When Do You Cite?

Citing sources is often described as a straightforward, rule-based practice. But, in fact, there are many gray areas around citation, and learning how to apply citation guidelines takes practice and education. If you are confused by it, you are not alone – in fact, you might be doing some good thinking.

Here are some guidelines to help you navigate citation practices:

Cite when you are directly quoting. This is the easiest rule to understand. If you are stating word-for-word what someone else has already written or said, you must put quotes around those words, and you must give credit to the original author. Not doing so would mean that you are letting your reader believe these words are your own and represent your own effort.

Cite when you are summarizing and paraphrasing. This is a trickier area to understand. First of all, summarizing and paraphrasing are two related practices, but they are not the same. Summarizing is when you read a text, consider the main points, and provide a shorter version of what you learned. Paraphrasing is when you restate what the original author said in your own words and include most of the smaller key details from the original source. A paraphrase is usually similar in length to the original. Summarizing and paraphrasing also require credit to be given to the original source. Both summarizing and paraphrasing require good writing skills and an accurate understanding of the material you are trying to convey. Summarizing and paraphrasing are difficult to do when you are a beginning academic researcher, but these skills become easier to perform over time with practice.


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MLA in Minutes by Sami Lange; Vicki Brandenburg; and Leila Palis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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