Citations – How To Do Them Properly

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In earlier blog articles we have talked about plagiarism and how to avoid accidentally plagiarizing other people’s work in your own scientific paper or work. If you forgot, you can refresh your memory here: How to avoid Plagiarism.


While avoiding plagiarism in the first place is a big step, of course, the proper citation of work used as a research basis, to contradict theories and root your work in is just as important.


This is why we at decided to dedicate a whole article to the topic of proper citations.



Citation rules vary. Between research fields, university departments, disciplines, etc. If you are writing a term paper or thesis, it’s best to get the direct and proper instructions from you department, teacher or supervisor. Most universities have incorporated courses or at least single lectures dedicated to citations as well. Our advice is: attend them! Learning how to cite properly will spare you a lot pain, confusion, and mislead accusations in your academic career.


However, when there are no subject or discipline specific requirements, you have to decide on a proper way of citing other people’s work still. This is where we can give you some hints.


In-Text Citations

The first step is to decide how to cite the author of the quote or idea you are using or referring to.

Is it an important quote? Word-by-word? One that is crucial for your findings or the rest of your paper? Then it’s important to introduce author and work to your own audience. Mention them in an introductory sentence.

Is the quote you are using one of many in a list? Or only stating a minor point? Is the work cited only there for completion, not crucial to your own research? Then, using a quick mention in parenthesis or even a footnote could do.


If you are citing another author’s work in a text for the first time, you should mention their name as well as the title of their work and the media (was it a book, article, website?). If their work was crucial for your own findings, you can even dedicate a whole sentence or more to introduce their work and give a quick summary of the content and importance for your own work.

Following mentions, even when you cited another author’s work in between, can be done by simply dropping the last name and a reference like year of publishing when you refer to more than one article or book of the same author throughout your paper.


Two examples:

In her book “Women, Men And Language”, Jennifer Coates defined that men and women belong to different subcultures and that they thus use different conversational rules.

That American’s are unwilling to learn a foreign language is a “gross overgeneralization”, state Eddie Ronowicz and Colin Yallop in their book “English: One language, different cultures.”


Direct And Indirect Quotes

There are two formatting-related ways to cite: using quotes and referencing or summarizing other author’s statements. This depends on the content you want to cite and the relevance to your text.

If you can not express an author’s words better or simply want to quote a whole, relevant paragraph, a direct quote is advised.

Minor points or summaries of findings, research subjects and the like, however, can be mentioned without using quotation marks.


Long, direct quotes should always be set apart from the rest of your text, either by changing the font, indentation or line-spacing. Quotes that span over several lines should not begin and end with quotation marks. The visual changes applied to the long quote is enough to indicate the nature of the quote.


Citations In Footnotes

Citations do not have to occur inside your text all the time, however. In many disciplines (e.g. literary studies), footnotes are a common way of citing your quotes. A footnote is a little note placed at the bottom of your page, separated from the rest of the text. These footnotes are commonly used for comments and additional information that would otherwise interrupt the flow of the text or are not relevant enough to be included. Nevertheless, they are a proper place to put your citation in as well.


As it was the case with in-text citations, the first mention of an author and work should be more elaborate, containing the author’s name, the title of their work and maybe the medium and year of publishing.

Following mentions of the same source can of course be shortened again, e.g. to only last name and year.


Most word processing software handle footnotes very well. You can insert one in your text and it will appear at the bottom of your page. When inserting more text before the item the footnote is linked to and when it thus is moved to another page, the footnote will, so to speak, “follow”.

While you can place the footnote anywhere you want in a sentence, it is highly advised to put it at the end of the sentence that contains the quote to not distract the reader.


The Endnote

Another way to keep cited work out of your text is to put it in an endnote. Endnotes are similar to footnotes in that they leave small numbers behind in the text that refer to the notes relevant to the marked sentence. However, instead of appearing at the bottom of the page, these notes all appear at the end of your text.

As you can imagine, it’s a it of a nuisance to browse back and forth between the page you are at while reading, and the list of endnotes. Thus, it’s more common for articles and short papers instead of longer work like theses and books.