1. Why Cite?

The growth of human knowledge is, in many ways, like a great conversation. Scholarship entails researching, understanding, and building upon the work of others. Using sources shows that the student is aware of other thinkers’ positions on the topic and then responds with his or her own new ideas. When you cite the work of others, you not only show respect for others’ work but you also confer authority upon yourself and highlight the novelty of your particular contribution to the set of ideas under discussion. Citing helps make your work stronger and sounder.

Citing your sources has several specific benefits for you the student. Of course, a primary benefit is that it shows you are crediting your sources and so avoiding the possibility of plagiarizing. Even more important though is that it gives you credit. It shows the hard work you have done in researching the background of your topic. Professors generally respect and reward well-researched papers.


Citations accomplish several purposes:

  1. Identify the source of an idea, specific words, or other material. Why is this important?
    • Acknowledges the source’s contribution to your paper.
    • Eliminates plagiarism.

  2. Enable the reader to locate the original source: Why is this important?
    • The reader can go back to the source to verify the accuracy of your information.
    • The reader can use your source in their own research. In fact, a highly successful research strategy is to locate one good source and then use the citations in it’s bibliography and notes to identify additional relevant sources.

  3. Provide the reader with a sense of the relevance and quality of the sources. Why is this important?

    The quality of your sources can be used to evaluate the quality of your paper. Indicators of quality include:

    • Using a variety of sources from different viewpoints and mediums (print and online).
    • The sources’ appropriateness to the topic. The citation title often provides an indication of the source’s relevance to a topic.
    • The source’s objectivity. The publisher information in a citation may help indicate objectivity. For example, a book published by an educational organization or a .edu web site may be considered more objective than a commercial organization or a .com site.
    • The source’s authority or expertise on this topic. For example, the author or the Web site sponsoring organization in your citation may be useful in determining authority.

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Last updated 8/23/2012 by Sue Thompson
contact: sthompsn@csusm.edu