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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Citing Sources

An Undergraduate Library guide providing information and suggested resources for citing sources.

Why Should You Cite?

When doing research and writing for your college courses, you will be expected to cite your sources. This guide will get you started with common citation styles, and provide you with resources.

Common Questions about Citation Styles

1. What does it mean to "cite my sources"?

A citation is a reference to a published source. In other words, in your paper, you are acknowledging that you found this information published somewhere, by someone.

2. Why do I have to cite my sources?

Citing your sources is important for three reasons: 1. It gives credit to the person whose idea it is you are referencing 2. It leads readers to your sources 3. It helps you avoid plagiarism. When you find information in another source, whether it is a newspaper, magazine, academic journal, or even online, someone else has published it, which means that essentially that person "owns" the information and the ideas (intellectual property). Not giving that person credit when you borrow their ideas or words is called plagiarism, and that is a very serious academic infraction. For more information, see the tab about plagiarism.

3. Why type of citation style should I use?

The type of citation style that is best for your assignment depends on several factors, including which discipline your course is in, and also your instructor's preferences. Certain majors or professional fields use certain styles. Your instructor should be able to give you an idea of which style would be most appropriate for your assignment.

Choosing a Citation Style

The citation styles you use in your academic work will vary, most often dependent on the discipline of the individual course. When in doubt about what you should use, ask your instructor.

A style guide is a set of standards for the writing and design of documents. There are many different kinds of style guides, but three of the most used are the American Psychological Association Publication Manual (APA), the MLA Handbook for Writers of Researcher Papers (MLA), and the Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago). 

A Quick Guide to Citations