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Biological Literature: Documenting Sources (Citations)

Why Should I Cite My Sources?

The primary reason to cite your sources is to avoid plagiarism and give proper credit to the original author or creator.  Other reasons for citing your sources:

  • Enables a reader to locate the sources you cited.
  • Demonstrates the accuracy and reliability of your information.
  • Shows the amount of research you’ve done.
  • Strengthens your work by lending outside support to your ideas.

Writing Labs

Managing Your Research

  • Start your research early.
  • Take and keep accurate notes of the sources you use.  Distinguish between your ideas and other’s ideas and direct quotes.
  • Document your sources immediately.  As you gather sources during your research, make sure to record all the information you need to cite your sources accurately and completely (e.g., authors, titles, URL addresses, etc.).  Check with your instructor to see what citation style you will be using (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago)
  • Books:  When using the library catalog to find books, print out the catalog records of any books you may use for your paper.  Catalog records provide brief information on books including the author/s, title, publisher, and publication date.  You can also photocopy the title and copyright pages from any book you use for your paper.  Note the page numbers you need to cite.
  • Journal, Magazine, & Newspaper Articles:  Keep an online or paper copy of the articles you will use for your paper.  If you use an article from a library database, you will need to include the database information in your citation.  The information you need to include from the database will depend on the format style specified by your instructor.  Many library databases have a citation tool that automatically generates a citation in the format you specify.  These citation tools are a good starting point for formatting your references but you may still need to “tweak” them according to your instructor’s specifications. 
  • Web Sites:  Keep an online or paper copy of the web pages you use for your paper.  Make sure to record the URL address of the exact page on the web site that is used.
  • Use EndNote Web:  A research management, writing and collaboration tool that helps you put all the pieces of your research together.

Terms to Know

Citing:  Also called documenting or referencing.  The recording of information (e.g., author, title, publisher, publication date, page numbers, database name, URL address, etc.)  from a source (e.g., book, magazine article, web site) which allows an instructor or anyone to identify and locate a source.  By citing your sources, you are also giving proper credit to those sources. This information is then formatted to a citation style (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago) specified by your instructor and inserted into your essay.

Common knowledge:   Facts or ideas that are well know by many people and that can be found in numerous sources (e.g., Barack Obama is our current president of the United States).

Quotation:  Also called a quote.  Using someone's exact words.  When you use a direct quote, place the passage in quotation marks and cite the source according to the citation style specified by your instructor (e.g., Using a direct excerpt from Barack Obama’s January 2009 inaugural address).

Paraphrasing:   Using someone's ideas, but putting them in your own words. This is probably the skill you will use most when incorporating sources into your writing. Although you use your own words to paraphrase, you must still cite the source of the information (e.g., Using an excerpt from Barack Obama’s January 2009 inaugural address and putting it in your own words).

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