Using Sources, Page 9

Citing Your Sources

Whenever you incorporate outside sources into an essay, you must attribute your sources whenever it is appropriate. In some forums, such as newspaper articles, you may simply mention the source in the body of your article. Other types of writing, however, often require that you cite your sources, giving not only the author or title of a source but also enough information to allow readers, if they are so inclined, to track down your original source.

Generally, there are two widely accepted methods of citing sources. The older, more traditional method is through footnotes or endnotes. Many word processing programs today allow writers to instantly create notes. A more recent method of citing sources is called in-text citation, and this method has become the preferred method in many academic disciplines, especially in the humanities.

The in-text citation works much as you would expect it to from its name: rather than locating a source citation in a foot- or endnote apart from the body text, the necessary information is mentioned directly in the essay itself. While it has been criticized by some for its intrusive appearance in the essay, it greatly simplifies the sometimes complicated rules of note format.

The In-text Citation

The in-text citation works in conjunction with the Works Cited page. The way it works is this: for every citation in the text, you give enough information that a reader can find the relevant publication information about that source in the Works Cited page and find the information you cited there. For information from books and magazines, the citation generally consists of an author and page number:

The consistency of the Martian diet, particularly as it is eaten by elder denizens, has been described by one pundit as "regular as Swiss clockwork" (Jones 56).

The would-be researcher can find a work by "Jones" among the Works Cited and then look up the original statement by the pundit.

You need to be aware of several things regarding citing source. First, you should make clear where your use of the source begins. As mentioned earlier in this lesson, this can most easily be accomplished by mentioning the author in the text of your essay. If you do that, then it is no longer necessary to put the author's name in the citation; to do so would be redundant:

Jones has described the consistency of the Martian diet, particularly as it is eaten by elder denizens, as "regular as Swiss clockwork" (56).

Keep in mind, too, that if you have several sources by a single author, you need to specify — either in the body of the text (preferred) or in the citation itself — from which work your source is derived:

In his book Cuisines of the Solar System, Jones has described the consistency of the Martian diet, particularly as it is eaten by elder denizens, as "regular as Swiss clockwork" (56).

Jones has described the consistency of the Martian diet, particularly as it is eaten by elder denizens, as "regular as Swiss clockwork" (Cuisines 56).

When you first refer to a source, it is best to mention the full author and/or title in the text of the essay. On subsequent citations to the same source, you may use a shortened form of the title.

Another concern when citing sources, particularly direct quotations, is getting the speaker right. In our example, if "Jones" is actually quoting what someone else said about the Martian diet, you need to demonstrate that in either the text or the citation.

One pundit has described the consistency of the Martian diet, particularly as it is eaten by elder denizens, as "regular as Swiss clockwork" (qtd. in Jones, Cuisines 56).

In this example, the "qtd. in" means simply that the line about the Martian diet was spoken by someone else in Jones' book.

Formatting the in-text citation

One of the most common mechanical errors in student research essays is incorrectly formatting the in-text citation. Part of the problem is that it violates one of the established "rules" about quotation marks, that they never go inside a comma or period. In this case, however, it is necessary that the citation go outside a quotation (because it is not a literal part of the quotation) but inside a sentence-ending period (because it refers back to information within that sentence). The only exception to this is when a citation comes at the end of a block quotation (a long quotation set apart from the main text by indentations on both sides). In that case, the citation comes after the final end-punctuation (period, question mark, etc.) of the quoted block of text.

Pageless Sources

Finally, you may wonder about how to cite those sources which do not have page numbers, such as personal letters, movies, television broadcasts, Internet documents, etc. Rather than manufacture page numbers — something to put in the parenthetical citation — it is usually best simply to attribute enough of your source in the actual body text for it to be found on the Works Cited page. If you refer, for instance, to a 1996 letter from a friend named Ralph Ganter, mention that in the text of your essay and do not put a parenthetical citation. If your source can be subdivided in some other way that would be helpful to others trying to track down your specific use of the source, such information may be cited parenthetically as page number ordinarily are — the plays of Shakespeare, for instance, are usually cited by the play title and then by Act, scene, and line number, as in (Othello III.i.6-9).