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5.2: The Logic and Structure of a Source Citation

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    Every time writers cite and document their sources, they do it in two places in the paper—in the text itself and at the end of the paper, in a list of works cited or bibliography. A citation is incomplete and, by and large, useless to the readers, if either of the parts is missing. Consider the following example, in which I cite an academic journal article using the Modern Language Association citation system. Please note that I give this example at this point in the chapter only to demonstrate the two parts of a citation. Later on, we will discuss how to cite and document different kinds of sources using different documentation systems, in full detail.

    In-text citations

    In-text citations are also known as parenthetical citations or parenthetical references because, at the end of the citation, parentheses are used. 

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\):

    In her essay “If Winston Weather Would Just Write to Me on E-mail,” published in the journal College Composition and Communication, writer and teacher Wendy Bishop shares her thoughts on the nature of writing: “[I see…writing as a mixture of mess and self-discipline, of self-history [and] cultural history.” (101).

    The Citation in the List of Works Cited

    Example \(\PageIndex{2}\):

    Bishop, Wendy. “If Winston Weather Would Just Write to Me on E-mail.” College Composition and Communication. 46.1 (1995): 97-103.

    The reasons why each citation, regardless of the type of source and the documentation system being used has two parts are simple. Writers acknowledge and document external sources for several reasons. One of these reasons is to give their readers enough information and enable them, if necessary, to find the same source which the paper mentions. Therefore, if we look at the kinds of information provided in the citation (page numbers, titles, authors, publishers, and publication dates), it becomes clear that this information is sufficient to locate the source in the library, bookstore, or online.

    When to Cite and Document Sources

    The brief answer to this question is “always.” Every time you use someone else’s ideas, arguments, opinions, or data, you need to carefully acknowledge their author and source. Keep in mind that you are not just borrowing others’ words when you use sources in your writing. You are borrowing ideas. Therefore, even if you are not directly citing the source, but paraphrase or summarize it, you still need to cite it both in the text and at the end of the paper in a list of works cited or in a list of references. 

    The only exception is when you are dealing with what is known as “common knowledge.” Common knowledge consists of facts that are so widely known that they do not require a source reference. For instance, if you say in your writing that the Earth rotates around the Sun or that Ronald Reagan was a US President, you do not need to cite the sources of this common knowledge formally. 

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