At some point in your career as a student, you've probably had a teacher tell you to cite your sources while writing a research paper. But what is citation? And why do we do it?
Citation is the practice of identifying the sources you have quoted, paraphrased or otherwise used in your writing...and it's pretty standard practice in academic writing.
Citation serves several purposes. For one, it allows your reader to follow up on and to verify claims that you make in your writing. And it gives you the opportunity to acknowledge the people whose ideas you have used to advance your argument.
Essentially, you are recognizing that your research and scholarship builds upon the work and the ideas of many others who came before you. The result is that citation helps readers see the connections between books and articles published by many different authors... as well as how they connect to your own ideas.
There are many different styles of citation, established by various academic and professional organizations. The most common styles, however, are MLA, APA, Chicago, and CSE.
Most styles involve a two part process. First, you acknowledge a source with a brief notation after you use it in the body of your paper. Then you provide more detailed information about the source at the end of your paper in a works cited list or a bibliography.
This more detailed entry will include essential publication information about the source, including the title of the work, the author, and the date of publication, so that your readers can find it. Each citation style has a published guide outlining all the details of how to use it... And there are also many online tools to help.
If you have any questions about citation as a practice or about a particular citation style, ask a librarian for help!