Not Sure If You Need to Cite? Ask Yourself “How Did I Learn What I’m Writing About?”

Whether you are quoting directly, paraphrasing, or summarizing, you must cite your source when your answer to “How Did I Learn?” is any of the following (or like any of them):

  • “I read it in a book or article or on a website.”
  • “I heard it on a podcast, radio program, or in a lecture.”
  • “I saw it in a video, documentary, presentation, or performance.”

When else do I need to cite?

  • When directly quoting the words of others
  • When paraphrasing the words of others
  • When summarizing the thoughts, information, or views of others
  • When you mention an expert or their ideas and arguments because you think their expertise will help convince your readers to believe you or because you want to call their ideas into question
  • When you’re putting into your writing any ideas, words, documents, artifacts, data, analyses, or interpretations that you yourself did not create and that you learned from someone else regardless of whether that person is published or not
  • When you’re including visuals—tables, maps, diagrams, flow charts (etc.)—that you did not create yourself from your own data

You don’t need to cite when:

  • You’re writing about your own experience, data, or ideas – unless you’ve submitted that writing for credit in another class or have published it
  • You’re describing and explaining your own thoughts in response to something someone else wrote or produced – but you do have to cite the ideas to which you’re responding
  • You’re mentioning commonly accepted true facts

Why do I need to cite? How does it help me and my readers?

  • Citing makes clear to your reader that you are aware of what other writers have already said about your topic – and therefore, that you and your view are informed. Informed views are more valuable than uninformed views.
  • Citing enables your readers to locate your sources, which is useful to them because your citation allows them to check your use of the other writer’s words and views and to read more about the topic.
  • Citing makes clear that you are a member (or aspiring member) of an expert community, using established methods to arrive at trustworthy conclusions.
  • Citing demonstrates your commitment to academic integrity.
  • Citing honors and amplifies the work of the people who created the ideas and information you’re borrowing.

How should I cite?

Choose the citation system that the field or discipline you are working in uses or the one your professor specifies. Here are some of the most frequently encountered systems:

  • APA – American Psychology Association
  • MLA – Modern Language Association
  • CSE – Council of Science Editors
  • Chicago – University of Chicago Press House Style
  • AMA – American Medical Association
  • NLM  – National Library of Medicine Style

You can find very clear instructions on how to use any of these citation systems as well as example citations on the UNE library website at Another helpful site to learn how to cite can be found at the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

Most citation systems have an in-text component and a bibliographic end-of-the-paper component. Some systems use signal phrases to highlight the expert and their credentials; some do not.

  • In-text component – words and numbers that tell readers which source is being used at that spot in the paper; readers use them to find the source entry in the bibliographic end-of-the-paper component (see below)
    • Parenthetical citation – appears at the end of a sentence or paragraphs and looks something like this (though different systems do it differently):
      • APA Author-Year (Drown, 2003)
      • MLA Author-Page (Drown 27)
    • Footnote or Endnote – looks like this1 – points reader to a note at the bottom of the page or end of the document
  • End-of-the-paper component
    • Variously called References, Work Cited, Bibliography depending on the citation system you’re using
  • Signal phrase – used to tie words, ideas, and information to a particular author and text. Signal phrases are comprised of:
    • Author nameAccording to Drown…, Morimoto argues that…,
    • Credentials, profession, or source of expertise – such as Nobel prize-winning chemist, sociologist, Member of Parliament
    • Signal verb – such as: argues, explains, reports, insists.

Consider using citation software (such as RefWorks – free to UNE students via the UNE library) to manage your citations and format your bibliographic pages at the end of your paper. Be aware that you will need to check the output of programs like RefWorks for formatting errors – especially line spacing and indentation errors.

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