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Proper Citation

"Give credit where credit is due
(English proverb)

to cite (verb): to acknowledge (give credit to) the original author or artist by providing a reference
citation (noun): a properly formatted line of text that indicates the source for a quote, idea, fact etc. that you use

What to Cite

The following examples require proper citation using an appropriate style manual such as the MLA. These are the main items that require citation.

  • Direct quotes: phrases, sentences, or sections copied directly from a text; cite with quotation marks (use a limited amount of text, not a full text) Learn how to use quotation marks.
  • Paraphrased text: sections of your writing that are based on research (not common knowledge) but written in your own words (not in quotes)
  • Facts and Figures: numbers, percentages, and facts that have been collected by an exclusive source (such as during an experiment or poll)
  • Theories, methods, and ideas: any original idea or thought that you find during your research and present in your writing
  • Images, graphs, illustrations: always follow copyright rules when using images, including those you find online

Example direct quote: "English as a Second Language and English as a Foreign Language are used interchangeably by many teachers, despite the obvious distinction." (Brown 55)

Example paraphrasing: In the US many teachers use the term ESL, while in Europe, where people speak many languages, teachers often use the term EFL. (Brown 57)

*Note: The above example might be considered "common knowledge" by some people. If you knew the information before your research, you do not need to cite it. If you use a direct quote that is common knowledge you do need to cite it.

In an essay or research paper you need to include two types of citation. One is short form and the other is detailed.

1. In-text citation

Stick to the "three word" rule of thumb. Never copy more than three words in a row from a research source when you put something into your own words.

The format for in-text citation differs depending on the style guide you use. The modern approach based on MLA uses parenthetical citation. Type the author's last name and the page # you referred to in brackets after a quote or paraphrased section.
e.g. (Adams 22) If no author is available indicate the work in another short form way.
e.g. (EnglishClub.com, Learner Section)

2. Works Cited (Bibliography)

The second type of citation is the more detailed version of the reference. This appears at the end of an essay or paper. It includes all of the information about the source, including the author, title, page numbers, and date of publication.
e.g. Adams, Sherry. "Why Learn Grammar?" Global News Daily. June 2009. A 15.

Ask your teacher which of the following titles to use:

  • Works Cited
  • Bibliography
  • Sources
  • References

What NOT to Cite

"It is better to be safe than sorry."

You do not need to cite everything in your paper or essay. If you are unsure, include the citation anyway. Here are a few things that do NOT require citation.

  • common knowledge: basic information that can be found in a lot of places and is well-known
  • historical dates: this is public information that does not need to be cited
  • a well-known argument or theory: an idea/issue that is commonly discussed or debated
  • a universal proverb: age old proverbs or sayings, such as "Give credit where credit is due."

Formatting Guidelines

Here are some different types of sources with examples on how to format them. You can include references in a Works Cited list or on your website or blog. Always ask your teacher which style guide to use.

Web pageAuthor if available (last name, first name). "Title of page" (in browser). Title of Web Site. Date the page was last revised (if available). Date you viewed the page.
Essberger, Josef. "Grammar is your friend." EnglishClub.com. May 6, 2009. <http://www.englishclub.com/esl-articles/200007.htm>
BookAuthor(s) (second author starts with "and" followed by first name). Book Title. Publisher. Date published.Young, Diane and Erin Edwards. Language Learning Today: Inside the Classroom. World Press. 2009.
EncyclopaediaAuthor. "Entry name." Encyclopaedia name. Edition. Year.Brown, Michael. "ESL." World Encyclopaedia. International Ed. 2009
Magazine or NewspaperAuthor. "Title". Magazine or Newspaper name. Date of publication. Page.
Adams, Sherry. "Why Learn Grammar?" Global News Daily. June 2009. A 15.
ImagePhotographer. "Title or description." Online Image. Site name. Date you downloaded.Keats, Mary. "Fall flowers." Online Image. Teachers Picture Gallery. Sept. 2008.

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