Picture this: you’ve written a book that you’re proud of. You worked hard on it and labored over every word to get it just right (thanks, thesaurus.com). Your book is then published and adored by readers everywhere. Then, a year or so later, you are reading a book in your spare time from writing another book of your own (after your readers literally begged you to write another one), and you see your words, verbatim from your last book, typed out on page 24 of this other author’s book. And you aren’t mentioned, you don’t get any credit; they are passing off your idea as their own.
And could’ve been easily avoided with a simple citation.
What is a citation?
A citation is how you tell your readers that certain material in your work came from another source. It also gives your readers the information necessary to find that source again, including:
- information about the author
- the title of the work
- the name and location of the company that published your copy of the source
- the date your copy was published
- the page numbers of the material you are[i]
Why are citations important?
Citations allow you to incorporate others’ ideas that relate to and corroborate the point you are trying to make. Quoting other people and featuring experts’ ideas gives credibility to your writing and enables you to provide further commentary on their ideas. While citing may seem like it makes your work less original, it does the opposite; citing others’ work allows you to make a more nuanced and comprehensive argument.
When do I need to cite?
The following situations almost always require citation:
- whenever you use quotes
- whenever you paraphrase
- whenever you use an idea that someone else has already expressed
- whenever you make specific reference to the work of another
- whenever someone else’s work has been critical in developing your ideas.[ii]
These could come from all kinds of sources, including:
- news article
- Bible (reference and translation)
- research paper
- social media post
How do I create a citation?
Many different types of style guides format citations differently (MLA, CMoS, APA, etc.). In publishing, we use the Chicago Manual of Style (sometimes referred to as CMoS or just Chicago). Do not fear, you do not need to buy the 1,100-page tome to properly cite sources. There are plenty of online tools that will help you create citations with minimal effort. Simply choose the correct style (Chicago), pick the source type (website, book, journal), and type in the necessary information (URL, book title, article title).
A note on unreliable sources:
You want to get as directly to the original (or primary) source as you can. Websites like Wikiquote, Brainyquote, and Goodreads are not reliable sources as they don’t provide the necessary information to track the quote down. We strongly recommend using quotes with which you can find either a primary source or a credible source.
Example of unreliable source:
“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” –Abraham Lincoln (brainyquote.com)
Example of reliable source:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” –Abraham Lincoln, “The Gettysburg Address”[iii]
[i] “What Is Citation?” Plagiarismorg RSS, www.plagiarism.org/article/what-is-citation.
[iii] “Gettysburg Address.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/event/Gettysburg-Address.