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How to Cite Sources Properly

Published by at October 12th, 2023 , Revised On October 12, 2023

From academic research to personal blogs, the bedrock of trust and credibility is often established by one simple act: source citing. Whether we are constructing a thesis for a graduate program or debunking a myth on a personal blog, providing the origins of our information bolsters our arguments and pays homage to the original creators of that knowledge.

Why Cite in Both Academic and Non-Academic Settings?

In academic environments, citations are more than just a formality; they are a testament to rigorous research. They demonstrate that an individual has delved deep into the subject, drawing upon experts’ findings and theories to build or support their own arguments.

This practice is an essential part of information literacy. When we cite in academic contexts, we also show our peers the breadth and depth of our research, enabling them to trace back our steps and verify our claims.

Outside the academic world, citations still play a pivotal role. In this era of misinformation and “fake news,” the ability to trace information back to a credible source can be the difference between spreading truth or perpetuating falsehoods. By citing sources in non-academic settings, such as blogs, articles, or social media, we lend credibility to our statements and allow readers to trust our shared content.

The Perils of Overlooking Citations

While the benefits of proper citation are numerous, the consequences of neglecting this practice can be severe. At the forefront of these consequences is the threat of plagiarism. Paraphrasing sources without providing appropriate credits can also lead to unintended plagiarism.

The act of using someone else’s work without giving them credit is a grave offence in both academic and non-academic arenas. It tarnishes reputations, undermines trust, and can lead to serious academic or professional repercussions.

But beyond the black-and-white plagiarism, not citing sources can leave readers sceptical. If they cannot verify the information’s origin, how can they trust its accuracy or authenticity? Fostering critical thinking in readers can also mean encouraging them to question where information comes from. In essence, failing to cite can diminish the impact and credibility of one’s work, regardless of its quality.

The Basics of Source Citing in Research

Venturing into the world of research and information dissemination, one quickly encounters many terms that govern the proper use of external knowledge. As part of a comprehensive source evaluation, it is crucial to differentiate between the types of sources and how they should be cited. Let’s demystify some of these fundamental terms and explore the rationale behind citing sources.


A bibliography is a comprehensive list of all the sources you’ve consulted while researching for your project or writing. This includes the materials you’ve directly quoted or paraphrased and those you’ve read to understand the topic better.


A citation provides specific details about a source, enabling readers to find the original material. Citations appear in the main body of your text and are a way to credit the original author or work, often accompanied by a brief description (like the author’s name, publication year, etc.) to guide readers to the full source listing.


While sometimes used interchangeably with ‘citation,’ a reference specifically refers to the full set of details of a source. Typically, references are listed at the end of a document in a section commonly termed the “Reference List” or “Works Cited.” This list provides readers with all the information they’d need to trace back and locate the original sources you have cited.


A footnote is a note placed at the bottom of a page in a book or document. It is used to add comments, explanations, or additional references related to the content in the main body of the text. Footnotes can be used both for explanatory purposes and citation, especially in styles like Chicago.


Similar to footnotes, endnotes serve the same purpose but are located at the end of a chapter, section, or entire document. They provide supplementary information or citations without crowding the main text.

Why Do We Cite?

How to integrate sources into your work is a skill that every researcher, student, or writer needs to master. Citing sources is more than just an academic protocol. It is rooted in some fundamental purposes:

Acknowledgement of Original Work

Proper citation pays respect to the original creators and thinkers. By citing, you acknowledge their contributions and ensure they receive due credit.

Building Credibility

Citing reputable sources strengthens your arguments and assertions. It showcases that your statements are backed by solid evidence, enhancing the trustworthiness of your work.

Enabling Further Exploration

Through accurate citations, you provide a roadmap for interested readers to delve deeper into topics. This facilitates the flow of knowledge and allows for a deeper understanding of the subject.

Avoiding Plagiarism

As previously mentioned, citing is the most effective way to use external knowledge without falling into plagiarism. By properly attributing information to its rightful source, you maintain the integrity of your work.

