What Every College Student Should Know About Citations

Regardless of your course of study, an inevitable aspect of your college studies will involve composing papers and essays. In order to successfully compose these essays, it’s key to properly cite your sources. However, this involves more than simply giving credit where credit is due. It’s about joining an academic conversation that you, a student, are as much a part of as these established scholars. As a college student, it’s important to understand citation styles, note the varying types of citations, and learn how to use citations throughout the entirety of the writing process.

Looking to gain a better understanding of citations? Keep reading to learn what every college student should know about citations.

Distinguish in-text citations from reference lists/works cited pages

In academic writing, there are two general types of citations that you will utilize—in-text and references/works cited. Each type possesses different attributes, and it’s important to fully understand both styles.

  • In-text citations

    • These citations are placed within the text.

    • In-text citations often require you to cite a page number (if applicable) or publication year for paraphrased texts, as well as quotations.

    • You may not need to restate the author’s name in the in-text citation if it’s clear who you’re referring to—for example, if you’ve already mentioned the author in the same sentence.

  • References/works cited

    • On a works cited page, include full citations for every source you’ve used in your paper, listed on a separate page at the end of your paper.

    • A works cited page requires you to include specific information, such as the title of the source, as well as other details like the publisher and publication date.

    • Each type of source offers slightly different information, and therefore, a slightly different format is necessary—for example, a book citation will differ from a podcast or film citation.

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Understand that citation styles vary by discipline

There are several different citation styles that you must use depending on your discipline, each of which look different on paper. Of these, three important styles include Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), and Chicago style. MLA is used by the humanities, while APA is generally used by disciplines in education, psychology, and the social sciences. You’ll generally use Chicago style in business, history, and the fine arts. Your professor will often let you know before your first paper what style to use. Additionally, you may have a school handbook or required textbook that will tell you what style to use and how exactly to format citations to match your institution’s standards.

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Actively utilize citations throughout the writing process

Citations are often the most tedious of tasks when writing a paper. To minimize the headaches, stay organized in terms of sources and page numbers. The last thing you’ll want to do at the end of writing a long paper is spend hours locating page numbers or exact sources that you used throughout. If you’re using a source that you own or can borrow for an extended period of time, keep it organized with your other sources. If you must return the source to the library, be sure to document all the important information you need to know for the full citation.

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Using and writing citations can be an intimidating process, but it doesn’t have to be. There are numerous online resources that offer examples of citations when you’re in need of guidance. If you still have unanswered questions, check in with a classmate, a writing tutor, or your professor. As you get more and more familiar with citations, you’ll become more comfortable in your citation abilities.  


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