The "Why" of Citations
On the Shoulders of Giants
In a letter he wrote in 1676, Isaac Newton stated that “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” It is this concept of each generation’s work being built upon the work of those who came before that underscores the importance of citation in scholarly writing. Every new idea in academia is informed by data, research and existing literature, and it is through citation that these building blocks of innovation are recognized.
Citing is the act of formally granting credit to an author/creator for their ideas or work that you have borrowed for use in your own work. Although there are many different citation styles, the most commonly used by Canadian and American universities are:
|APA||The style created and maintained by the American Psychological Association, which is now on its 7th edition, is most commonly used in the social sciences (psychology, anthropology, economics, political science, linguistics, human geography, etc.).|
|MLA||The style created and maintained by the Modern Language Association, which is now on its 7th edition, is most commonly used in the humanities (classics, language, law, literature, humanities, etc.).|
|The style created and maintained by the Council of Science Editors, which is now in its 8th edition, is most commonly used in the sciences (chemistry, biology, etc.).|
The Chicago Manual of Style is most commonly used in history and is now on its 16th edition.
UNB Students: For information on how to use APA, MLA or CMS, visit the UNB Writing & Study Skills Centre.
For information on how to use CSE, visit CSE Citation Style Examples.
STU Students: For information on different citation styles, visit the STU Writing Centre.
Why Citations Matter
Citations are a way to "join the conversation" taking place within the scholarly community. You can't always talk to the researchers you’re citing, but by citing them in your work you are bringing them into your conversation, while telling people that you are a part of theirs. Becoming a scholar (at any level) means joining and adding to the discourse in the field, and citation is a vital part of this.
In addition to the abstract act of ‘joining the conversation’, there are some very real and valuable reasons to cite any work that you are using to support your own conclusions.
- Citations give credit to the person whose work you have used. In some cases, an article you have cited and the research behind it may have taken a year or more for the author to produce. Research is the result of a huge amount of effort on the part of the author, and citations are a way of showing respect for all that effort – especially since you are benefitting from it.
- Citations let you (and others) track down the information being discussed. When you cite correctly, it can allow your audience to access the same resources you did. This can give them a way to expand their knowledge on a subject, or even just to develop a better understanding of your work. Additionally, you can use others’ citations to do the same thing – in fact, this is an excellent way to find resources to further augment any arguments you may be making.
- Citations show that you have done your research. Citing other works assures your audience that you have done the necessary work to both understand your own arguments and to be able to defend them intelligently. Citations grant you credibility that your name and work alone may not offer.
- Citations distinguish your work from the works you are citing. Citing others works, in addition to granting credit to the authors whose works you have cited, helps you to distinguish your own contributions. In a paper in which citation has been done well, it should be clear to the reader what you have learned from others, and what you have contributed yourself.
What is Plagiarism?
Plagiarism occurs when you fail to cite information that originated through someone else’s work. It is considered a form of stealing. In fact, the word plagiarism is derived from the Latin word, plagiarius, which means 'a kidnapping', because the principle is that you have taken the "brainchild" of another person and claimed it for your own. The act of plagiarism is a serious offence at universities because of the high value they place on any person's intellectual products and property.
Traditionally, at academic institutions (like UNB and STU), plagiarism is described as:
- The word-for-word repetition of ideas or facts from another source without granting appropriate credit to the creator of that source.
- The repetition of ideas or facts through paraphrasing (i.e., not word-for-word) without granting appropriate credit to the creator of that source.
- The misrepresentation of the work, ideas or discoveries of another individual as your own.
- The re-submission of one's own work from another course or academic endeavor for a new academic purpose without first obtaining the approval of the instructor to whom it is being submitted.*
Additionally, plagiarism can occur across formats and media, regardless of the original state of the information being plagiarized. For instance, the repetition of someone’s spoken statements in written form without granting appropriate credit to the speaker is still plagiarism.
Note: Plagiarism is actionable whether the offence is intentional or not.
There is one exception to the rules of citation and plagiarism, and that is so-called 'common knowledge'. Common knowledge includes any statement or fact that is so widely known that it can be assumed that most of the readership already know it to be true. Common knowledge also typically includes historical dates and facts.
A fact is common knowledge if:
- The information is widely known within the sphere in which the work was written (i.e., common knowledge in the medical field is different from common knowledge in other fields).
- If the information is not widely known, it must be (a) easy to look up, and (b) a fact that is not the subject of great debate.
If there are any questions about whether a fact is common knowledge, it is always better to cite. There are generally no penalties for unnecessary citations, but penalties for failing to cite when necessary can be harsh.
