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Last updated April 2018
Authors use citations for many important reasons:
Authors use in-text citations after they have paraphrased, summarized, quoted or otherwise used another author’s work.
Examples of in-text citations include parentheses, footnotes or endnotes.
A reference list includes information on all of the sources an author used. It can also be called a bibliography or works cited.
Each item in the list includes information such as title, author and publication date.
A reference list is usually listed at the end of a paper with the exception of footnotes which are at the bottom of each page.
Knowing how to read a citation in a reference list or bibliography will help you identify different types of sources that an author used in their research.
You can use a reference list from another researcher to find related sources on your topic, or to find counterpoints to your research.
Let’s look at citations for three common types of sources:
You will use citations to find articles. To find an article, you need to know:
The journal title is often what is listed in library catalogs.
The presence of two titles (article and journal) are the biggest clue that this is an article. Volume Number and Issue Number are also big clues as books will not have those pieces in a citation.
You will use citations to find books. To find a book, you need to know:
Year, edition, format, and publisher help distinguish between versions.
To find and verify a website, you need to know the URL.
Since websites change frequently, knowing the date accessed is similar to knowing a publication date.
The date accessed and the presence of a URL are the biggest clues that you are looking at a citation for a website.
Different disciplines cite in different ways which means that there are many different citation styles.
Your professor or department will tell you what style to use.
Style guides, manuals and handbooks are available both in print and online.
Here is a citation for an article in two different citation styles: MLA and APA. Note how the same information is available, just in a different order.
Here is a citation for book in two different citation styles: MLA and APA. Note how the same information is available, just in a different order.
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