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Citations from Start to Finish: Introduction

A guide to using citations in academic writing.


Writing a research paper requires that you:

  • use outside resources for information
  • let readers know where that information came from
  • make it easy for readers to find the information themselves

That's what citations are for.  Unless you are stating your own ideas or common knowledge (such as that the Earth revolves around the sun), you will have to cite the source where the idea comes from.

Citing the sources you use in your paper:

  • gives credit to the author of the original source
  • avoids plagiarism
  • allows your readers to identify the source for further study
  • shows that your position is well-researched

 In this guide, you'll learn how to use citations to back up your assertions and produce a solid paper.

Every source you use for a quotation or for an idea must be cited in your paper.  When you write about a source, you will need to mark it with an in-text citation.  Here are a couple of samples:

MLA style:  Human beings have been described as "symbol-using animals" (Burke 3).

APA style:  According to Jones (1998), "Students often had difficulty using APA style, especially when it was their first time" (p. 199).

Each of those in-text citations points to a full citation on the Works Cited or References page at the end of the paper.  You will usually want a minimum of three sources for a very short paper, and the longer your paper is, the more sources you should have.

Before turning in your paper, you'll want to make sure that:

  • Every quotation and outside idea is marked with an in-text citation.
  • Each in-text citation leads to an entry on the page of references at the end of the paper.
  • Each reference listed at the end has at least one mention in the body of the paper.


Continue through this guide to figure out how to get your citations, keep them in order, and use them well in your paper.



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Citation Style Guides

We have more complete guides to the most common citation styles.