CITE = tell the source

SIGHT = what you see

SITE = location

"A Citation is Not a Traffic Ticket," reads a subheading of an article on plagiarism written by the Georgetown University Honor Council.  Cute.  But actually, in both contexts, the word citation does come from the same source and the meanings are somewhat similar. 

When a policeman "cites" you, he writes a "citation," which is documentation of "who did it."  When you "cite" your sources, you write a "citation," which is documentation of "who said it," or "who wrote it."  That's what your teacher means when he says, "Cite your sources!"  Tell where you got this information! 

What do you cite?  This is crucial to remember.  Anything that is not from your own head.  Any information that you saw, heard about, or read.  None of it is your own.  Whether you quote someone else or paraphrase the information, you must tell where you got it.  If you do not, that's plagiarism, the big no-no of writing.  (If you're interested in reading about recent big-time examples of plagiarism in the news, Turnitin.com, a company created to fight plagiarism, keeps tabs on related news.)

When in doubt, go ahead and cite it.  It may seem cheesy to cite your next-door neighbor or your dad, but at least you can't be accused of cheating.  If information comes from a class you took last year, and you remember this information because you learned it, I'd say you don't have to cite the teacher or the class.  However, if you have to look back at your notes or the textbook to refresh your memory, go ahead and cite the course or the textbook!

 
Styles:

Don't panic when your teacher tells you to cite your sources in your paper.  Just ask him which "style" to use.  He'll tell you something like APA, MLA, Chicago, or AMA.  That tells you which guidelines to look up in your handbook or online.  Each one of these styles tells you the details of what's expected and how you're supposed to write the documentation.

I can tell you general information of how you're supposed to write citations, but you'll have to check the style guide for the little things -- like when to put a period, or if it's a comma, or even when you need to put extra spaces!  You must follow the guidelines precisely, including punctuation, capitalization, and spacing.  The examples I'm giving will use the MLA style, the style you're required to use for essays in English class, and most humanities classes.  (MLA means "Modern Language Association.")

 
How to go about it: Whenever you check a style guide, you'll find two sections:  in-text citation and documentation (note -- the style guides don't always use these exact phrases.)  You have to do BOTH.

The in-text citation tells you what you have to have within the body of your essay or research paper.  For example, in the MLA style, you have to include the author's last name and any pages.  The style guide will show you various ways to do that depending on if you have an author's name or page numbers and how you use them.  The in-text citation is the equivalent of the little number that directs you down to the bottom of the page to read the footnote.  Only now, it's the author's last name that directs you to a page at the end of the whole document.

The documentation tells you how to make the end page that tells everything about your source.  The idea is to make it possible for the reader to look that information up herself.  So you want to give ALL the bibliographical information there is.   


 

In-text citation:

 

 

The best, most natural way to refer to your source is as part of the sentences that tell the information.  Write it as you would say it.  If you are taking any information from, or referring to, Orwell's "A Hanging," say so. 

In his essay, "A Hanging," George Orwell wrote, "It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man" (281).  Notice that the period is on the outside of the parentheses around the page number.

Now that was a quote.  Using the very same information, you could say this:

George Orwell wrote about how he realized the impact of killing a live person when he witnessed a hanging (281). Notice that this is not a quote.  Still it must be cited because the information is taken from a reading (not from your own head).  And again note the location of the parentheses and period.

The rule is you must write at least the author's last name, so the reader can find out the rest of the information when she flips back to the last page of your essay.  Here are two more smooth examples of how you can use the author's name in your sentences:

In his essay, "Why People Crave Horror Movies," Stephen King claims that everyone is a bit insane (460) Notice parentheses around page number and period outside the parentheses.

According to Stephen King, everyone is somewhat insane (460)   Notice even though this is not a quote, it's still a citation.  The parentheses go around page number and period outside the parentheses.

In addition to telling the author's name, you must indicate the page that this particular information occurred on -- if you have a page number.  You show it by putting it in parentheses before the final period of the information. 

If you don't have the author's last name in your sentences, then you have to put it in the parentheses along with the page number (but that's usually quite awkward).  Here it is:

The essay "Why People Crave Horror Movies" suggests that everyone has some insanity in him (King 460).  Notice here that there is NO punctuation between the author's name and the page number.  And the period is still after the parentheses.  This is not a quote.  (Quotation marks always go around the title of an essay or short story when you're referring to it, but it's not considered a quote.)

