Common Questions about Citations

The following questions are some of the most frequently asked by students when citing sources and including quotations in their papers. The examples given here employ MLA Style for footnotes and bibliographic entries.If you have further questions, be sure to speak with your instructor.

What kinds of things to I need to cite?

You are required to cite direct quotations, as well as the sorts of facts and ideas that lie outside of the sphere of what is generally considered to be common knowledge. That is, arcane or unusual facts should be cited to help the reader to understand what you mean, and where you found such information. For example, it is commonly known that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima occurred on 6 August 1945, and such a fact would not require citation or an explanatory footnote. The fact that the bomb released energy equivalent to approximately 15,000 tons of TNT, however, is a sufficiently unusual fact to require citation. You should therefore provide a footnote or an endnote to enable the reader to follow up on your claim, thereby substantiating your argument through the citation of hard evidence. A number appearing in superscript (on the upper part of a line) is then used to direct the reader’s attention to a corresponding footnote or endnote. This number would look like this.1 There are no hard and fast rules to determine what sorts of things require citation – experience and practice will make this distinction easier. The things that require citation are:

  • The source of all direct quotations of someone else’s words
  • The source of any important ideas or controversial arguments mentioned, summarized, or paraphrased
  • Translations for words or phrases in foreign languages that the reader could not be expected to understand and are not commonly used in English language sources
  • Occasional, sparing footnotes may be used to explain technical points in further detail
    or to provide additional information if they would aid the reader.

What if I am including several facts or ideas in a single paragraph?

Do I have to include a footnote after every sentence? No, if you include several facts or ideas within a single paragraph, they may be more conveniently cited at the end of the paragraph in a single footnote or endnote. This will obviate the need to include a footnote at the end of every sentence, which becomes tedious for both the author and the reader. Note: Good essays do not employ a large number of citations merely to appear authoritative. Keep your citations focused upon the evidence you present and the facts or ideas you convey to the reader.

When should I quote a source directly?

You should incorporate quotations from primary sources only when they support your argument directly, and are fundamental to the demonstration of your case. Do not employ unnecessarily long quotations, for they can distract the reader and break up your reasoning. Keep them short and on point.

Sample quotation: Ho Chi Minh was very confident that his forces would triumph over the forces of the United States in Vietnam, and claimed “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.”2

This quotation demonstrates Ho Chi Minh’s beliefs very directly, and supports the author’s claim that Ho was “very confident.” If a quotation is more than two sentences in length, separate it from the text as an offset paragraph (entirely indented).

If I find a quotation in a book, do I cite the original source of the quotation, or the book I found it in?

Always cite the source in which you found the quotation. The original source of the quotation should be included in your citation “as found in” the secondary source.

Sample footnote: 1 Interview with Ho Chi Minh, as found in Stanley Karnow, Vietnam – A History: The First Complete Account of Vietnam at War (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1983) 169.

Can I quote another author’s words as found in a secondary source?

This happens far less often, but on occasion, it can be a useful way to compare the arguments or ideas of two or more authors. For example, if two authors disagreed about the state of mind or the effectiveness of a particular politician during his or her time in office, it might be useful to include a quotation to demonstrate the differences in their reasoning.

Sample quotation: Stanley Karnow disagrees with recent biographers of Henry Kissinger, and claims Kissinger was “baffled and frustrated by the Communists during his secret negotiations with them.”3

What is paraphrasing?

This is the conveyance of another author’s ideas in your own words. If you wished to relate the substance of the above quotation without copying out the text verbatim (exactly as it appeared), you could reformulate the passage, express it in your own words, and then cite the author or authors just as you would if you were quoting them. Remember that even when paraphrasing, you are still making use of someone else’s work, so even though it is not an exact duplication of a passage, it must be cited. A paraphrased example of the above quotation appears below.

Paraphrased example: Stanley Karnow disagrees with recent biographers of Henry Kissinger, and claims Kissinger’s negotiations with the Vietnamese Communists were in fact both frustrating and confusing.3

Can I use in-text citations like I do in Science papers?

In-text citations, such as those featured in the APA and CBE citation styles, are generally not appropriate in History papers or journals. In-text citations typically appear in brackets at the end of a sentence. Some instructors, however, will permit the use of in-text citations, especially if the paper involves interdisciplinary work. Consult your instructor or TA.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is intellectual theft. It is the submission of someone else’s words or ideas without acknowledging their original author, and it is a serious and punishable academic offense. Just as you would not want to have your own work stolen and passed off by someone else as their own, you should not submit the work of others as yours. Plagiarism is very easily avoided, simply by citing your sources, quoting or paraphrasing the words of others, and making careful research notes to keep track of your findings. Consult “Plagiarism Avoided – UBC Faculty of Arts Guideline.” As an institutional response to the problem of plagiarism, The University of British Columbia recently subscribed to the TurnItIn plagiarism detection system. This web-based service compares students’ work with material on public web sites and that sold by companies or individuals – so-called “paper mills.”