The Basics of Citations

We discussed the problems and dangers of plagiarism last time, but today we’re going to take a look at the simplest way to avoid accusations of plagiarism: using citations. A citation is a formalized system designed for two purposes. The first is to give proper credit to the work you use or reference in your writing. The second purpose is to create a record of verifiable information that can be used to support your writing. And while the former purpose is considered to be more important than the latter when it comes to the topic of plagiarism, both should be considered carefully.

The Different Types of Citation

Now, there are many different systems of citations and the one you will use will generally depend on your audience or discipline. The three most common citation styles are APA, MLA, and Chicago/Turabian. APA (American Psychological Association) is a style that is commonly by educators, psychologists, and scientists. MLA (Modern Language Association) is a style most often seen in the humanities—it is especially popular among literary studies. Meanwhile, Chicago/Turabian style is seen a lot in the writing of people that study history, fine arts, or business.

The rules of each style of citation are complex and it is generally best to refer to either the latest edition of their published guide books or to find summaries online. There are a few websites that offer to automatically generate citations, such as Citation Machine and EasyBib, but these sites are well known for making mistakes. A much better option is the online editors and proofreaders here at Wordsmith Essays, who can be consulted on how to properly format citations according to the needed style, covering all the major formats.

When Should I Cite Something?

The most common question writers have about citations is “how do I know when I should cite something?” Fortunately, the answer is pretty simple—you should cite any unoriginal information that is not general knowledge for your audience. The first part of this is pretty simple and people usually understand it easily enough. If you use a direct quote from someone else’s work:

In a 2002 study on linguistic formation in neglected children, Dr. Ian Gordon wrote that “the development of language is a matter of context” (179).

Or if you summarize something:

In his study, Dr. Gordon investigated speech therapy cases involving neglect and found a strong correlation between neglect and certain irregularities in speech patterns (182).

Those things should be cited. The problem most people have is with determining what counts as “general knowledge”. Luckily, there are two good rules of thumb here. The first is what is called the “100” rule and it means that if you would learn it in a 100-level class it does not need to be cited. The second rule is simply that anything that can be sourced to a specific person should be cited. For example, if you were writing about Shakespeare, you would not need to cite the source for the day of Shakespeare’s marriage. It is a widely known fact that you could have gained from any number of sources and so it is non-specific. However, if a specific researcher had found documentation revealing the cost of Shakespeare’s wedding, that would need to be cited.

Where Can I Get Help with My Citations?

Other than that, the easiest way to check is to simply get your writing proofread by our team of editors. A good proofreader can tell you if you have missed any citations or if you are making any mistakes in the use of your citations.

Hopefully, this all helps alleviates some of the anxiety from last times warnings about plagiarism. Next time, we’ll discuss something closely related but a bit more practical and fun: how to properly use allusions in a fictional piece. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!

Wordsmith Essays handles all major formats and styles of citation, and can help ensure that all your citations are precisely what your professor is asking for.  If you’re unsure whether or not your essay meets all the requirements, stop by our order page today!  Our team of editors will be more than happy to help you sort through the maze citations can be.


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