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High School Guide

What is a citation?

A citation, or reference, is the quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing of someone else's work, used as a basis for your own ideas and research. A citation also refers to the information about a source, such as title, author, date, etc., which gives credit to the original author and shows readers where to find the original work. There are two parts to a citation: the in-text citation, which goes next to the quoted material, and the reference list citation, found at the end of a paper or report. This list is also called a bibliography.

Citations should follow a standardized format from a style guide such as APA (American Psychological Association) or MLA (Modern Language Association). Article databases have generic citations that you can put into other styles; you can also find all the necessary information from the source itself.

When to cite

You need to cite anything that is not common knowledge, including when you don't use a word-for-word quote but still describe the main ideas or heart of a passage (called paraphrasing). But citing sources is more than just avoiding plagiarism. Citations give credibility to your work by showing that you've consulted other expert research, and references strengthen your work by putting it into meaningful context. You can cite other sources to establish general background information. More importantly, you can use them...

  • to support your ideas and research by building upon the citation or showing how it complements your own work
  • as a point of departure for a different point of view
  • to show conflict by using two or more citations from different sources to reveal disagreement about or contradictions within a topic, then exploring that tension with your own ideas, introducing new aspects

Citation Examples

Citation help