For information on plagiarism rules and procedures, visit:
UNB Students: UNB's Academic Offences page
STU Students: STU's Procedures in Cases of Cheating or Plagiarism
* Although #4 in the above list is not considered plagiarism in most cases (particularly when you are citing yourself in the re-submitted work), it is treated the same as other plagiarism offences at most universities, including UNB and STU.
Quoting & Paraphrasing
Quoting and Paraphrasing
Quoting is the use in your own work (in quotation marks) of the exact wording or phrasing that was used by the author of the work you are referencing. Frequency and extent of use of quotations in academic work varies by discipline. If you are unsure of the norms in your field, you may wish to speak with your instructor or TA about their views and preferences.
Quotations must be in quotation marks and cited correctly to be considered acceptable in scholarly works.
Paraphrasing is the act of rephrasing someone else’s work or ideas in such a way that the idea remains intact but that the wording and sentence structure is different. Failure to paraphrase when making use of another individual’s work (and when not using quotation marks) constitutes plagiarism.
It is sometimes difficult to determine at what point a piece of writing is sufficiently different from the original to be paraphrased rather than quoted or plagiarized. Failure to paraphrase correctly is a serious academic offense, so it is better to err on the side of caution (i.e., make more changes rather than fewer).
Paraphrased text must be differently worded than the original text and cited correctly to be considered acceptable in scholarly works.
Example of Plagiarism vs. Paraphrasing:
Excerpt taken from: Archaeopteryx Was Not Very Bird-like Archaeopteryx Lacked Rapid Bone Growth, The Hallmark Of Birds. (n.d.). AMNH. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from http://www.amnh.org/our-research/science-news/2009/archaeopteryx-was-not-very-bird-like-archaeopteryx-lacked-rapid-bone-growth-the-hallmark-of-birds
"Archaeopteryx has long been considered the iconic first bird. But microscopic imaging of bone structure […] shows that this famously feathered fossil grew much slower than living birds and more like non-avian dinosaurs. The bones of more recently discovered bird fossils like Confuciusornis, a primitive but toothless bird from the Yixian Formation in China that appeared after Archaeopteryx, demonstrate rapid growth more similar to that of modern birds. This means rapid bone growth -- long thought a prerequisite for flight -- was not necessary for taking to the air."
Note: the red text in the following paragraph is plagiarized. Even though the author has been given credit, and the wording and word order has been changed in some cases, this is clearly a case of academic misconduct.
The iconic first bird, the Archaeopteryx, is in doubt. Microscopic bone structure imaging has shown that the growth of this feathered fossil was much slower than that of living birds – and more like the average dinosaur. However, the toothless Confuciusornis’s bones, and those of other more recently discovered birds that appeared after Archaeopteryx, do show the rapid growth patterns of modern birds. This shows that rapid bone growth, which was long thought to be necessary for taking to the air, is in fact not necessary for flight (AMNH, 2014).
Recent research on a fossilized Archaeopteryx bone is changing the way scientists view the evolution of flight. Microscopic imaging has shown that the Archaeopteryx’s bone structure did not support rapid growth, like most modern birds’ do. It is only in more recently discovered bird-like dinosaurs (like Confuciusornis) that this trait seems to appear. Contrary to current theories, thenm the Archaeopteryx’s observed growth patterns suggest that rapid bone growth is not required for flight (AMNH, 2014).
Tips on Citing (and Avoiding Accidental Plagiarism)
Tip 1: Make sure you fully understand the citation rules you are required to work with, and in which cases you should be citing your sources.
Tip 2: Make sure you acknowledge the original source of the information – not just the place where you retrieved it. If an author in a paper cites someone, and you want to use that information, you also have to go to that original paper and cite it. You cannot give credit to one author for the work of another.*
Tip 3: Keep track of your sources. Always record the sources you use and the information you use from them as you work – it is extremely difficult to add in your citations after you have completed your work. You may wish to use software like Zotero to help you keep track.
Tip 4: Only use sources that you fully understand. It is much easier to commit an accidental plagiarism offence when you are lost or confused by the material.
Tip 5: Take notes. Instead of adding information to your paper straight from the source (and trying to paraphrase as you go), take paraphrased notes on the information and use your notes to write your paper. This gives you one more step between the source and your paper, and should help you decrease the odds of accidental plagiarism.
Tip 6: Give yourself enough time to complete your work. Many cases of accidental plagiarism are a result of trying to finish a paper in too little time. The pressure to complete the work stops some people from taking the necessary steps to ensure that they maintain their academic integrity.
