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Plagiarism Prevention Resource Kit: Citations

Citations Video Playlist

Introduction

In APA style, citations include at least these two elements:

  1. author
  2. publication year

A third element is necessary when citing a specific part of a source, such as when quoting, and entails an indicator of the specific part. This element is often a page or paragraph number. A page number is used for a source with pages, such as a book or journal article.  A paragraph number is used for a source without pagination, such as a long webpage. The indicator can alternatively be the section of a document for which a page or paragraph number is not a suitable choice, a timestamp for videos or audiobooks, or a slide number in a PowerPoint presentation. Some examples include the following:

  • p. 65
  • para. 3-4
  • Chapter 7
  • Table 2
  • 2:54

See APA 7, Section 8.13 for more information and examples.

Citations in your paper are necessary to provide credit to the proper sources; failure to cite properly could result in plagiarism.

Although it is important to cite any ideas retrieved from sources, such as paraphrased explanations, quotations, statistics, of figures. It is not necessary to cite common knowledge (i.e., you do not need to cite that the Earth is round). Credit a source in each sentence that references material from a source. For examples of how often to cite a source in a paragraph, see some examples on the Citing Sources Properly page.

APA style citations are all in-text citations, meaning the information about the source appears in the body of the paper rather than in endnotes or footnotes.

How to Cite

Here is an example of citations within a paragraph:

True and Noble (2009) found many students are highly confused about citation. They also indicated some students receive erroneous information about citations or some professors are too lenient with them, causing even more confusion. In fact, Jones (2011) found 99 out of 100 students agreed citing work could seem like a "complex, maddening process" (p. 64).

In this example, note five main elements:

  1. Sources are cited narratively or parenthetically in each sentence in which they are used. The author and date citation can be left out, however, in contiguous following sentences that further explain the same source as long as the sentences clearly signal that the same source is being discussed.
  2. Parenthetical citations appear within the ending punctuation of a sentence.
  3. Publication years appear after the authors.
  4. Quotation page numbers appear after the quotation. Note that the page number is represented as p. 64, and a paragraph would be represented as para. 4. If a quotation spans multiple pages, use pp.
  5. The full word "and" is used for citations in the narrative, and the ampersand symbol (&) is used for parenthetical citations.

How Often to Cite

Citation issues can appear when writers use too few citations, use too many citations, or use too much information from a source in place of blending the source information with their own informed analysis and commentary on the information. Here are some factors to consider when citing sources:

1. Did I provide adequate commentary on the cited material?

Cited material should illustrate rather than substitute for your point. Make sure your paper is more than a collection of ideas from your sources; it should provide an original interpretation of that material. For help with creating this commentary while also avoiding personal opinion, see our Commentary vs. Opinion resource.

2. Did I begin and end my paragraphs in my own voice?

The opening sentence of each paragraph should be your topic sentence, and the final sentence in the paragraph should conclude your point and lead into the next. Without these elements of a paragraph, you leave your reader without a sense of the paragraph's main purpose. Additionally, the reader may not understand your reasons for including that material.

3. Have I used the cited material to support my specific thesis?

All material that you cite should contribute to your main argument (also called a thesis or purpose statement). When reading the literature, keep that argument in mind, noting ideas or research that speak to the issues in your particular draft. See our synthesis demonstration for help learning how to use the literature to support your thesis.

4. Have I relied too heavily on one source?

Most research papers should include a variety of sources from the last 3-5 years. You may find one particularly useful study, but try to balance your use and citations of that study with research from other authors. Otherwise, your paper becomes a book report on that one source and lacks richness of theoretical perspective.

5. Have I included too many direct quotations?

In academic writing, rely primarily on paraphrase when using evidence. Although direct quotations can be useful for illustrating a rhetorical choice of your author, in most other cases paraphrasing the material is more appropriate. Using your own words by paraphrasing will better demonstrate your understanding and will allow you to emphasize the ways in which the ideas contribute to your paper's main argument.

Knowledge Check: Citations Overview