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How to Cite Your Essay?

Essay writing requires a lot of work, you have to analyze the title (or essay question), research the subject thoroughly, create an outline, and it is needless to mention you also have to develop an argument and make your point. Although you have to do a lot, careful planning is the key to composing a high-quality essay without wasting too much time. But, in an attempt to make the paper original or due to inexperience in this form of writing, it’s not unusual for students to forget to cite sources or leave out citations entirely. This is a huge mistake! Browse for some essays on Google, read them from top to bottom and you’ll see that authors cited the sources they used. Throughout this paper, I’m going to show you how to do it and make your essay more professional.

What is citation?

Basically, a citation is a way of informing a reader (or more of them) that a certain material in your work came from some particular source. Using citations also gives readers the information necessary to find that source again. For example, your professor may use that information to look up the accuracy of your paper. Also, if your essay is published on some website, citation allows readers to learn more about the particular subject.

Why should I cite sources in my essay?

One of the most frequent questions about citing sources is why to do it in the first place. Let’s be fair here; would you be happy if someone decided to use your own words and paper you published without giving credit where credit is due? You’d be mad and you would feel unappreciated.

The most important reason to cite sources is that it’s the only way to avoid plagiarizing. Yes, using someone’s work without citing or giving any credit is considered plagiarism, one of the most severe offenses one can make when writing an essay (or any other type of work).

There are also some other reasons to cite, including these:

  • Citations are helpful for people who want to find out more about ideas or where they came from
  • Not all sources are good or right and a lot of people can disagree with them. That’s why citations make a clear distinction between your words and someone else’s thus preventing you from taking the rap for some other person's bad ideas
  • It shows the amount of research you’ve done
  • Adds to the quality of your work

What’s more, the essay is all about developing arguments and proving your point while providing evidence to back up your claim. So, without citations, there’s no evidence. It’s simple. Even mentioning some studies or academic, scientific works isn’t enough if you don’t cite them adequately.

But, wouldn’t citations make my essay less original?

Everything you write should be original, but at the same time, your paper needs accurate information, evidence, and reliable information. To get these, you have to research and use what you find to back up your arguments. It is only natural to ask yourself whether inclusion of citations in the essay would make the paper less original.

The answer is simple; of course, it wouldn’t! It is not uncommon for students to assume that naming sources of some info would make them seem lazy or cheaters. The truth is the opposite, citing sources emphasizes quality and originality of your work. How? As mentioned above, it shows you researched the topic and made an effort. At the same time, citations also help the reader distinguish your words from someone else’s. Since citations aren’t plagiarism, they make your work unique and original.

Therefore, you should never be afraid of using citations in your essay. Not only it is encouraged, but citing sources is an important segment of a high-quality essay.

What is the difference between citations and references?

Most people think citations and references refer to the same thing, but they’re entirely different. In order to cite sources in the paper properly, you have to know the difference between citations and references:

  • Citation – brief, often parenthetical information in the body of an essay (or some other type of paper) that refers the reader to the complete reference information
  • Reference – the bibliographic information that guides readers to your source

Using complete citations in the text would be confusing for readers, which is why the reference list exists. Basically, citation navigates readers to the references while they take you directly to the source.

When to cite?

Generally, whenever you borrow someone else’s words or ideas you should give them a credit by using citations. So, citations should be used whenever you:

  • Quote someone
  • Paraphrase
  • Use an idea that someone else has expressed
  • Make a specific reference to the work of another
  • Use someone else’s work as the major part of evidence to develop your essay

According to the popular belief, one should cite only when using quotes, but as you can see, numerous situations require citing. Let’s take paraphrasing as an example, it’s the action of restating someone else’s words and opinions. Of course, you have to give credit where credit is due. Most people paraphrase in a bid to avoid plagiarism, but it still doesn’t mean you should avoid citing the source. In fact, proper quote with cited sources isn’t considered plagiarism in the first place.

What to cite?

To make things easier for you, here is what you should always cite:

  • Facts, figures, statistics, and other info that isn’t common knowledge
  • Books, book chapters, articles, theses, websites
  • Theories, words, ideas, or exact language that some other person used
  • Someone else’s exact words

The golden rule is; whenever in doubt, be safe and cite the source in your paper.

How to cite?

Now that you know the importance of citations, what and when to cite, you’re probably wondering how to do it. One can use citations in an essay in different ways. The first thing to do is to ask your professor (or client) about the citation style he/she prefers or wants to see in an essay.

When citing, you’ll use one of these options:

  • In-text citation – the source is included within body of your essay and acts as the reference to the Works Cited/References section
  • Endnotes – the source is noted with a number and listed at the end of your paper
  • Footnotes – the source is noted with a number and listed at the bottom of that page

When we’re talking about citations, it is necessary to get informed about different styles like MLA, APA, or Chicago Manual of Style.

MLA (Modern Language Association)

This style is primarily used by the Humanities, especially in writing on language and literature. MLA features brief parenthetical citations in the text keyed to an alphabetical list of works in the References section on the last page of the document. Below, you can see general info that you have to include when using MLA citation style:

  • Author
  • Title of source
  • Title of container or publication (Italicized and followed by a comma)
  • Other contributors
  • Version
  • Number
  • Publisher
  • Publication date
  • Location

Each element should be followed by a punctuation mark.

So, using this style in the text can be done in numerous ways. For instance:

Wordsworth extensively explored the role of emotion in the creative process (263).

Or

Romantic poetry is characterized by the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" (Wordsworth 263).

Or

Wordsworth stated that Romantic poetry was marked by a "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" (263).

So, these citations tell readers that the information you used can be found on page 263 of a work by this particular author. If they want more info about this source, they’ll find in the Reference section, where you’d have to write:

Wordsworth, William. Lyrical Ballads. London: Oxford UP, 1967.

To make things easier, you can use the MLA citation style generator by clicking here. Don’t use automated sources all the time, practice making these citations on your own too.

APA (American Psychological Association)

You’ll most likely have to use this format style when writing on a science topic. When using this format, the author’s last name and year of publication should appear in the text e.g. (Finney, 1970). Of course, the full citation should be at the bottom of your document.

The formula is easy: Author, (Year of Publication), Title of Work, Publisher City, State: Publisher

Example: Finney, J. (1970). Time and again. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

When you use an electronic source, the formula is similar:

Author, A.A.. (Year of Publication). The title of work [E-Reader Version]. Retrieved from http://xxxx or doi:xxx

Chicago Manual of Style

This style presents two documentation systems: notes and bibliography and author-date. The first style is preferred by humanities e.g. literature, history, and the arts, while the latter is used by those in physical, natural, and social sciences.

When using this style you should write short references within the text in parentheses. While entire citation isn’t forbidden, it can be quite confusing to readers so you should stick to partial in text citation while the full citation will be in the references section at the end of the article (or footnotes, depending on your professor’s requirements).

In text, citation requires, as always, a person’s last name and the year e.g. (Pollan, 2006).

The full citation features author names, contributors (if any), the name of the source, title of the resource. When using the internet source, you just have to add the link too.

Notes and bibliography example: Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin, 2006), 99–100.

Author-date example: Pollan, Michael. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin.

(Pollan 2006, 99–100)

Bottom line

Citations add originality to your essay and make it more professional, reliable, as well as contribute to the overall quality of the paper. Always give credit when using someone else’s words or ideas and bear in mind to use citations whenever you’re in doubt. Make sure you consult your professor regarding the citation style and while it’s possible to find generators online, always strive to do it yourself. Remember, even common internet pages should be cited too.

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