Writing Right – How and Where to Cite in an Academic Paper

College Writing Guide – Citations

Imagine working incredibly hard for something, utilizing everything at your disposal and exhausting all resources to put together a fine finished product. Now imagine being publicly recognized for this finished product, and having to give an acceptance speech. One of the most vital parts of giving an acceptance speech is thanking your supporters and the people who helped you complete your product. This directly correlates to writing an academic paper and including citations. So I’m here to assist you on how and where to cite in your academic papers.


Because this is an overview on how to cite, we won’t focus on a particular format such as MLA, APA, or Chicago. Citations should be direct, concise and easy to find. Your goal is to lead the reader of your paper to the exact same source that you used. In order to do this you need to include as much information as possible about your source in your bibliography or works cited page. Look for the same bibliographic elements in your electronic resource as you would for a book, article or other traditional information resource.

Citations have the same three elements no matter the source: publication year, paragraph number, and paragraph number or page. The page or paragraph number where you find information is necessary for all quotations but is elective for summarized information.  Citations in your paper are required to provide credit to the proper sources; not citing properly could result in plagiarism.  Several useful guidelines for citing your work are to cite anything that includes actual statistics or figures. It is not necessary to cite common knowledge however you should acknowledge a source in each sentence that references material from a source.


  • All citation entries should be listed in alphabetical order with the first author’s last name.
  • If the same authors are cited for more than one paper having the same order of authors’ names, the papers should be listed in chronological sequence by year of publication.
  • Authors’ names must be listed in the citation in the same order as in the article.

There are five important questions pertaining to citations when assessing your paper:

  • Did I provide acceptable explanations for the cited material?
    • The cited material should demonstrate rather than substitute for your point. Make sure your paper is more than a collection of ideas from your sources; it should provide an original interpretation of that material.
  • Did I begin and end my paragraphs in my own voice?
    • The introductory sentence of each paragraph should be your topic sentence, and the last sentence in the paragraph should conclude your point.


  • Have I used the cited material to support my specific thesis?
    • All material that you cite should contribute to your main argument
  • Have I used one individual source too much?
    • You may find one exceptionally useful study, however try to balance your references.
  • Does my paper contain too many direct quotations?
    • While direct quotations can be useful for demonstrating a rhetorical choice of your author, in most cases summarizing the material is more appropriate. Using your own words by summarizing will better demonstrate your comprehension of the material and will allow you to highlight the ways in which the ideas contribute to your paper’s central argument.