How to Cite Sources in your Research Paper

When you use a source to gather data for your research paper, whether it was published or not, you must give credit to that source by citing it in your paper, that’s what citation is about. There are different ways of citing sources [APA, MPA etc], so it depends on how your professor or project supervisor wants you to do that. But it is also worth noting that some discipline has their preferred citing style (e.g law).

Rationale for Citation

Citations provide readers with the opportunity to evaluate your work, criticize it, and also learn more about your research issue. They also help readers understand where you got your information from.

It is critical to properly credit other people’s work because;

1. Making the right citations enables other people to find the sources you made use of. Citations to additional sources aid readers in deepening their understanding of a subject. Following footnotes or references from reliable sources is the most efficient methods in several fields for finding reliable, pertinent sources.

2. Citing other people’s concepts demonstrates that you have read extensively about the literature on your subject. And are thus approaching the topic from a well-informed stance. This increases your credibility as the author of the work.

3. You can use the theories of other researchers to support your claims. But, If you disagree with them, it might serve as launching point for an argument from a different point of view. In many instances, the arguments of another researcher might serve as the main context from which you can highlight an opposing position or explain the significance of what you are suggesting.

4. The opinions of other researchers can support your claims and serve as evidence for your theories, but they can also damage your credibility if they are inaccurate or false. By properly citing information that is not directly from you, you can avoid soiling your reputation if the facts or thoughts you have are unreliable or incorrect.

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5. Outside of academia, ideas are intellectual property and failing to acknowledge the source of an idea can have serious consequences. In the business world, failing to properly credit other people’s intellectual property can lead to legal action. This can ruin a person’s career and reputation. This makes it essential to develop the habit of citing sources.


You must make it clear to the reader in any academic writing which ideas, facts, hypotheses, concepts, etc., are your own and which were inspired by other people’s research and ideas. If you summarize, paraphrase, or directly quote something that wasn’t your idea, you must give credit to the original author. Information that is widely known, such as the fact that “First world war began in 1914”, is the lone exception to this criterion. If in doubt as to whether something is common knowledge, be safe and quote it or get clarification from your supervisor.

Structure and Writing Styles

Systems for referencing the sources you’ve utilized vary amongst academic disciplines. However, it is important to fully understand the citation style to use in your paper and to apply it consistently. Consult your professor about the writing style you should use to cite your sources. For example:

  • APA (American Psychological Association) is used by Education, Psychology, and Sciences
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) style is used by the Humanities
  • Chicago/Turabian style is generally used by Business, History, and the Fine Arts

General Guidelines/Questions often asked when it comes to Citing Sources

1. Must I refrain from citing other people’s work?

No! You need to do it correctly, citing other people’s work never suggests that your own is subpar or lacking originality. In actuality, the reverse is true. When you write a paper without citing any prior research, you are telling the reader that you are ignorant of the work that has already been done. This damages both your authorship and the validity of your research. In academic writing, references are a means to show that you are familiar with relevant material related to the research subject.

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2. What should I do if I discover that another researcher has published my idea before me? Write something along the lines of: [see also Mark, 2012] in your reference to acknowledge the other researcher’s work. Don’t disregard another author’s work because doing so would make your readers think that either you have plagiarized (i.e., taken an idea or piece of information without properly attributing it) or that you haven’t done thorough research on the literature in your subject.

3. How do I go about using a modified version of someone else’s writing?

Citing the original work is very crucial. For instance, suppose you are using a statistics table from a 1960  journal article by author Mark, but you have added new information to it. Cite the updated chart using the notation: [derived from Mark, 1960]. In order to describe the precise link between the source and the version you have presented, you can also use alternative phrases, such as “based on Mark [1960], summarized from Mark [1960], etc”.

4. What should I do if a number of authors have written on material or concepts that are remarkably similar?

As an example, you could write: “Though in reality numerous authors have made use of this theory to comprehend economic connections among nations [for example, Smith, 1989; Jones, 2000; Johnson, 2003], but little work has been done on applying it to understand the conduct of non-governmental organizations”. If you simply cite one author, your readers might infer that only one author has written about the subject. They might assume that you haven’t thoroughly read the literature despite the fact that there are numerous authors who have produced work in this field. Citing several authors gives your readers a comprehensive understanding of the depth of research you did on the subject problem, not a skewed or incomplete understanding.

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5. What if I find exactly what I want to convey in another researcher’s writing?

It depends on what it is. If someone else has looked into the exact same research problem as you, you probably need to modify your topic or, at the very least, come up with a fresh perspective on your subject. You can quote directly, citing the page reference, the author, and the year of publication. It is an opportunity to support your own understanding of the study topic to find someone else who has expressed or made the same argument that you have.

Automatic Citation Generators

Type in your information and have a citation compiled for you. Note that these are not foolproof systems so it is important that you verify that your citation is correct. However, they can be useful in creating basic types of citations, particularly for online sources.

BibMe — APA, MLA, Chicago, and Turabian styles

DocsCite — for citing government publications in APA or MLA formats

EasyBib — MLA style

KnightCite — APA, MLA, and Chicago styles

Son of Citation Machine — APA, MLA, Chicago, and Turabian styles

Most databases provide some kind of automatically generated citations for the major citation styles.

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