How To Site A Source In An Essay

MLA: Using Sources Correctly

There are three main ways to uses sources in your research paper. You may quote. You may paraphrase. Or you may summarize. All three require an in-text (parenthetical) citation!

In-text Citations

You CANNOT use information from any website or published book unless you give the author (or site) credit--BOTH inside your text and at the end of your paper.  In other words, it is NOT enough to simply list the sources you used on a Works Cited Page or References List. 

As your instructor reads your essay, he or she should clearly be able to see which sentences, facts, or sections of your essay came from Source A, Source B, or Source C, etc. by looking at your in-text citations.

You can give credit to your sources within your text in two different ways: by using a signal phrase or by simply using an in-text citation. 

Signal phrase:  a signal phrase lets the reader know, right at the beginning of the sentence, that the information he or she is about to read comes from another source.

Example:  Your paper might say something like....According to John Smith (2006), author of Pocahontas Is My Love, "Native American women value a deep spiritual connection to the environment."

Notice that since I took a direct quote from John Smith's book, I placed those words in quotation marks.  Notice also that I placed the date that the book was published directly after the author's name in parentheses--this is proper APA format.  Finally, notice that because I explained WHO wrote the book and WHAT book it comes from, the reader is easily able not only to find the source on his/her own to check my facts, but the reader is also more likely to believe what I have to say now that they know that my information comes from a credible source.

For Web Sources: If I was using a particular website (instead of John Smith's book), the signal phrase would look exactly the same, but I would say "According to Pocahontasrules.com..."     

In-Text Citation:  Use an in-text citation in situations where you are not quoting someone directly, but rather using information from another source such as a fact, summary, or paraphrase to support your own ideas.

Example:  She stated, "Students often had difficulty using APA style," but she did not offer an explanation (Jones, 1998, p. 199).

Notice that it's clear within this sentence that I'm referring to a certain person's beliefs, but since this person's name does not appear at the beginning of the sentence, I have placed her name, the year that her article was published, and the page number where I retrieved this information in parentheses at the end of the sentence.

Information on how to format an in-text citation


Summarizing Sources

Summarize an article or a larger section of an article whenever you simply want to present the author's general ideas in your essay. 

How to Write an Effective Summary:  Cover up the original article, it is key that you not quote from the original work.  Restate what you've read in your own words, and be sure to give the author credit using an in-text citation. 

Example:  Congressman Joe Smith (2009) believes that our approach to reforming the healthcare system is backwards and costly.  He discusses our rising national debt in "Healthcare: Let's Talk" and lists several statistics to prove that Obama's new plan will only make things worse.

Summaries are most often used to condense larger texts into more manageable chucks. However, as a writer you should be aware that this more manageable chunks and easily become vague and weigh your paper down with fluff.

Paraphrasing Sources

Paraphrase your sources whenever you believe that you can make the information from a source shorter and/or clearer for your audience.  A paraphrase is NOT an exact copy of the original, simply changing a few words here and there is NOT acceptable. 

Take a look at these examples:     

The original passage from The Confident Student (6th ed.):  “Whatever your age, health and well-being can affect your ability to do well in college.  If you don’t eat sensibly, stay physically fit, manage your stress, and avoid harmful substances, then your health and your grades will suffer” (Kanar 158).  

A legitimate paraphrase: No matter what condition your body is in, you can pretty much guarantee that poor health habits will lead to a lack of academic success.  Students need to take time for their physical and emotional well-being, as well as their studies, during college (Kanar 158). 

A plagiarized version:  No matter how old you are, your well-being and your health can impact your ability to do a good job at school.  If you choose not to eat well, exercise, deal with stress, and avoid getting drunk, then your grades will go down (Kanar 158).

Because the art of paraphrasing is more concise than summarizing, a true paraphrase shows that you as a researcher completely understand the source work.

Quoting your sources

If you need help incorporating your sources into your essay, the first thing you'll need to remember is that quotes cannot stand alone--they can't be placed in a sentence all by themselves.  You need to make each quote a part of your essay by introducing it beforehand and commenting on it afterward.  

Think of each quote like a sandwich—the quote is the meat on the inside, but before you taste the meat, you must also be introduced to the sandwich by the bread. After you bite down on that meat, you need the other piece of bread to round out the meal.

The top piece of bread will tell us where the quote came from and/or how it fits in with what’s already been discussed in the essay.  The bottom piece of bread points out what was important about the quote and elaborates on what was being said.


Quoting FAQ’s

How do I use partial quotations to liven up my writing?

Be sure to introduce the author from the source work within the sentence itself  and use quotation marks. No comma is necessary to introduce the quoted phrase.

Example:

Margaret Reardon points out that today's economy cars are "better equipped" to handle accidents than the smaller cars of the past.

What are block quotations and how are they handled?

Block, or indent, quotations longer than four lines of type. When a quotation is indented, the use of quotation marks is not necessary, and the page number is included outside the ending punctuation.

