Citing Sources & How to Cite

One of the things that many students have trouble with is citing sources.  This is a two-part issue in my experience:

  1. Knowing what to cite
  2. Knowing how to cite properly

The most difficult of the two is knowing what to cite.  There are a few rules of thumb that I stick to when deciding what to cite while writing an academic paper.

  1. The work of others rule – this rule states that you do not lift the work of others and incorporate it into your own work without attribution. For example, do not take a sentence from a source and put it into your own paper without citation.  In fact, do not take a sentence or other text from a source and try to rewrite it so that you don’t have to cite it.  Both of the above examples are plagiarism and will get you a zero for the assignment.
  2. The common knowledge rule – this rule states that anything that is in your estimation common knowledge does not require citation. Examples of such things include the combatants in major wars (i.e. Axis and Allies in World War II), Names of sovereigns, political figures, other major figures (Martin Luther, King George III, etc.).  Basically, anything that you think, in your own estimation, just about everyone should know do not require citation.
  3. The statement of fact rule – this states that assertions of fact that are not common knowledge require citation. Examples of this include specific figures and statistics (casualty numbers, economic statistics, population figures, etc.), claims of specific actions (he/she did this at this time etc.).
  4. The “I’m not sure” rule – if you are unsure about whether to cite something or not prudence dictates that you should cite it anyway. I will not deduct points for excessive citation and the more you write and gain experience you will get a better feel for what requires citation and what does not.

Properly formatted citations are also important and this is the second issue.  A properly written citation provides all the necessary information for the reader of your work to independently locate the source you are citing.  In general, this means three essential elements; author, title and page number.  If these three elements are present it is possible to almost always find the original source material.  Unfortunately, it is not that simple in the real world and the various citation styles all have different ways of achieving that goal.

I require the use of Chicago/Turabian citation style in the written assignments for the classes I teach.  Most non-business or history students are unfamiliar with Chicago style citations as other disciplines generally use either APA (American Psychological Association) or MLA (Modern Language Association) citation styles which are by and large totally different in appearance than Chicago if not necessarily different in usage.

Let’s talk here about the two different elements you will use to cite sources; footnotes/endnotes and a bibliography.  I require footnotes, which go at the bottom of the page that the citation is on.  This is mainly because I hate endnotes and find them awkward if you want to quickly check the reference.

A footnote contains the citation for the specific source you are citing.  For example, if you are citing your source for grain output in medieval England you would place the footnote at the end of the sentence where that information is used and provide the information referencing that source in the footnote at the bottom of that page.  A bibliography is an alphabetical list of all the sources you used when writing the paper that goes at the end of the paper.  Luckily, most word processing programs contain tools that automatically insert a footnote although you have to provide the information contained within it.  In MS Word the insert footnote tool is located on the references ribbon.  MS Word also has a tool that lets you build your references and will automatically generate footnotes and a bibliography if you have built up a reference list.  Do not use this feature as Word does not quite properly format Chicago/Turabian style citations.  Below I will discuss some other aids to help in formatting citations.

There are several aids to help you in properly citing sources.  A couple of good aids are the UMUC Writing Center and the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University.  Both of these sites provide some excellent resources to help you learn how to cite research properly regardless of which citation style you are required to use.  Another tool that I highly encourage my students to use is called Zotero.  Zotero is an open source freeware program and browser add-in that automatically collects and properly formats source data for citation.  There is also a paid version of Zotero but it is not necessary to pay for it to use it.  The Zotero webpage can be accessed using the below button.

As you write your papers if you have problems with citing sources do not hesitate to either email me or ask a question on either the DB in the online classroom or at one of the class sessions.  Citation is something you will use throughout your college work and the more familiar you get with it the less stressful it will be.  Faulty citation is a stupid thing to lose points for on an assignment.

Get Zotero