit them using a combination of your own original thought and other respected and reputable sources.

Using a works cited list or annotated bibliography to reference your sources, and including correlating in-text citations within the body of your work, will enable your tutor to clearly identify the source of each idea and viewpoint, including yours. Without clear citation you run the risk of submitting a jumbled mash of ideas, weakening your core argument and making it very difficult for your reader to be persuaded by it.

Hopefully you’ve been persuaded that a thorough works cited list with correctly formatted citations is an essential element of any piece of academic work. But it doesn’t have to be a fiddly or time-consuming chore. If you’re unsure of how to create citations, turn to the online tool at Cite This For Me for help!

Citation Basics

Abstract: A summary of a source’s content written by the author. It is usually brief, consisting of only a few hundred words. Abstracts can be for individual pieces of a source, such as book chapters, or for the source as a whole.

Annotated Bibliography: A list of citations to books, articles, documents, etc. Instead of a simple works cited page or reference list where each source is simply displayed in a citation, however, each source citation is followed by a brief descriptive and evaluative paragraph. This paragraph is known as the “annotation,” and is usually only about 100-150 words long.

APA Format: Abbreviation for American Psychological Association. APA citation style is commonly used for scientific papers and courses. The APA handbook is currently in its 6th edition.

Bibliography: A list of sources used and referenced in order to write a paper. Typically, entries in a bibliography are listed in alphabetical order by author last name. They list not only sources that were directly quoted in the paper, but also list any other sources that were consulted in the research and writing process. This is the name of the list of citations found in Chicago and Turabian style.

Chicago Style: The Chicago Manual of Style is a citation style commonly used in history and humanities courses. It is currently in its 17th edition, and is published by the University of Chicago Press. Chicago has two main types of citation formatting: Author-Date and Footnote-Bibliography. Always ask your instructor if you are unsure of which type to use.

Citation: An explicit, written-out reference to a source used in a paper or project. Including citations in your work is very important, as they provide evidence of your argument, give credit to the right people, and prevent plagiarism. Citations can be done in a variety of ways and follow many different formats. Always consult with your instructor on which citation format you should use for your paper.

Database: A type of website or service that serves as a collection for information, usually organized in a way that is conducive to research. Databases can contain journal articles, music, even digital photographs. Be sure to give credit to any database you use in your research when making citations.

Endnotes: Endnotes are located at the end of a complete document, or sometimes at the end of a chapter or section. They provide additional information on points raised in the text, and work in conjunction with references in a bibliography.

Footnotes: Footnotes are a form of citations that are located at the bottom of the page where the reference to the cited source was made. They are often found in Chicago and Turabian citation styles, but can be found in others. They are usually numbered, and contain information regarding the sources publisher, author, publication date, etc.

Hanging Indent: A paper formatting device often used in reference lists and bibliographies. With a hanging indent, the second and all the following lines of a paragraph are indented more than the first. See your citation style manual or consult with your teacher for specific formatting information.

In-text Citation: Citations made within sentences or paragraphs of a paper, usually directly following a reference to a source. The in-text citation usually contains information such as the author’s name, page numbers, or dates. This depends on which citation style you are using. This information is generally contained in parenthesis, and is listed before the sentence’s ending punctuation.

MLA Format: Abbreviation for Modern Language Association. MLA citation style is generally used in English and humanities courses, and the handbook is currently in its 8th edition.

Paraphrasing: The act of expressing the meaning or ideas from a source by using different words. This is generally done to make an idea clearer to the reader, or to summarize a point made in the source. When paraphrasing a source in your paper, be sure to still include a citation for that source in your bibliography.

Parenthetical Citation: see In-text Citation.

Plagiarism: The act of taking the work of someone else and either passing it off as your own, or failing to include references to the proper sources. Plagiarism can lead to failing grades, and sometimes even suspension or expulsion. The easiest way to avoid plagiarism in your paper is to make accurate citations whenever you use information from an outside source.

Primary Source: A source that provides first-hand evidence of an event or point in time. Primary sources can include letters, historical documents, eyewitness accounts, experiment results, art, or video and audio recordings.

Reference List: see Bibliography. This is the name of the list of citations found in APA style.

Secondary Source: Any source containing information about an event, time period, or object that was written or created after that event, period, etc. Generally, they contain information on primary sources. Textbooks, journal articles, and newspaper articles are common secondary sources.

Turabian: Named for its original author Kate Turabian, this is a citation style that is an abbreviated version of Chicago Style. The full name of the publication is the Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. It was designed for students and scholars, and is currently in its 8th edition.

Works Cited: see Bibliography. This is the name of the list of citations found in MLA style.

