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Introduction to the Field of Sociology

Citing Sources Overview

A citation is a standard way to document the book, article, website, and any other source of information you used in your research. It tells your reader where you found your information.

Students are expected to properly cite the sources used in their academic work in order to:

  • Give authors credit for their original ideas and research;
  • Enable readers to track ideas and research back to its original source.  

So, a citation includes the relevant information about a source you have used, such as author, title, publisher, date, pages, where you accessed the item. Below is an example of a citation in APA format:


Ashe, D. D., & McCutcheon, L. E. (2001). Shyness, loneliness, and attitude toward celebrities. Current Research in Social Psychology, 6,

     124-133. Retrieved from 


A list of citations at the end of research papers creates the bibliography or works cited list, also called references. Citations that are used within the text of research papers are called in-text citations.

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Students are expected to properly cite the sources used in their academic work in order to:

  • Give authors credit for their original ideas and research;
  • Enable readers to track ideas and research back to its original source.  

Whenever you quote or base your ideas on another person's work, you must document the source you used. Even when you do not quote directly from another work, if reading that source contributed to the ideas presented in your paper, you must give the author credit.

Citations provide evidence for your arguments and add credibility to your work by demonstrating that you have used a variety of resources.

What is it, anyway? 

  • Deliberate plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work as your own. Whether you get text (in part or in full) from a published essay, encyclopedia article, web site, or your roommate’s files, you are plagiarizing.  
  • Accidental plagiarism happens when writers fail to write complete, correct citations. You can prevent this by taking careful notes and understanding the rules for quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing sources.  

Common forms of plagiarism: 

  • Leaving out quotation marks when quoting a source text, even if you supply documentation.
  • Paraphrasing materials from a source text without appropriate documentation.
  • Copying a paper from a source text without proper acknowledgment.
  • Buying a paper from a research service, term paper mill, or classmate.

Common knowledge 

Common knowledge is facts that can be found in numerous places and are likely to be known by a lot of people. You don’t need to document sources for these facts.  

Because the following is a commonly known fact, it doesn’t need to be cited: 

John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States in 1960.

In the following, you do need to cite your source because the idea that "Bush's relationship with Congress has hindered family leave legislation" is an interpretation of facts:  

According the American Family Leave Coalition's new book, Family Issues and Congress, President Bush's relationship with Congress has hindered family leave legislation (6). 


Use quotations when using someone's exact words. When you quote, place the passage you are using in quotation marks, and document the source according to a standard documentation style (MLA, APA, etc). The following is a correctly cited quotation:  

According to Peter S. Pritchard in USA Today, "Public schools need reform but they're irreplaceable in teaching all the nation's young" (14).


Paraphrase is using someone's ideas, but putting them in your own words. This is probably the skill you will use most when incorporating sources into your writing. Although you use your own words to paraphrase, you must still acknowledge the source of the information.  
If Pritchard says “Public schools need reform but they're irreplaceable in teaching all the nation's young” you are plagiarizing if you write:  

Public schools need to be reformed, but we can’t replace public schools’ roles of teaching youth in the United States.  

Credit Pritchard and use new words and a new sentence structure, and you can avoid plagiarizing. This is correct paraphrasing: 

Pritchard admits that public schools are the best approach to educating children in America, despite his demand to improve the system (14).  

A paraphrase should contain all of the author's information and none of your own commentary. Even if you have avoided using the author's words, sentence structure, or style, an unattributed paraphrase is plagiarism because it presents another person’s ideas as your own. 

How do you avoid plagiarizing? 

To avoid plagiarism, you must give credit whenever you use: 

  • another person's idea, opinion, or theory
  • any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings -- any pieces of information -- that are not common knowledge
  • quotations of another person's actual spoken or written words
  • a paraphrase of another person's spoken or written words

More tips for avoiding plagiarism:

  • Put in quotations everything that comes directly from the text, especially when taking notes, and be sure to write down the words exactly as they’re written.
  • Paraphrase, but be sure you are not just rearranging or replacing a few words.
  • Check your paraphrase against the original text to be sure you have not accidentally used the same phrases or words, and that the information is accurate.
  • Cite every piece of information that is not a) the result of your own applied research, or b) common knowledge.  This includes opinions, arguments, and speculations as well as facts, details, figures, and statistics.
  • At the beginning of the first sentence in which you quote, paraphrase, or summarize, make it clear that what comes next is someone else's idea:

According to Smith...

Jones says...

In his 1987 study, Robinson proved...

At the end of the last sentence containing quoted, paraphrased, or summarized material, insert a parenthetical citation to show where the material came from (notice the use of brackets to mark a change in the wording of the original): 

The St. Martin's Handbook defines plagiarism as "the use of someone else's words or ideas as [the writer's] own without crediting the other person" (Lunsford and Connors 602)

Citation Help!

Citation Help at Centralia College

The Writing Center at Centralia College (TAC 301) has tutors available to help you with your college writing. Whatever phase of the writing process, including MLA & APA citations. Check their webpage for their current open hours.

Online Citation Help

Purdue Online Writing Lab - Purdue University has a great website that will help you with citations. This site covers MLA, APA, and Chicago styles.

Why different styles?

All citation styles record common elements of a source, but the re-order those elements depending on where the discipline places emphasis. Disciplines like history and humanities want to highlight the author. While disciplines like the social sciences want to highlight the date.

  • MLA is the Modern Language Association's preferred style to document the research materials and is widely used in the humanities. This style emphasizes the author.
  • APA is the American Psychological Association's preferred style and is widely used in the social sciences. This style emphasizes the date of publication.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style published by the University of Chicago Press is widely used in history, literature and arts. This style also emphasizes the author.
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