Example:

Jordan stated:

Like many people who enjoy a leisurely pace of living with such attendant activities as reading, painting, or gardening, I often long for a simpler time, a time when families amused themselves by telling stories after supper, as opposed to watching Baghdad get bombed. (1)

Block quotes are indented by one inch, and should be used sparingly.

How do I punctuate shorter quotations?

For a quotation shorter than four lines, quotation marks are used and the page numbers fall inside the ending punctuation.

Example:

According to DR. Shannon Marcus:  "Many of our student's personal decisions will have the inherent dangers of instant gratification, and so will their political decisions," (548).

Do I use a comma or a colon to introduce a quotation?

A quotation is usually introduced by a comma or a colon. A colon precedes when a quotation is formally introduced or when the quotation itself is a complete sentence, but either no punctuation or a comma generally precedes when the quotation serves as an integral part of the sentence.

Compare:

Shelley argued thus: "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

but

She thought poets "the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

or

"Poets," according to Shelley, "are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

or

Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" concludes: "A sadder and a wiser man, / He rose the morrow morn."

How do I correctly change a quotation to suit my purpose, such as to identify a pronoun?

Often, a quotation you wish to use includes a pronoun instead of a name. Since you must copy the quotation verbatim, you should insert the name after the pronoun to clarify who you are talking about. Use brackets (not parenthesis).

Example: "He [Clapton] got the chills when he listened to that material recently."

What if my quotation contains a mistake?

Additionally, if your source makes a “mistak”, you copy the mistake because direct quotations are copied verbatim. However, you indicate that the mistake is not yours by using [sic], which means "thus" and tells the reader that the error appears in the original.

Example:

The professor stressed that "if your source makes a mistak [sic], you should copy the mistake because direct quotations are copied verbatim."

If quotations are verbatim, how do I leave something out of a quotation that I do not need?

Use ellipsis marks if you wish to leave something out of the middle of a quotation (perhaps it is not needed or will make your quotation too long).

Original Source:

She states that

many of our students' personal decisions will have the inherent dangers of instant gratification, and so will their political decisions. Virtual reality will make it possible for them to program themselves into scenarios we now merely fantasize about. As a result, imagination itself will require a new definition. (1)

Quoted with ellipses:

She states that

many of our students' personal decisions will have the inherent dangers of instant gratification, and so will their political decisions. . . . As a result, imagination itself will require a new definition. (1)

Note 1: There are only three ellipses marks used in this sentence. A period also appears, indicating that one sentence ended before the word "As." If you had only left out a few words in mid-sentence, then you would not need a period.

Note 2: Do not change the meaning of the quotation when you leave out part of it!

Note 3: Notice that now that information has been removed from the middle of  the quotation, it is only three lines long. It should no longer be indented.

Use ellipsis marks ( . . . ) at the beginning and end of quotations only if necessary. It is not always necessary to do so, and too many will damage the flow of your essay. Use them sparingly.

If my source quotes somebody else, how do I indicate this?

When you have a quotation within a quotation, handle it this way:

Indented original (article by David Fricke appearing in Rolling Stone):

Clapton [Eric] got the chills when he listened to that material recently. It was the first time he had done so in over fifteen years. "It got too much for me," he says. "Old memories started coming back; old issues raised their head. I think of the people in that band and what happened to them." (qtd. in Fricke 26)

Notice that this quotation is indented because it is longer than four lines. Therefore, no quotation marks are used at the beginning or the end. The quotation marks that appear at the end are the result of needing quotation marks around Clapton's remark, not because the entire paragraph is a quotation. Notice also that the first line is indented an additional five spaces. That's because it's the first sentence in the paragraph in the original. If you begin a quotation in mid-paragraph, there is no indention.

Clapton's name does not appear on your Works Cited page as he is not your source. Fricke is the source. Therefore, Fricke's name should appear. Since Clapton is speaking, however, use "qtd. in" (quoted in) for clarification.

You’ll discover that different academic disciplines have different rules and protocols concerning when and how to cite sources, a practice known as “citation.” For example, some disciplines use footnotes, whereas others use parenthetical in-text citations; some require complete bibliographic information on all works consulted, whereas others require only a list of “Works Cited.” As you decide on a concentration and begin advanced work in your department, you’ll need to learn the particular protocols for your discipline. Elsewhere on this website, you’ll find a brief sampling of commonly used citation styles.

The five basic principles described below apply to all disciplines and should guide your own citation practice. Even more fundamental, however, is this general rule: when in doubt, cite. You’ll certainly never find yourself in trouble if you acknowledge a source when it’s not absolutely necessary; it’s always preferable to err on the side of caution and completeness. Better still, if you’re unsure about whether or not to cite a source, ask your professor or preceptor for guidance before submitting the paper or report.

1. Quotation. Any verbatim use of a source, no matter how large or small the quotation, must be placed in quotation marks or, if longer than three lines, clearly indented beyond the regular margin. The quotation must be accompanied, either within the text or in a footnote, by a precise indication of the source, identifying the author, title, place and date of publication (where relevant), and page numbers. Even if you use only a short phrase, or even one key word, you must use quotation marks in order to set off the borrowed language from your own, and you must cite the source.