Tip 7: When you have any doubts about whether you should cite something or not, cite it. Even if you decide that it probably didn’t need to be cited, someone (like your professor) might disagree. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
* The exception to Tip 2 is where the original work is unavailable or is unreasonably difficult to locate. For details on how to cite a work from its derivative(s), see the citation manual for the style you are using.
Writing & Research Handbooks
Every student should have a good academic writing and research handbook; these handbooks provide details on how to write good academic research papers and assignments, including how to follow accepted academic citation methods. The following recommended titles are available for in-library use at the Harriet Irving Library, either next to the Research Help Desk (HIL-REFDSK) or in the nearby Reference Stacks (HIL-REF).
Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., & Williams, J. M. (2008). The craft of research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
HIL-STACKS Q180.55 .M4 B66 2008 OR Available as eBook
Buckley, J. (2012). Fit to print: The Canadian student's guide to essay writing. Toronto: Nelson Education.
HIL-REFDSK LB2369 .B83 2013
Fowler, H. R., & Aaron, J. E. (2012). The Little, Brown handbook. Boston: Pearson.
HIL-REFDSK PE1112 .F64 2012
Kennedy, X. J., Kennedy, D. M., & Muth, M. F. (2008). The Bedford guide for college writers with reader and research manual. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins.
HIL-STACKS PE1408 .K49 2008
Lunsford, A. A., Ede, L. S., Matsuda, P. K., & Tardy, C. M. (2008). The St. Martin's handbook. New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martins.
HIL-REF PE1112 .L86 2008
Messenger, W. E., De, B. J., Brown, J., & Montagnes, R. (2014). The Canadian writer's handbook.
HIL-REFDSK ON ORDER (previous edition available)
Northey, M., & McKibbin, J. (2012). Making sense: A student's guide to research and writing. Don Mills, Ont: Oxford University Press.
HIL-REF LB2369 .N67 2012
Northey, M., & Jewinski, J. (2010). Making sense in engineering and the technical sciences: A student's guide to research and writing. Don Mills, Ont: Oxford University Press.
HIL-REFDSK T11 .N67 2010
Northey, M., Draper, D. L., & Knight, D. B. (2009). Making sense: A student's guide to research and writing : geography and environmental sciences. Don Mills, Ont: Oxford University Press.
HIL-REFDSK G74 .N67 2009
Northey, M., Tepperman, L., & Albanese, P. (2012). Making sense: A student's guide to research and writing : social sciences. Don Mills, Ont: Oxford University Press.
HIL-REFDSK H61.8 .N67 2012
Rosen, L. J. (2009). The academic writer's handbook. New York: Pearson Longman.
HIL-REF PE1408 .R6768 2009
Soles, D. (2010). The essentials of academic writing. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning Houghton Mifflin.
HIL-REFDSK LB2369 .S62 2010
Troyka, L. Q., & Hesse, D. (2010). Simon & Schuster handbook for writers. Toronto: Pearson Prentice Hall.
HIL-REFDSK PE1408 .T76 2010
For more titles, search the catalogue using a subject phrase such as academic writing. You will find additional books at UNB Libraries, some of which are available for borrowing from the main stacks (e.g. HIL-STACKS) or online as e-books. In addition to general titles such as those listed above, UNB Libraries has several discipline-specific handbooks, such as The criminal justice student writer's manual (HIL-REF HV9950 .C74323 2005).
Citation Styles by Discipline
There are many different citation styles, and each discipline tends to 'prefer' one or two citation styles over the others. Below is a table listing the preferred or standard citation styles by discipline at UNB.
|Classics and Ancient History||MLA|
|Computer Science||IEEE / APA|
|Engineering||APA / Geo-Technical (civil)|
|Fine Arts||Chicago / MLA|
|Forestry||no specific style|
|Gender and Women's Studies||APA|
|Law||Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation|
|Math||no specific style|
|Political Science||APA / Chicago|
|Science (broad)||no specific style|
Note: These are the preferred styles of the discipline, but your individual professors may want you to use something else. You should always check with your professor before formatting your paper or citations.
Writing and Research Help
For additional help with writing and research, you may wish to consider some of the following resources:
Still having trouble, or just want to talk to a real person? Visit UNB or STU's Writing Centres.
UNB Fredericton: Writing & Study Skills Centre
UNB Saint John: Writing Centre
STU: Writing Centre
Zotero is a major citation management software resource, that helps you to track, cite and maintain your bibliography for one (or many) projects. Among other things, Zotero allows you to import references from many major databases, organize and expand on references, and export a reference list in any of the major citation formats (APA, Chicago, MLA, and more). For more information on Zotero, and a link to the site, visit our Zotero Guide.