According to a popular horror writer, "The alligators must be fed"  (King 463).  Notice here that there is NO punctuation between the author's name and the page number.  And the period, which would normally be INSIDE the quote marks of the quotation, has been moved to after the parentheses.

This is a more awkward method because where you have the chance to say the author's name, you don't do it.  And then you stick it at the end, kind of like an afterthought.  The only reason I can see for using this method is if you've already said the author's name many times, using the structure of the first examples, and now you want to vary your language and the rhythm of your sentence.  By the way, if you've already said his full name once, after that all you need is his last name. 

 
Documentation:

Start a new page for the documentation.  (After the last period at the end of your essay, move to the next line, then hold down "Ctrl" and tap "Enter."  That creates a new page.)

For MLA, your new page must be headed "Works Cited."  (Don't include the quotation marks I have here.)  Like the other pages of your essay, this one must be double-spaced.  Start a new line for each new citation. 

The first thing you do is put all the required information for each citation in the right order.  Step by step each part of the citation must be done in a certain order.  It's always in this order!  So if you memorize the order list, you'll know what comes next.

Here are the three major variations of the list.

FOR A BOOK:

  1. Author's last name, comma Author's first name. period

  2. Book Title. either underlined or in italics, period

  3. Location of the Publisher: colon The Publisher, comma Copyright date.in four-digit year, period

FOR AN ARTICLE IN A PERIODICAL (ie. magazine or newspaper)

  1. Author's last name, comma Author's first name. period

  2. "Article Title." between quotation marks, period.

  3. Magazine or Newspaper Name. either underlined or in italics, period

  4. Publication date. day, month (abbrev.), four digit year, period

  5. From/to page numbers. only the numbers with a hyphen between, period

FOR AN ARTICLE ONLINE

  1. Author's last name, comma Author's first name. period

  2. "Article (or Webpage) Title." between quotation marks, period.

  3. Website Name. either underlined or in italics, period

  4. Copyright date (or Date Last Updated). day, month (abbrev.), four digit year, period

  5. Sponsoring Organization. period

  6. Date Accessed. this is the date you found this article in day, month (abbrev.), four digit year, period

  7. <Web Address.> inside angle brackets (find them above the comma and the period), start the address with http://, end with period.  If the address is too long for one line, put a space after a slash so the computer can put it on two lines.

The problem is you don't LIST this information when you type up the citation.  You make it run all the way to the margin like in the boxes below.  The basic, one-book, one-author citation works like this: 

Order of "Works Cited" Citation for a book:
Author's last name, author's first name.   The Title of the Book.  Location of Publisher:  The Publisher, Copyright date.
Example:
Trimble, Stephen.  Talking with the Clay.  Santa Fe, NM:  School of American Research Press.  1987.  Note no page numbers.  That's because the whole book is the citation.

Then there are variations on that.  For example, if the book is a reader including several essays written by different authors (like Models for Writers, our very own textbook), you would include the name of that essay you're referring to, and the pages the essay is on:

Order:
Author's last name, author's first name.  "The Name of the Essay."  The Title of the Book.  Ed. Name of Editor(s).  #th ed.  Location of Publisher:  The Publisher, Copyright date.  Pages.
Examples:
King, Stephen.  "Why People Crave Horror Movies."  Models for Writers.  Ed. Alfred Rosa and Paul Eschholz.  8th ed.  Boston:  Bedford, 2004.  460-463. Note the page numbers.  They refer only to where you can find the essay, which we are citing, not the whole book..
Orwell, George.  "A Hanging."  Models for Writers.  Ed. Alfred Rosa and Paul Eschholz.  8th ed.  Boston:  Bedford, 2004.  279-284.  Note we have to cite each essay separately even though they both come from the same book.  That's because they are written by different authors, and we identify the source by its author.

Citations from periodicals (magazines, newspapers, newsletters) work like this:

Author's last name, author's first name.  "The Name of the Article."  The Title of the Newspaper or Magazine.  Date of publication.  Page number of article.
Bowker, Michael.  "Storm in the High Sierra."  Reader's Digest.  Dec. 1998.  78-84.