What is the Best Way to Cite – The Main Citation Styles

While the purpose of citing remains consistent — to give credit to original authors and provide readers with a clear path to the original sources — the manner in which this is done can vary. Several citation styles have been developed over the years to cater to specific academic disciplines, each with its unique format and structure. Here’s a look at some of the most prominent citation styles and their primary characteristics:

1. APA (American Psychological Association)

Mainly used for Social sciences such as psychology, sociology, and education.

Overview of its main features and format

  • In-text citation usually consists of the author’s last name and publication year within parentheses.
  • The reference list is alphabetised by the last name of the first author of each work.
  • Titles of articles, books, and journals are capitalised in sentence-case, meaning only the first word and proper nouns are capitalised.
  • It employs the use of the “DOI” (Digital Object Identifier) when available.

2. MLA (Modern Language Association)

Mainly used for Humanities, especially literature and language studies.

Overview of its main features and format:

  • In-text citations generally include the author’s last name and page number without any punctuation.
  • The Work Cited page lists the references in alphabetical order.
  • Titles of articles, books, and journals are italicised.
  • Detailed instructions on citing non-traditional sources such as movies, interviews, and digital content.

3. Chicago/ Turabian

Mainly used for History and some humanities.

Overview of its main features and format:

  • Two main documentation methods: The notes-bibliography System (used mainly in humanities) and the Author-Date System.
  • Notes can either be footnotes (at the bottom of each page) or endnotes (at the end of the document), depending on the publisher’s or instructor’s preference.
  • The bibliography page is separate from the notes and lists sources in alphabetical order.
  • Specific guidelines for citing various archival sources, maps, and photographs.

4. Harvard

Used in many fields worldwide.

Overview of its main features and format:

  • In-text citations generally consist of the author’s last name followed by the year of publication and, when quoting directly, page numbers.
  • The author’s last name alphabetises the reference list at the end of the paper.
  • The use of “ibid.” is prevalent in Harvard style to denote a source cited in the preceding footnote or endnote.
  • Popular in the UK and Australia, with slight variations across institutions.

5. IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)

Mainly used for Engineering, electronics, and computer science.

Overview of its main features and format:

  • In-text citations are numbered in square brackets [1], and numbers are reused for the same citation throughout the document.
  • The reference list at the end of the paper lists references in the order they appear in the text, not alphabetically.
  • Abbreviated journal titles are used.
  • Detailed structure for citing conference papers, standards, and electronic sources.

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Citing Different Types of Sources

Navigating academic and non-academic research, one will encounter many source types, each with its unique citation requirements. Here’s a primer on how to cite some of the most common types of sources:


Single author:

  • Format: Author’s Last name, First name. Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Year.
  • Example: Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Bloomsbury, 1997.

Multiple authors:

  • Format: First Author’s Last name, First name, and Second Author’s First name Last name. Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Year.
  • Example: Green, John, and David Levithan. Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Dutton Books, 2010.

No author:

  • Format: Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Year.
  • Example: Encyclopedia of Birds. ABC Publishing, 2005.


  • Format: Author’s Last name, First name. Title of Book. Edition number (if not the first), Publisher, Publication Year.
  • Example: Smith, John. History of Art. 3rd ed., Art Publishers, 2015.

Translated works:

  • Format: Author’s Last name, First name. Title of Book. Translated by Translator’s First name Last name, Publisher, Publication Year.
  • Example: Proust, Marcel. In Search of Lost Time. Translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Modern Library, 2003.

Journal Articles

Print journals:

  • Format: Author’s Last name, First name. “Title of Article.” Journal Name, vol. volume number, no. issue number, Publication Year, page range.
  • Example: Smith, John. “Birds and Their Migration Patterns.” Ornithology Journal, vol. 5, no. 2, 2008, pp. 56-78.

