Citation help

What is a citation?

A citation, or reference, is the quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing of someone else's work, used as a basis for your own ideas and research.

A citation also refers to the information about a source, such as title, author, date, etc., which gives credit to the original author and shows readers where to find the original work.

There are two parts to a citation:

  • the in-text citation, using either an author-date system (APA and MLA)  OR or a numbered quotes system (as in the Chicago notes-bibliography citation system). In either system, the in-text citation goes next to the quoted, paraphrased, or summarized material.  
    • author-date in-text citation requires the surname of the author, the year of publicaton, and a page number (or chapter, figure, table, etc.)
  • the reference list (also called a bibliography) citation -- found at the end of a paper or report

Citations follow a standardized format from a style guide such as APA, MLA or Chicago.

Citation reference list examples

Generic database citation, from Academic Search Premier:
The same citation, in MLA style:
In APA style:
See more examples in the quick guides on the style guides page.

When to cite

You need to cite anything that is not common knowledge, including when you don't use a word-for-word quote but still describe the main ideas or heart of a passage (called paraphrasing); but citing sources is more than just avoiding plagiarism.

Citations give credibility to your work by showing that you've consulted other expert research, and references strengthen your work by putting it into meaningful context. You can cite other sources to establish general background information. More importantly, you can use them...

  • to support your ideas and research by building upon the citation or showing how it complements your own work
  • as a point of departure for a different point of view
  • to show conflict by using two or more citations from different sources to reveal disagreement about or contradictions within a topic, then exploring that tension with your own ideas, introducing new aspects

Learn more about when to cite and see examples of paraphrasing and quoting on the plagiarism page.

Choosing a style guide

Most UVic departments use well-known systems such as APA, MLA or Chicago while some develop their own style guides (such as the History department) or have you use the style particular to a journal (such as in the sciences).

Ask your instructor what style to use. If your instructor lets you decide, choose the style you like best or are most familiar with, and be consistent. You will likely be marked down if you use a style incorrectly or combine different styles.

Citation style guides with APA examples (1:46 min)


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