Citation Styles

Though you may not have realized, Cite This for Me offers more than just Harvard and MLA style. There are literally thousands of citation styles available in our reference generator that cover a wide range of academic disciplines. When looking at this huge list, it is easy to think things like “Why are so many different styles necessary?” or “Why would anyone need a citation style called ‘Arachne’ or ‘Blood’?” Though some of these styles are more often used than others and some can seem a little strange, each serves a purpose for researchers all over the world. Read on for more information as to why all of these citation styles are important.

Citation styles have unique histories and traditions

There are some citation styles that have been used by scholars, students, and researchers for generations. This prevalence and occasional world-renown is sometimes the reason that certain citation styles have never gone out of fashion. The Chicago Manual of Style, for example, was originally published in the year 1906, and is currently in its 17th edition. As is often the case in academia, it is common that scholars in a certain discipline would be reluctant to try a new referencing style, instead preferring to stick with the one they are used to.

One citation style can have multiple sub-citing systems

One contributing factor to the vastness of the citation style list is the fact that certain styles have variations on their citing systems. The most well-known instance of this is with Chicago style, which has two distinct systems: Author-Date and Footnote-Bibliography. The footnote-bibliography system can be commonly found in humanities courses, and features superscript footnotes at the bottom of each page of the paper. The author-date system, on the other hand, has a more broad application, and is evidence by parenthetical citations that contain the author’s last name and the date the source was published.

Citation styles have specific applications

Certain citation styles have gained traction in specific academic disciplines over time. For instance, MLA format is widely used in the humanities, since the style is well-suited to citing literature and archival sources. Conversely, APA citation format is widely used in the social sciences, since the style performs well with quantitative studies and analysis. More specifically, some citation styles are used for single publications, such as The Journal for the History of Astronomy. That style is almost always used by only researchers or employees of that particular scholarly journal.

Audiences or readers of research papers can vary

While most students think of the “audience” of their paper as only their class instructor, this may not be the case for other academics, such as professional writers and editors. Therefore, a research paper can have a wide range of audiences that the writer needs to keep in mind when completing their annotated bibliography or references. This is important because the point of references or citations is to make it easy for the paper’s reader to find where the writer found outside information that they included in their work. Certain citation styles have specific rules for a particular audience, which is another reason why so many citation styles exist.

Common Citation Mistakes

Making quality citations, though often an overlooked piece of the writing process, can be the deciding factor in your final grade. This can be especially difficult to consider when you’re in a rush to hand in your assignment on time. So how can you be sure that your citations are in tip-top shape before your instructor sees them? Read on to discover five common citation mistakes and how you can avoid making them.

1. Incorrect Placement of Periods and Commas

Something as simple as an incorrectly placed period can make a citation completely wrong. For in text-citations, the period almost always comes after the parentheses.


(Orwell 45).

Similarly, commas should be placed in the correct place within APA citations, which is following the author’s last name. This example is for an in-text citation for a direct quote:

(Orwell, 1949, p. 45).

It is always a good idea to double check your citation style’s manual to ensure you’ve followed the most up to date rules, and to be confident in your citation’s accuracy.

2. Neglecting to Make Citations When Paraphrasing.

One of the most common ways students include information from outside sources in their paper is through paraphrasing, which is the stating of another’s ideas in different words. Even though different words are being used, however, citations are still needed for these types of phrases. This is the case because you are still using information from another person’s work, so that information still needs to be referenced accordingly. Including citations in this situation can help you avoid accusations of plagiarism.

3. Orphan In-text Citations

Making in-text citations as you write your paper can be a very effective way to remember and correctly organize all the outside sources you used in your research. It can be all too easy to forget, however, to make corresponding reference list entries for these in-text citations at the end of your paper. Remember that each in-text or parenthetical citation must have a corresponding reference list entry (full citation). This is vitally important so the reader can understand where each piece of outside information came from.

4. Making Unnecessary Citations

Sometimes professors and instructors specify a minimum amount of citations you need to include in your paper. When this happens, a student’s tendency is to include as many references as possible to be sure to meet this requirement. This, however, can lead to a poor grade. A reference should only be included when you have used information from an outside source. If an entire paragraph contains information from the same source, a single citation can be used at the end of the paragraph instead of at the end of each relevant sentence.

5. Being Inconsistent With Your Citation Style

With so many citation styles out there, it is important to remember which is needed for your specific paper, and to use that style’s rules throughout for formatting of both citations and the paper. Since different citation styles are needed for different courses, mixing them up is an all too common mistake. Always be sure to double check your citations when you are finished writing your paper.

Need help making citations for your paper? Cite This For Me can help! With over 30 different source types and thousands of citation styles available (including MLA, APA, Chicago, and Harvard referencing), we are ready to assist you in making accurate citations for your next paper.

List of common citation mistakes

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