2. Paraphrase. Paraphrase is a restatement of another person’s thoughts or ideas in your own words, using your own sentence structure. A paraphrase is normally about the same length as the original. Although you don’t need to use quotation marks when you paraphrase, you absolutely do need to cite the source, either in parentheses or in a footnote. If another author’s idea is particularly well put, quote it verbatim and use quotation marks to distinguish that author’s words from your own. Paraphrase your source if you can restate the idea more clearly or simply, or if you want to place the idea in the flow of your own thoughts—though be sure to announce your source in your own text (“Albert Einstein believed that...”) and always include a citation. Paraphrasing does not relieve you of the responsibility to cite your source.

3. Summary. Summary is a concise statement of another person’s thoughts or ideas in your own words. A summary is normally shorter than the original—a distillation of the source’s ideas. When summarizing other people’s ideas, arguments, or conclusions, you must cite your sources—for example, with a footnote at the end of each summary. Taking good notes while doing your research will help you keep straight which ideas belong to which author. Good note-taking habits are especially important when you’re reviewing a series of interpretations or ideas on your subject.

4. Facts, Information, and Data. Often you’ll want to use facts or information to support your own argument. If the information is found exclusively in a particular source, you must clearly acknowledge that source. For example, if you use data from a scientific experiment conducted and reported by a researcher, you must cite your source, probably a scientific journal or a website. Or if you use a piece of information discovered by another scholar in the course of their own research, you must cite your source. But if the fact or information is generally known and accepted—for example, that Woodrow Wilson served as president of both Princeton University and the United States, or that Avogadro’s number is 6.02 x 1023—you do not need to cite a source. Note that facts are different from ideas: facts may not need to be cited, whereas ideas must always be cited. Deciding which facts or pieces of information require citation and which are common knowledge, and thus do not require citation, isn’t always easy. For example, finding the same fact or piece of information in multiple sources doesn’t necessarily mean that it counts as common knowledge. Your best course of action in such a case may be to cite the most credible or authoritative of the multiple sources. Refer to a later section of this website, “Not-So-Common-Knowledge,” for more discussion of how to determine what counts as common knowledge. But remember: when in doubt, cite.

5. Supplementary Information. Occasionally, especially in a longer research paper, you may not be able to include all of the information or ideas from your research in the body of your own paper. In such cases, insert a note offering supplementary information rather than simply providing basic bibliographic information (author, title, place and date of publication, and page numbers). In such footnotes or endnotes, you might provide additional data to bolster your argument, or briefly present an alternative idea that you found in one of your sources, or even list two or three additional articles on some topic that your reader might find of interest. Such notes demonstrate the breadth and depth of your research, and permit you to include germane, but not essential, information or concepts without interrupting the flow of your own paper. Additional claims or analysis of your own that you want to include in your essay without distracting readers from the central line of argument may also appear in footnote form. In these cases, the footnote will not include a citation because the ideas or findings presented belong to you.

In all of the cases above, the standards of academic integrity require both citing the source in the text of your essay and its incorporation into your bibliography. To be clear, it is not enough to simply list a source in your bibliography if it deserves explicit citation in the essay’s body. Failure to provide that citation may result in being charged with plagiarism.

Sometimes, though rarely, a source merits inclusion in your bibliography even when it doesn’t merit a particular citation in your paper’s text. This most often occurs when a source plays a critical role in your understanding of your topic, but never lends a specific idea or piece of evidence to your essay’s argument. For example, imagine you’re writing a paper about totalitarian regimes, and your thinking about such regimes is heavily influenced by your reading of George Orwell’s 1984. Imagine further that nothing from the novel appears explicitly in your essay, and your strongest reference to the book is describing these regimes as “Orwellian” in passing. Here there would be no need to cite 1984 directly, but it would be appropriate to list it in your bibliography. As always, if you’re unsure about a particular case, err on the side of providing a citation and a bibliography entry.

For international students, it’s especially important to review and understand the citation standards and expectations for institutions of higher learning in the United States. Students who have done their college preparation at schools in other countries may have learned research and paper-writing practices different from those at Princeton. For example, students from schools in East Asia may learn that copying directly from sources, without citation, is the proper way to write papers and do research. Students in France, preparing for the Baccalaureate examination, may be encouraged to memorize whole passages from secondary sources and copy them into papers and exam essays. Those cultural differences can sometimes lead to false assumptions about citation practices and expectations at Princeton. Again, you are responsible for reading and understanding the University’s academic regulations as defined and explained in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities. You must ask for assistance from your professors or preceptors if you’re not sure.

The Writing Center, located in Whitman College, is also a key resource for students wanting to learn more about proper note-taking and citation practices. To make an appointment, visit www.princeton.edu/writing/appt or drop in without an appointment Sunday through Thursday evenings.

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