Why Do We Cite?

  • To be Ethical -- We need to give credit where credit is due.
  • To Avoid Fraud -- If you do not cite, you are claiming authorship. If the ideas are not yours, claiming those ideas is fraudulent.
  • To Allow your Reader to Track your Scholarship.

When Do We Cite?

  • —When we quote another’s words
  • —When we use another’s ideas, data, images, or other creative products

When Do We NOT Need to Cite?
  • —When the ideas are your own
  • —When the lab results are your own
  • —When you are reporting common knowledge

Mount Mercy's Definition of Plagiarism:

  • —Copying, paraphrasing, or blending words, images, or ideas that are not common knowledge without acknowledging the source
  • —Providing false, insufficient or incomplete acknowledgment of sources.
  • —Claiming authorship of a work that is not one’s own or that is the result of unauthorized joint effort, including purchasing, downloading, or otherwise acquiring the work.
  • —Improper use of quotations.
  • —Incomplete or improper use of citations.

What is written usually follows in the footsteps, or at least the path, of those whom have gone before. Those accused of plagiarism most commonly give the excuse that they had not taken adequate notes to identify the source of an idea or statement. Sloppy scholarship, like sloppy workmanship, is never acceptable. Therefore, it is important to be meticulous in listing references used and to give credit for quotations and ideas.

The first step in this process is to take accurate notes on each source of information as you use it. This means writing down the complete CITATION - author, title, source, publisher, year and any other identifying information.

Remember it is easier to do it at the time you read the item, than to try to back track to get this information when you are writing a paper. This includes journal articles which you photocopy and webpages which you print. Not all journal publishers include the journal name, volume, number and year with each article or as a header or footer on alternate pages. Not all computers are set up to print the URL or the database or webpage which you print. Check for the necessary information and write it down.


There are several general style manuals used by students and other writers. Some professional associations, such as the American Psychological Association, publish style manuals for their publications. The APA Publication Manual is widely used in colleges for term papers. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is another widely used guide, as are Scientific Style and Format, The CBE Manual for Authors, Editors and Publishers and The Chicago Manual of Style. Many Mount Mercy instructors require one of these for work submitted.

Most journals and magazines have their own style guides for contributors. Newspapers usually use the Associated Press Stylebook. The important thing is to use the style required by the publication or instructor. Whatever style is used, it is necessary to be consistent with all the conventions of that style.

Some of the differences in style which may be found are:

1. use of complete first names or initials.
2. use of parentheses around specific parts of the citation.
3. placement of the date of publication.
4. underlining titles.
5. quotation marks around titles.
6. titles in italics.
7. specific abbreviations.
8. style of volume, issue and page numbers.
9. punctuation.

When taking notes while reading, copy the entire citation with all information completely spelled out. You then can extract and convert to the style required for each paper in which it is referred.