What is a Citation?


You’ve probably heard your teacher or professor talk about the importance of including citations in your research papers. But what exactly are citations? Why are they so important, and what are the different types? Read on for citation basics.

What is a Citation?

To begin, let’s examine what a citation actually is. A citation is how you let your readers know that you used information from outside sources in your work. It also describes those sources, and provides information that allows the reader to track them down. This information could be the author’s name, the publication date, or page numbers. The exact information included in the citation depends on the citation style you are using. Please see the citation manual for your chosen style for more specifics on how to make your citations in that style. Popular styles include MLA formatting, Chicago style, and APA style.

Why Do We Have Citations?

There are several important reasons for using citations in your paper.

Citations Give Credit to the Right People

Citing your sources makes sure that your reader or teacher can differentiate your original thoughts from those of other researchers in your subject area. Not only does this make sure that the sources you use receive proper credit for the author’s work, it ensures that the you, the student, receive deserved recognition for your unique contributions to the topic.

Citations Provide Hard Evidence of Your Thesis or Ideas

Having many citations from a wide variety of sources related to your paper’s central idea is a sure sign to your professor that you are working on a well-researched and respected subject. Citing sources that back up your claim, otherwise known as your thesis statement, creates room for fact-checking and further research.

Citations Promote Originality and Prevent Plagiarism

Copying or directly referencing a source without proper citations can lead to not only a poor grade, but accusations of academic dishonesty. By backing up your ideas with credible sources, you can easily avoid the trap of plagiarism, and promote further research on the topic.

Where Do We Have Citations, and What are the Types of Citations?

Citations typically can be found in two places: at the end of a paper in a bibliography or reference list, and within the text. The latter, sometimes called “in-text” citations, usually consist of a few details about the source, and are generally written in parenthesis at the end of the sentence where you referenced the source.


When Scout meets Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, she realizes that his reputation does not match his true character (Lee 85).

The citation in the reference list or bibliography corresponds with the in-text citation, and provides more holistic information about the source that you are citing. Publication information is included, as well as a list of all contributors to the source.


Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Perennial Modern Classics, 2006.

Note that each citation style has its own formatting rules regarding in-text and bibliographic citations. An APA citation will have similar information but look different from an MLA citation. Consult the style manual of your chosen citation style for more information.

When Should I Make Citations?

You should make a citation for a source whenever you:

● Directly quote a source
● Paraphrase information from a source
● Use an idea that is expressed in another source
● Make a specific reference to the work of another person

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