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CAT 2: Citing & Writing

Why Cite?

lightbulb icon with pencil Why Cite? Citing your sources may seem tedious, but it's important to cite because:

  • Citations allow others to find the information you used in your research paper.
  • Citations help establish the credibility of your research.
  • Citations acknowledge the work of other scholars who have made your own research possible.
  • Citations help you avoid plagiarizing!

Citation FAQs

What does it mean to "cite" a source?

  • In writing a paper or report, it means:
    • You show, in the body of your paper, where the words or information came from, using an appropriate formatting style.


  • You provide complete information about the source (author, title, name of publication, date, etc.) at the end of your paper, in the bibliography (also called the works cited or references page, depending on the style you use).
  • In giving formal presentations, it means:
    • You acknowledge, on your slide, where the graph, chart or other information came from.
  • In writing a computer program, it means:
    • You use comments to credit the source of any code you adapted from an open-source site or other external sources. Generally, providing a URL is sufficient. You also need to follow the terms of any open source license that applies to the code you are using.

What is a citation style?

  • A citation style is a set of agreed-upon rules for presenting citations in a standard format. Among other things, a citation style tells you whether or not titles should be capitalized, where to list the date of publication, and how to cite a website. When everyone uses the same format, it makes it easier to understand citations accurately.
  • Different academic disciplines use different styles, so ask your instructor which one you should use. Some examples of common citation styles are MLA, APA, IEEE, Vancouver, and Chicago.

Why do I have to cite my sources?

  • Citations allow others to find the information you used in your research paper.
  • Citations help establish the credibility of your research.
  • Citations acknowledge the work of other scholars who have made your own research possible.
  • Citations help you avoid plagiarizing!

What happens if I don't cite?

  • If you do not cite your source, it is plagiarism. Plagiarism is academically dishonest and a violation of the UCSD Policy on Integrity of Scholarship. If you are found responsible for an academic integrity violation, there are a number of possible sanctions and disciplinary actions, such as academic integrity training, academic probation, and suspension or dismissal from the university.
  • When you plagiarize, you are not giving credit to those whose research paved the way for your own. You also do a disservice to your readers, who are not able to consult your sources for more information.

As long as I cite, I can use someone else's work, right?

  • Even if you cite the work of someone else, in some instances you may still be plagiarizing, committing academic dishonesty, or violating copyright guidelines. Examples of this can include: 
    • over-reliance on a single source when it's not appropriate to the assignment (plagiarism)
    • paraphrasing too closely to the original text (plagiarism)
    • using a copyright-protected image or audiovisual recording without permission (copyright violation)

Is it really plagiarism to reuse my own work? I’m not stealing anyone else’s content.

  • It is unethical to reuse anyone’s work, including your own, without citing it. The UCSD Policy on Integrity of Scholarship says that you need to accurately represent your knowledge at the time your assignment is due. Reusing your previous work is not an accurate reflection of your knowledge at that time.

Am I ever allowed to reuse my previous work?

  • The UCSD Policy on Integrity of Scholarship says that you would need permission from your instructor ahead of time in order to submit an assignment with substantially the same material as a previously submitted assignment (from any class).
  • Self-citation is the method you would use to refer to your own past ideas. It is appropriate if the work builds on your own existing knowledge, and your instructor knows that’s what you’re doing. For example, in a course series, you might build on previous projects across classes. 

Does UCSD have any guidelines about citation styles?

  • UCSD does not have an official citation standard for the entire university. The appropriate citation style for each class is decided by the instructor. 
  • UCSD does require that your work be academically honest and follow the standards of your class.  

Is citation different in the USA than in other countries?

  • There are a number of citation styles that are internationally recognized, such as MLA, APA, Vancouver, Chicago, and IEEE, but how commonly they're used can vary depending on the:
    • author's academic discipline (psychology, anthropology, art, engineering, history, etc.),
    • publisher (many journals or book publishers have a specified citation style that all authors must use), and
    • place or language of publication (for example, Germany has the Deutsche Institut für Normung - International Organization for Standardization (DIN ISO 690) style, the Japan Science and Technology Agency has the Standards for Information of Science and Technology (SIST) style, etc.).
  • Which citation style you should use will depend on many of these same factors. In the USA and at UCSD, there isn't a single citation standard that everyone uses, so your course instructor usually tells you which style they would prefer you use. Often their choice is based on their own academic discipline or is simply one of the more common internationally recognized citation styles.

This page was adapted from the following:

Avoiding Plagiarism - Cite Your Source
Academic Integrity at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA

Citation & Style Guide FAQ
Middlebury Libraries, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, USA

St. Francis College Library, St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, NY, US

Writing Help