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Introduction to Academic Writing: Interpreting Citations

Research and library resources for students taking Wr 1 and Wr 2 at Caltech.

Why Cite?

There are many reasons why citations are included in academic work. Among them:

  1. Avoiding plagiarism. Plagiarism can generally be described as misrepresenting someone else's ideas as your own. You can find more information about what plagiarism is, as well as how to avoid it, at the Hixon Writing Center.

  2. Providing context. Almost all scholarly writing is based upon the prior work of scholars in the field. By citing relevant prior works, you place your original ideas in the context of the field and show how they will advance overall understanding of the topic.

  3. Establishing credibility. Similar to the above point, by showing relevancy, you establish your own credibility as a scholar. It is also important to understand the types and quality of sources that you choose to cite.

How to Find a Citation in the Library

If your citation is a book:


If your citation is a journal article:


If you are not sure:

  • LibAnswers has a list of frequently asked questions, along with portals to chat with a librarian (when available) and submit a question (when not available)

Parts of a Citation: MLA, APA

You may be familiar with basic citation styles, such as MLA (Modern Language Association) and APA (American Psychological Association). Those are two styles that you may use in this course. As you explore different academic fields, you will see that the citation style will vary from area to area. And sometimes, even within areas, styles may differ between sub-disciplines, or even between publishers - it can get confusing! Just remember that the Library is here to help you if you ever have a question about figuring out a citation, locating a source, or deciding what citation style to use for your own writing.

MLA (8th Edition)

Book:
Tan, Amy. Saving Fish from Drowning. Putnam, 2005.

Author name: Last name, first name followed by period
Title of book in italics, followed by a period
Name of publishing company, followed by a comma
Year published, followed by a period

Journal Article:
Ryan, Katy. "Revolutionary Suicide in Toni Morrison’s Fiction." African American Review, vol. 34, no. 3, 2000, pp. 389-412.

Author name: Last name, first name followed by period
Title of article, in quotes, followed by a period
Journal title in italics, followed by a period
Volume of journal and comma, followed by issue number and comma
Year published followed by comma
Page range followed by a period

To cite electronic journal articles, see the sections for An Article in an Online Scholarly Journal and An Article from an Online Database (or Other Electronic Subscription Service) on the OWL MLA Page.


APA

Book:
Tan, A. (2005). Saving Fish from Drowning. New York, NY: Putnam.

Author name: Last name, first initial(s)
Year published in parentheses, followed by a period
Title of book in italics, followed by a period
City, state of location of publisher, followed by a colon
Name of publishing company, followed by a period

Journal Article:
Ryan, K. (2000). Revolutionary suicide in Toni Morrison’s fiction. African American Review, 34(3), 389-412.

Author name: Last name, first initial(s)
Year published in parentheses, followed by a period
Title of article followed by a period
Journal title in italics, followed by a period
Volume of journal, followed immediately by issue number in parentheses, followed by a comma
Page range followed by a period