Online journals:

  • Format: Author’s Last name, First name. “Title of Article.” Journal Name, vol. volume number, no. issue number, Publication Year, page range. URL.
  • Example: Jackson, Anna. “Digital Art in Modern Times.” Artistic Expressions, vol. 7, no. 3, 2019, pp. 23-40. www.journalwebsite.com/digital-art.

Peer-reviewed articles:

  • Use the same format as print or online journals, but ensure the journal source itself is peer-reviewed.


Web pages:

  • Format: Author’s Last name, First name (if available). “Title of Web Page.” Website Name, Date of Publication, URL.
  • Example: Doe, Jane. “Guide to Indoor Plants.” Gardening Central, 3 March 2021, www.gardeningcentral.com/indoor-plants.

Online reports:

  • Format: Author’s Last name, First name or Organization Name. Title of Report. Publisher, Publication Year, URL.

Blog posts:

  • Format: Blogger’s Last name, First name. “Title of Blog Post.” Blog Name, Date of Publication, URL.

Images and Videos


  • Format: Photographer’s Last Name, First Name. Title of Photograph. Year of Creation. Website Name, URL (if accessed online).


  • Format: Creator’s Last Name, First Name. “Title of Chart.” Source of Chart, Date of Publication, URL (if accessed online).

YouTube videos:

  • Format: Video Creator’s Last Name, First Name or Channel Name. “Title of Video.” YouTube, Date of Publication, URL.

Conference Papers and Proceedings

  • Format: Author’s Last name, First name. “Title of Paper.” Conference Name, Date, Conference Location, pp. page range.

Interviews and Personal Communications

  • For many citation styles, personal communications such as private letters, memos, non-published interviews, and personal interviews are cited in the text or in footnotes only and are not included in the reference list.
  • Format (for in-text or footnote): (J. Smith, personal communication, Date of Interview).

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Parenthetical/In-text: Brief citations within the text, usually author’s name and year.
  • Footnotes: Numbered citations at the bottom of pages.
  • Endnotes: Listed at the end of documents.
  • Bibliography: Comprehensive list of sources.
  • Works Cited: Lists only sources directly referenced.
  • Reference List: Detailed list in APA style.
  • URLs: Web address citations.

Citing is used to give credit to original sources of information, ideas, or research. It ensures academic integrity, allows readers to verify facts, supports and strengthens arguments, and prevents plagiarism. Proper citation guides readers to the original material for further exploration and acknowledges the contributions of other scholars and writers.

  • Author(s): Creator or originator of the work.
  • Title: Name of the work (article, book, webpage).
  • Publication Date: When the work was published or created.
  • Publisher: Organization or individual responsible for publishing.
  • Location: Page numbers or URL.
  • Edition/Volume/Issue: Specific details for periodicals or editions.

Citing sources in APA (American Psychological Association) format involves a specific style used predominantly in social sciences. It requires in-text parenthetical citations with the author’s last name and publication year. A detailed reference list at the document’s end provides full citations, including title, publisher, and location (e.g., page numbers or URL).

Citing a source means formally acknowledging the original author or creators of information used in one’s work. It gives credit, supports claims, and allows readers to verify information. Proper citation prevents plagiarism, demonstrates research depth, and provides a foundation for academic and intellectual discourse.

To cite multiple sources in one sentence, list each source within parentheses, separating them with semicolons. Follow the specific format prescribed by the chosen style guide (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago). For example, in APA: “Several studies confirm this finding (Smith, 2001; Jones, 2003; Lee, 2008).” Always adhere to consistency and clarity.

To cite the same source multiple times, follow the prescribed format of your chosen style guide. Typically, for the first citation, you will provide full details. For subsequent citations, you may use a shorter format. For example, in APA, you would use the author’s last name and publication year consistently (Smith, 2001). Always ensure clarity.

About Alvin Nicolas

Avatar for Alvin NicolasNicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He is a content manager at ResearchProspect. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.