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Citation Help

Footnotes, references, bibliographies, avoiding plagiarism & more.

Critical Elements

Regardless of style or format, all references or citations should strive to include certain critical elements which help to identify the specific resource. Among these are…

  • author, editor, or producing agent – sometimes, this might be an institutional or corporate entity, when no designated author is apparent
  • title of the work – where no title is available a concise descriptor can be helpful
  • publisher or, in lieu thereof, a sponsoring institution
  • date – where no date is specified the abbreviation “n.d.” or “no date” is commonly applied.  When appropriate, an approximate date might be offered, as in “circa 1863”
  • title of incorporating work -- often a shorter work will be published within a larger, encompassing work.  For instance, one might cite a chapter in a book or an article within a journal or periodical.  In such cases, the name of the parent volume (and its editor) are also supplied by the citation

In addition to these critical components, a citation might also include…

  • translator
  • edition
  • volume
  • series
  • place of publication
  • pagination
  • URL, DOI, or other digital identifier

Any given format or citation style will offer guidance on how to treat unusual materials, but, in general, it’s incumbent upon the writer/researcher to make a good faith effort to include as many of these key identifiers as reasonably possible.

Remember that a complete reference or citation must include enough information to allow another interested researcher to identify and locate the designated resource.

Looking at Some Examples

It’s important to be able to decode and deconstruct citations in order to discover just what kind of resource is being referenced.  Understanding the source helps one to read critically and evaluate the validity of certain kinds of evidence. It also helps the reader to decide if that same resource might be relevant to their own research project. Finally, it enables the reader/researcher to locate that source for their own use.

In the boxes below are several examples of basic citation types.  The diagrams are drawn from Concordia University's Sylwester Library, and the annotations are provided by Berry's Memorial Library.

Example: Scholarly Journal Article 

In this citation for a journal article, the journal title follows the title of the article in much the same way that the book title followed the chapter title in the previous example. Note that no additional publisher is identified as the journal essentially plays that role.  Volume and issue numbers are also key identifiers.

Example: Popular Magazine Article

While popular magazines or news weeklies are very different sorts of resources from scholarly journals, their citation formats are essentially the same.  In this instance, as in many others, conscientious researchers will need to use sound judgement and critical evaluation skills in order to select the best and most appropriate resources for their purposes. One of the primary distinguishing features between popular and scholarly journals is "peer-review." If you are not familiar with the peer-review process, you'll want to refer to the link below.

Example: Book Citation

Book citations tend to be relatively brief and straight forward, since there are fewer elements with which to contend. Identifying the presence of a publisher (Prentice Hall, in this case) immediately suggests that the item under consideration is indeed a book.

Example: Anthologized Article or Book Chapter

Book chapters or anthologized articles can be a bit more confusing since there are simply more parts of the citation to examine, but, again, identifying the presence of a publisher will quickly help you sort things out. Though it's not apparent in this example, many citation formats use the word "in" to identify book chapters and anthologized articles. For example...

Fee, Elizabeth. 1982. Women and Health Care: A Comparison of theories. In Women and Health: The Politics of Sex in Medicine, ed. Elizabeth Fee, 17-34, Farmingdale, N.Y.: Baywood Publishing Company.

Note the use of "In" and the italics to identify the book title. While the organizational format differs somewhat in the latter example, all the requisite elements are still present.


Example: Website or Internet Resource

The presence of a URL in the citation makes it relatively easy to identify this item as a web resource, but other important information may be a bit more difficult to determine. In this case, we have an institutional author and an article title, but other features like the parent agency -- in this case, the National Institutes of Health -- are apparent only through the URL. While some websites provide the same sorts of identifiers found in traditional print media, many -- most, in fact -- do not. The writer/researcher must nevertheless make every effort to provide all necessary and sufficient information that would enable another researcher to locate the site. Note that simply providing the URL will never be enough, since connections may change, degrade, or become defunct when not maintained.