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Library Research 101: Start Your Research

Why do I need to cite my sources?

When you work on assignments for your classes, your instructors will require you to cite your sources. Generally, you should cite sources you use in your work:

  • To avoid plagiarism and maintain academic integrity
  • To acknowledge the work of others 
  • To provide credibility to your work and place your work in context
  • To help your future researching self and others easily locate the sources you used

When do I need to cite my sources?

Things you MUST cite:

• Words or ideas presented in a magazine, book, newspaper, song, TV program, movie, Web page, computer program, letter, advertisement, or any other medium

• Information you gain through interviewing or conversing with another person, face to face, over the phone, or in writing

• When you copy the exact words or a unique phrase

• When you reprint any diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials

• When you reuse or repost any electronically-available media, including images, audio, video, or other media

Things you do not have to cite:

• Writing your own lived experiences, your own observations and insights, your own thoughts, and your own conclusions about a subject

• When you are writing up your own results obtained through lab or field experiments

• When you use your own artwork, digital photographs, video, audio, etc.

• When you are using "common knowledge," things like folklore, common sense observations, myths, urban legends, and historical events (but not historical documents)

• When you are using generally-accepted facts, e.g., pollution is bad for the environment, including facts that are accepted within particular discourse communities, e.g., in the field of composition studies, "writing is a process" is a generally-accepted fact.

source: Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)

A flow chart showing what is plagiarism, such as using quotes or paraphrases from others without attributing them to their sources, and what isn't plagiarism, such as using your own ideas or attributing quotes or ideas from others to their sources.


Ok, but HOW do I cite my sources?

Citing your sources requires at least two things: in-text citations and a bibliography or reference list. The in-text citations provide a little information to the reader without taking up a lot of space on your page and lead the reader to a corresponding complete citation in your reference list or bibliography.

There are many styles of citations that all use different ways of putting together the citation information. However, they will all have a format for in-text citations and a format for full citations for the reference list or bibliography. To create citations you need to know 1) what kind of information source are you citing (i.e. a book, a scholarly article, an organization's Web site) and 2) what are the component parts: Author, Date, Title of Work, and Source Information.

The most common styles are listed below; if you need to use a citation style not listed here, see our Citation Help Research Guide or contact a librarian for help.

Modern Languages Association (MLA) Format

American Psychological Association (APA) Format
Note: APA 7th ed. came out recently. Check with your instructor about using the 6th or 7th edition, as there are differences. 

Chicago (Turabian) Format

Council of Science Editors (CSE) Format
Note: This style has both Name-Year & Numerical formats. Check with your instructor on which format to follow.


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