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Citation and Referencing

When, where, and how to cite and reference
(and a couple of self-tests)

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Why should I cite my sources?

It’s the honest thing to do! You show the reader when these are not your own words, thoughts, ideas, pictures, etc. By implication, when you don’t cite a source you are saying that these are your own words, ideas, work etc.
You give credit where it’s due, you say “thank you” to whoever’s ideas, thoughts, pictures you are using. Again, you are showing that this information, thought, picture, idea is not your own.
You show that you have done your homework. You show that you have read around the subject and know the background, know what other people have to say.
You build on what is known on the way to making something new, even if it’s new only to you. You show why you are interested in the subject, you may show the differences of opinion on the subject; you show how your paper adds to what is known.
You strengthen your arguments by showing that other people think the same way. The better known your sources are (in the subject you are writing about), the more strength you give your arguments.
You allow the interested reader to follow up. the reader who is startled by what you say and wants to see if it is true;
the reader who does not believe what you say and wants to know why you said it;
the reader who is genuinely interested in what you say and who wants to know more.
You share the blame if your information turns out to be wrong. It wasn’t your silly thought, you had good reason for thinking this was true. (And it might have been “true”, once. Truth – or at least what is known and believed to be true – changes all the time as new discoveries and new interpretations are made.)
You share in the world of scholars; this is what scholars do. (And it’s a real thrill when you see someone else citing your words, ideas, discoveries and creations.)

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When should I cite my sources (and when don't I need to)?

If you are writing scholarly work or a research paper, you need to cite your sources. If you are writing/ creating other kinds of work, you might or might not be required to cite your sources.  (Your teacher will advise.)
Whenever you use someone else’s exact words, whenever you quote somebody, always cite the source. And don't forget the quotation marks!
Any information which is new to you should be cited.  
Any information which is generally well known need not be cited. This may be optional; consider citing the source anyway.
Any information which might be new to the reader should be cited. Then the interested reader can look it up, can easily look further.
Any information which might be controversial should be cited. You show how you know this.  You support the information, you are not inventing it!
Your opinion need not be cited, as long as it is clear that this is your opinion and not a statement of fact.  
“Weasel words” need not be cited; they may be useful as a starting-point in your argument but it is not good practice to use them too often. If you can’t get your paper started, a weasel word statement is often a good way to get the writing underway. It’s a good idea to go back and find a source to support those weasel words – in which case they won’t be weaselly anymore!
You cite other people’s words, their thoughts, their pictures, their music, their creative endeavors. Anything which is not yours, which you got from somewhere else, you should cite.
You cannot over-cite, but you can under-cite. If in doubt, cite your source.

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 How should I cite this?

Many guides to referencing and citation are available. The style guides are different to each other, choosing to emphasise – or de-emphasise - different aspects of the reference. In Robert College we use MLA, the style guide of the Modern Language Association.

The main reasons for citing and referencing are:

  1. to show the reader when the material is not yours, in a way that does not interrupt the reading of the text,
  2. to lead the reader to your source material, if possible to the exact page/s on which the material was found.

You do the first, indicate that the text is not your own, in the text. If there is a page number, show it here.

You do the second, give the full details of each source, in a list of references or works cited, at the end of the text.

Special cases may apply. In a PowerPoint presentation, you might show a source at the foot of the slide, or you might list them all at the end. For an oral presentation, you might have your list of sources on an OHP slide or in a handout; for a play the sources might be listed in a printed program. The main reasons for citation and referencing hold.

Use quotation marks when you use the exact words used by the writer or speaker. You are quoting them. Quotation marks indicate a quotation.

Do not use quotation marks when you use your own words to put across the author’s thoughts and ideas. Remember, even though you are using your own words, you still need to show the reader that the ideas behind the words belong to someone else, they are not yours.

In-text citation:   you want to show the reader when the material is not your own, in a way that does not interrupt the reading of the text.

If the author is important, you can name her (or him) at the start of the sentence or paragraph where you use this author’s words or ideas.

Kirk advises, "Always validate or confirm information on individuals, institutions or groups, and countries that you find on the Internet. If you don't know who wrote what you read or why they wrote it, you don't know if it's trustworthy."

