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Jessica Russo

Understanding Citation

Posted by Jessica Russo on April 3, 2014

Citation can seem daunting, but instructors and (hopefully) students raised in the US see the meaning behind it. We value individuality and the ideal that one’s work should not be copied without recognition. However, if you were raised in a different culture, this may not be the case. You may not have ever had to attribute your quotes before or cite anything at all. In American academia, knowing how to cite your sources is crucial to completing a research paper. Binghamton University defines plagiarism as “Presenting the work of another person as one’s own work.”[1] Plagiarism is a serious academic offence with severe consequences.[2] You may fail the paper and the class, and the college may write the offense into your record. So don’t start your essay before you have the basics of citation down.

First of all, write your essay early. Once your instructor assigns you a paper, plan out when you will start and end each of the steps we will discuss below. Finish your complete first draft with all citations done a week before the essay is due. That way, you will have time to check that your citations are correct with your professor.

When writing essays, start by recording the information you want to express without looking at any sources at all. This can include your thesis, supporting arguments, an introduction or a conclusion, or it may include nothing. By jotting down what you know before your research, you can distinguish that from the information you learn from your sources later and learn what you have to research.

While you research, gather your resources. From academic journals to YouTube videos, we all use other sources when we write research essays. Type the name of each source on a list. Next to each source on your list, copy and paste the most important information from each source and put them in quotation marks so you know which information was taken from that source.

Next, you will have to learn how to cite each source. This depends on the citation style that your professor uses. Most likely, that style will be MLA, but if you are in Psychology or Human Development, you may use APA, and if you are in grad school, your professor may have his own style of citation.

Within each style, there are different ways to cite different types of sources. First, recognize what type of source each one on your list is. Then, identify how each source type is cited. There are two types of citations that must be employed, the in-text citation that you use right after a quote or paraphrase to say which source you used to obtain that information, and the list of all of your sources used in the essay on the works cited list at the end of the essay. The best resource I’ve seen that explains this is the Purdue OWL. There, you will find a guide for MLA and APA citations that includes how to create in-text citations, how to format quotations, and how to mention each source on the works cited page.

Throughout the process, it’s essential to keep in mind that most of the essay will consist of your own thoughts. Even though you are quoting and paraphrasing material that needs to be cited, you must write about what that information means and how it supports your essay. Your analysis of what makes this information significant comes from your own mind. Using a pattern of introducing the information, displaying cited information, and deciphering its meaning for your reader is a basic recipe for a beautiful essay body. One way that you can make sure that you are balancing quoted material with the ideas of your mind is by highlighting everything that you paraphrased and quoted. Less than half of your essay should be highlighted.

Many students prefer to use an online tool to manage their citations. Sites like Citation Machine and Bibme will use the information about each source and format it into a works cited page. However, Binghamton University students have access to RefWorks, an application that allows you to import files you wish to cite directly to a bibliography without having to fill in all the details. Sign up online on campus to access it anywhere afterwards. See the tutorials to understand how the site works.

Here’s the most important tip to doing citations correctly: if you are unsure about any part of citation, stay in open communication with your professor! Ask your professor what citation style to use. Ask your professor what he considers common knowledge. Let him know that you are new to this process and see him in office hours early with your essay on hand and the citations page to go over. To bring awareness to your professor will help you and others with the same struggle. Your professor should be the best resource you have.

For more help on this process, there are multiple resources. The Writing Center on campus has tutors. The library’s website has a 15-minute tutorial and there are research assistants in Bartle’s PODS as well as handouts on how to cite in MLA and APA. You may also comment below with your questions and tips.


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