8-How to Cite Sources

Steps for Citing

To write a proper citation we recommend following these steps, which will help you maintain accuracy and clarity in acknowledging sources.


Step 1: Choose Your Citation Style

Find out the name of the citation style you must use from your instructor, the directions for an assignment, or what you know your audience or publisher expects. Then search for your style at the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) or use Google or Bing to find your style’s stylebook/handbook and then purchase it or as for it at a library.


Step 2: Create In-Text Citations

Find and read your style’s rules about in-text citations, which are usually very thorough. Luckily, there are usually examples provided that make it a lot easier to learn the rules.

EXAMPLE: Style Guides Are Usually Very Thorough

For instance, your style guide may have different rules for when you are citing:

  • Quotations rather than summaries rather than paraphrases
  • Long, as opposed to short, quotations.
  • Sources with one or multiple authors.
  • Books, journal articles, interviews and email, or electronic sources.

Step 3: Determine the Kind of Source

After creating your in-text citation, now begin creating the full bibliographic citation that will appear on the References or Bibliography page by deciding what kind of source you have to cite (book, film, journal article, webpage, etc.).

EXAMPLE: Using a Style Guide to Create an In-Text Citation

Imagine that you’re using APA style and have the APA style guide rules for in-text citations open in OWL. In your psychogeography paper, you want to quote the authors of the book The Experience of Nature, Rachel Kaplan and Stephen Kaplan, which was published in 1989. What you want to quote is from page 38 of the book.

Here’s what you want to quote:

“The way space is organized provides information about what one might want to do in that space. A relatively brief glance at a scene communicates whether there is room to roam, whether one’s path is clear or blocked.”

  1. Skim the headings in the style guide to remind yourself of what its rules concern.
    Since it has rules about the length of quotations, you count the number of words in what you want to quote and find that your quote has 38, which is within the range for short quotations (less than 40), according to the APA style guide.According to the rule for short quotations, you see that you’re supposed to introduce the quote by attributing the quote to the author (last name only) and adding the publication date in parentheses. You write:

    According to the Kaplans (1989), “The way space is organized provides information about what one might want to do in that space. A relatively brief glance at a scene communicates whether there is room to roam, whether one’s path is clear or blocked.”

  2. Then you notice that the example in the style guide includes the page number on which you found the quotation. It appears at the end of the quote (in parentheses and outside the quote marks but before the period ending the quotation). So you add that:

    According to the Kaplans (1989), “The way space is organized provides information about what one might want to do in that space. A relatively brief glance at a scene communicates whether there is room to roam, whether one’s path is clear or blocked” (p.38).

  3. You’re feeling pretty good, but then you realize that you have overlooked the rule about having multiple authors. You have two and their last names are both Kaplan. So you change your sentence to:

    According to Kaplan and Kaplan (1989), “The way space is organized provides information about what one might want to do in that space. A relatively brief glance at a scene communicates whether there is room to roam, whether one’s path is clear or blocked” (p.38).

    So you have your first in-text citation for your final product:

    According to Kaplan and Kaplan (1989), “The way space is organized provides information about what one might want to do in that space. A relatively brief glance at a scene communicates whether there is room to roam, whether one’s path is clear or blocked” (p.38).


Step 4: Study Your Style’s Rules for Bibliographic Citations

Next, you’ll need a full bibliographic citation for the same source. This citation will appear on the References page or Bibliography page or Works Cited page. (APA style, which we’re using here, requires a page called References.) Bibliographic citations usually contain more publication facts than you used for your in-text citation, and the formatting for all of them is very specific.

EXAMPLE: Bibliographic Citation Rules Are Very Specific
  • Rules vary for sources, depending, for instance, on whether they are books, journal articles, or online sources.
  • Sometimes lines of the citation must be indented.
  • Authors’ names usually appear last name first.
  • Authors’ first names of authors may be initials instead.
  • Names of sources may or may not have to be in full.
  • Names of some kinds of sources may have to be italicized.
  • Names of some sources may have to be in quotes.
  • Dates of publication appear in different places, depending on the style.
  • Some styles require Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs ) in the citations for online sources.

Step 5: Identify Citation Elements

Figure out which bibliographic citation rules apply to the source you’ve just created an in-text citation for. Then apply them to create your first bibliographic citation.

Example: Using a Style Guide to Create a Bibliographic Citation

Imagine that you’re using APA style and have the APA style guide rules for bibliographic citations open in OWL. Your citation will be for the book called The Experience of Nature, written by Rachel Kaplan and Stephen Kaplan and published in 1989.

  1. You start by trying to apply OWL’s basic rules of APA style, which tell you your citation will start with the last name of your author followed by his or her first initial, and that the second line of the citation will be indented. So you write:Kaplan, R. and Kaplan, S. and remind yourself to indent the second line when you get there.
  2. Since you have two authors, you look for a rule regarding that situation, which requires a comma between the authors and an ampersand between the names. So you write:Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S.
  3. Because you know your source is a book, you look for style guide rules and examples about books. For instance, the rules for APA style say that the publication date goes in parentheses, followed by a period after the last author’s name. And that the title of the book is italicized. You apply the rules and examples and write the publication information you know about your source:Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The Experience of Nature.
  4. Next, you look at the rules and examples of book citations and notice that they show the city where the book was published and the publisher. So you find that information about your source (in a book, usually on the title page or its back) and write:Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The Experience of Nature. Cambridge:
    Cambridge University Press.
  5. Congratulations, especially about remembering to indent that line! You have created the first bibliographic citation for your final product.

Step 6: Repeat the steps for creating an in-text citation and a bibliographic citation for each of your sources.

Create your bibliographic citation by arranging publication information to match the example you chose in Step 4. Pay particular attention to what is and is not capitalized and to what punctuation and spaces separate each part that the example illustrates.

Movie: Finding the Information You Need: PDF and HTML Journal Articles

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Movie: Finding the Information You Need: Citing Information for Web and Online Multimedia Sources

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Tip: Citation Software

If you like, you can use citation generator software to arrange the information needed for your citation according to the style guide you chose. Learn more later in this section.

Activity: Deciphering Citations

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