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English & Literature

This is a Research Guide for doing literary research.

Check out our Citation Guide!

We have a detailed guide to many aspects of citations, check it out here!

Why and How Do We Cite Sources?

What is a citation?

A citation identifies for the reader the source of the origin for an idea, information, or image that is referred to in a work. A basic citation includes the author, title and publication information for the source. Other elements are added to help the reader find the original work.

Example Book Citation
Barreca, Regina. They Used to Call Me Snow White…But I Drifted: Women's Strategic Use of Humor. New York: Viking, 1991.

Example Article Citation
Kuska, B. “A Tale of Too Witty? Using Whimsy to Name Fringe Genes."
Journal of the National Cancer Institute 1998 Oct; 89 (19): 1396-7

Why cite?

  • Give credit to your sources. Be fair to other authors. Ideas or information which you take from another author or source should be acknowledged through your citations.

Avoiding Plagiarism

  • Give yourself credit. When you cite your sources, you show evidence of your own research.
  • Give your reader the opportunity to build on your work. Readers may want to follow-up on some of your source material. A good citation will enable a reader to find this material more easily.

What do you need to cite?

In general:

  • Quoting. Are you quoting two or more consecutive words from a source? Then the original source should be cited and the words or phrase placed in quotes. Use quotes when you want to convey to the reader the language of the original text.
  • Paraphrasing. If an idea or information comes from another source, even if you put it in your own words, you still should credit the source. Be careful when you paraphrase to reflect your own writing style, not the original author.
  • General Knowledge vs. Unfamiliar Knowledge. You do not need to cite material which is accepted common knowledge. You would not have to cite the fact that Big Ben was in London, but you would have to cite little known facts about Big Ben, e.g. dimensions of the tower, who it was named after. If in doubt whether your information is common knowledge or not, cite it.
  • Formats. When we think of citing sources, we usually think of books and articles. However, if you use material from web sites, films, music, laboratory manuals, lecture notes, special application software, graphs, tables, etc… you will also need to cite these sources.

For more on when to cite:

How do you cite?

Different fields have different conventions for citing sources. Always check with your instructor to see what citation format is appropriate for your course. The most common citation formats are: APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association) and the Chicago Manual of Style or Turabian. Some of the other formatting conventions are listed after the brief descriptions for these three styles. Whichever style you choose, be sure to be consistent and include all of the information you need to document your source. Check out our detailed research guide focused on citations here:

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