And those from the Internet go like this:

Author's last name, author's first name.  "The Webpage Title."  "The Name of the Website."  Copyright date or date last updated.  Any group or business that supports the website.  Date the information was accessed.  <Internet address>.
Wayner, Peter.  "Smurfing Floods ISP's with Worthless Data."  NY Times.  10 Jan. 1998.  26 Sept. 2003 <http://www.nytimes.com/library/cyber/week/011098smurfing.html>. Note the internal order of the dates.  They must have the day first, the abbreviated month, then the entire year, all with no comma.

Once each citation is in order (internally), then you put the citations in alphabetical order by the author's last name on the Works Cited page.  (See example below.)

 
Missing information?

What if you don't have the author's name?  If you just didn't get it when you were researching the information, well, there's no excuse for laziness.  Go back and get it.

However, if the name is not available -- for example, many newspaper articles do not have a "by-line" that tells you who wrote them -- you write the citation in the same order, moving the article title into the author's name spot.  Think of it as everything is waiting in line, in that certain order.  If number 1 doesn't show up, number 2 becomes number 1.  Everything in the line moves up a slot. 

Often there will be missing information, especially on the Internet, which doesn't require a copyright date, or a date last updated, or even that the author's name be mentioned.  In that case, all the information you do have moves up to fill in the slots of the missing information.  (I'd be a little concerned about the accuracy of information where the author doesn't want to put his name or contact information.  However, it does happen.)

Take this site I found when I wanted to learn how to install a new switch in my ceiling fan (I needed to know what wire went to what slot.)  I know the information is accurate, because I tried it -- successfully.  So if I wrote an article or essay on changing the switch in a ceiling fan, I'd mention this site.  This was the heading for the page Google found for me:  SW300nn - HE Single Stack Switch Variants.  But there was no author name.  Clicking on a link that said "Back to TechSupport Home," I got a page titled "Ceiling Fan Technical Support."  On it, the author talked about working for Dan's Fan City for many years and amassing this information.  He (she?) gives an email address (sales@dansfancity.com) which doesn't give me any clue as to the author's real name.  In addition, there are no copyright dates or dates last updated.  Clicking on the few links on both pages doesn't give me any more information.  Taking the original address at the top of my browser and deleting everything after ".com" gives me the main homepage, but no more clues about the author's name or a copyright date. 

This is what the documentation should look like, but the green parts are missing.

Author's last name, author's first name.  "The Webpage Title."  "The Name of the Website."  Copyright date or date last updated.  Any group or business that supports the website.  Date the information was accessed.  <Internet address>.

So this is what it ends up looking like:

"SW300nn - HE Single Stack Switch Variants." Dan's Fan City.  20 Jul. 2005. the date I accessed it  <http://www.dansfancity.com/techhelp/parts/sw300nn.htm>.   

When you alphabetize, just go with the first piece of information and alphabetize them equally.  This is how my last example would fit into the other documentation examples on the Works Cited page:

Works Cited

Bowker, Michael.  "Storm in the High Sierra."  Reader's Digest.  Dec. 1998.  78-84.
King, Stephen.  "Why People Crave Horror Movies."  Models for Writers.  Ed. Alfred Rosa and Paul Eschholz.  8th ed.  Boston:  Bedford, 2004.  460-463.

Orwell, George.  "A Hanging."  Models for Writers.  Ed. Alfred Rosa and Paul Eschholz.  8th ed.  Boston:  Bedford, 2004.  279-284. 
"SW300nn - HE Single Stack Switch Variants." 20 Jul. 2005.  Dan's Fan City.  <http://www.dansfancity.com/techhelp/parts/sw300nn.htm>.   
Trimble, Stephen.  Talking with the Clay.  Santa Fe, NM:  School of American Research Press.  1987.
Wayner, Peter.  "Smurfing Floods ISP's with Worthless Data."  NY Times.  10 Jan. 1998.  26 Sept. 2003 <http://www.nytimes.com/library/cyber/week/011098smurfing.html>

For more examples, see Models for Writers, pages 580-586, and there's an example of a research paper, complete with a Works Cited page on pages 592-599.
 

 
  This page last updated by Connie Gulick, Tuesday, May 18, 2010.