Crafting a Brilliant Academic Essay: Citing Rules for Dummies

One of the most frustrating and confusing things to have to learn when you’re writing academic papers is citing your sources. What information needs to be cited, and how can you make citations easily, without spending hours and hours trying to get the format right? Here are some great tips that will help you become a citation master in no time!

  1. Here are the basics of what sort of information needs citations:
    • Quotes – any quote you ever use anywhere in your essay needs to have a citation.
    • Data – any sort of percentage, study findings, or statistical information needs to have a citation
    • Information that you didn’t know before you started researching – this includes any sort of fact that you learned during your research, even if it’s not a quote or a type of data. For example, if you learned that pigeons can tell “good” are from “bad” art, you need to cite that information even if it’s not a direct quote.
  2. Here are some things you DON’T need to cite in your paper:
    • Common knowledge: for example, you can trust that most people know that bats use sonar, or that teenage girls can be insecure. If you already knew something before you started writing, or if it’s a fact that you didn’t need to look up beforehand, you do not need to cite it.
    • Your own analysis: anything in your paper that came from your own brain does not need to be cited. For example, if you were to write: “50% of first marriages in America end in divorce. This shows that there is a good chance that your first marriage may not be your last,” you would need to cite the first sentence but not the second.
  3. When in doubt, cite it. If you’re not sure whether or not you need to cite some information, cite it anyway. It’s much better to take the safe route than risk getting in trouble for plagiarism!
  4. Use an online citation maker. When it comes time to actually format and create your citations, try doing a few on your own. Once you have the hang of it, you can make your life a little easier by using a free, online citation maker. These tools ask you to plug in the bibliographic information (title, author, page number, etc.) and then will put everything in the right order, with the right format, for you. This can save you a lot of time! Just make sure you have a basic understanding of citations first, so that if you ever need to create a citation without one of these tools you won’t have any problems.
  5. When taking notes, always write the source and page number. One of the most basic but important things you can do to make your life easier is to make sure you always note the source information when you are jotting down facts and quotes to use in your paper. This way, you know exactly where all the information is coming from – which page on which book – and you don’t have to go on a wild goose chase looking for the source of that quote or statistic!