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Why Cite?: sub-module 1 of 4 of how to cite

A citation is a referral to an information source.  It is usually provided as a combination of title, author, date and location (e.g. URL).   Citing your sources is the best way to avoid plagiarism.  Plagiarism can be deliberate - knowingly using someone else's work as your own.  It can also be inadvertent, sometimes plagiarism accusations are simply the result of not following a specific style properly.  The specific style you are using (e.g. APA) will dictate the details, see the citation page on this guide for help with a particular style. 


5 ways to Learn to Cite like a Pro!

  • Get into the habitMake a habit of tracking your sources as you do your research. You need title, author, ‘publishing date’, URL, etc. (take notes, screenshots, bookmark links, etc.)
  • Manage your time When you give yourself time to do your research and writing (or filming, creating your presentation, etc.) you are less likely to plagiarize.
  • Learn how to use direct quotes and paraphrases.A paraphrase restates information from a source in your own words.   A direct quote is a word for word copy of a phrase, sentence, or paragraph from an information source.  Learn more - Opens in a new window
  • Know your style!Know the citation style that your instructor wants you to use (e.g. APA, MLA, etc.) Learn more on our Styles page.
  • Use citation management toolsConsider learning reference management software like Refworks, Mendeley, Zotero, etc. You can store your research and they will also create your citations for you. Learn more at our page on Citation Tools

Citing your Sources! What's it all about?

Whenever you quote, paraphrase or summarize an article, book, website or any other information source, you must provide a citation - that is, give the reader enough information to find the original work.  Title, author or creator name, creation date and location information (e.g. URL) are usually provided in a citation. 

But wait - there is an exception.  If something is considered to be common knowledge, you don't need to cite a source.  Common knowledge is comprised of widely known and accepted facts.  E.g. Ocean water is salt water; grass is green, the earth is round, etc.  If you're not sure, just use a citation - always err on the side of caution!

Decorative Image.  Sign that reads "Citation Needed"

Even Wikipedia expects their authors to cite their sources! Check out their policy.

Wikipedia's credibility went up when they changed their editorial policy to include citations. That's all about authority.  Citing is providing evidence of how you know what you know. It lets other readers see the sources of your information. 

Learn more from

Why is Citing Important?

Information has value, whether it is found in books or journals or freely available on the web. People work to create it, and that work should be acknowledged. When you cite your source, you acknowledge the original author/creator of the idea you are using in your research.
Citing your sources allows others to find them and benefit from what you've learned.
Citing other people's work gives authority to your argument/essay/creation.
Citing other people's ideas wherevever they occur in your research is the best way to avoid plagiarism.

The Consequences of Not Citing