Or again:

There is vital need for students to be trained and given opportunity to ask real questions, essential questions, to practise thoughtful reading and careful fact-finding. This would avoid “Meaningless Project Syndrome,” which Gawith explains is “Cognitive bypass learning - where facts come through the keyboard or pages and land on the screen or a bit of paper without being processed through the mind.”

If the author is not important, the name goes (in parentheses) at the end of the sentence or paragraph.


Many studies show very clearly the consequences of limited reading competence, for instance that children with poor reading skills tend to have lower self-esteem, and are more likely to have discipline problems at school; that nearly two-thirds of the U.S. prison population is illiterate, and so are three-quarters of unemployed adults (Fuchs et al, 2001). 

Sometimes, especially on the Internet, no author is named. If you want to use this material, note the first few words of the title in parentheses at the end of the sentence or paragraph.

The Report suggested that using the kinds of reading matter found in their homes often gets reluctant readers more interested in reading, but noted that few schools actually do this (Reading for purpose...). 

References (Works Cited) : all works cited in the text should be listed in the References list (Works Cited) at the end of the paper.  All works listed in the list of Works Cited should be cited in the text.

The list should be in alphabetical order, and include enough information for the reader to find it. The information you need, and the way it is set out will be found in the style guide. Short guides cannot cover all kinds of material, so you may need to ask for help. Not all sources (especially Internet sources) have all the information and you may need to leave some out.

Works Cited

Fuchs, Douglas, et al. “Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies in Reading.” Remedial and Special Education (22.1)
        2001. July 1, 2006. < peer_assisted.html>

Gawith, Gwen. “Ban Projects - Begin Teaching Information Literacy...” NZ Information
        Literacy Archive : Information Literacy : Learning and Thinking
, 1998. January 1, 2006.

Kirk, Elizabeth. (2002, February 12). “Information and its counterfeits: Propaganda, misinformation and
        disinformation,” 2002. June 23, 2006. < counterfeit.html>

“Reading for purpose and pleasure : an evaluation of the teaching of reading in primary schools.” Office for
        Standards in Education
, 2004. 21 December 2006.<

Note : a list of Works Used or Works Consulted is different to a list of Works Cited. Here you list works you have looked at and which have helped influence your thinking, but which you have not cited in the text. Be very clear as to what your teacher wants. If s/he wants a list of Works Used (often called a bibliography), you might prepare a list of Works Cited AND a list of Works Used.

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Here are some examples; can you find all five citations?

Studies in various teaching subjects confirm that children are good at finding information, but less good at deciding beforehand exactly what information they are looking for, or where to find it and how they will recognise it once found, or afterwards deciding what to do with the information they have found and how to use it (Gawith).

Neate (p. 130) takes this further: if there is no purpose to reading, it is difficult to know what is important in the text, in which case everything becomes equally important. She suggests that purpose depends on several factors, including reason for reading, motivation for reading, relation to what is already known and what must be found out, what one does with the reading, and similar considerations; awakening prior knowledge and asking oneself questions before and during reading heightens alertness. Indeed, as McTighe and Reeves put it: "It is impossible to think critically about something of which one knows nothing."

Children, of course, are disadvantaged here, for their prior knowledge and awareness of relationships is necessarily limited, they know almost nothing.

Smith describes five strategies used by good readers: they predict what they are going to read, and revise their predictions as they go along; they picture what they are reading; they relate what they are reading to what they already know; they monitor their reading as they go along, and they resolve difficulties and discrepancies as they read or re-read.

Reading for purpose involves more than just decoding words. It is part and parcel of a larger task. Fitzgerald, quoting herself from an earlier paper, declares, "Evaluation is an immensely difficult and complicated process. Research shows that evaluating information is a complex task usually performed within the context of an even more complex task, such as decision making or arguing. Also, the literature teems with examples of people failing to evaluate information well."

[Extracted from “From literacy to information literacy: reading for understanding in the real world” by John Royce, a paper presented at the IASL/SLA Joint Conference in Dublin, June 2004.]

There are many ways of showing that you are citing an author in-text. You can show whether you agree or disagree with the author, show whether there is doubt or controversy about the author’s statement, show whether the statement may no longer be true, and so on.  Be bold, experiment!

Now take the self-test!

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John Royce, BA, MLib, MCLIP
Library Director, Robert College
Arnavutköy, TR-34345 Istanbul, Turkey.

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It was last revised on 21 December 2006.