74 Why Do We Cite?

Sarah Bailey; Kara Blizzard; Doris Wagner; and Christina Frasier

Learning Outcome

  • Identify why using citations is important.

Understanding why citations are a fundamental part of any research project is important. Otherwise the task might seem like busywork. Thus, we must justify their use for students each semester.

One of the key aspects of formatting is documentation, or citing. A citation is a reference to an information source that contains key publication details about that source in order to allow others to find it. Below, we briefly summarize why citing is important.


  • Reason 1:  For scholarly communication–By reading, analyzing, and citing scholarly sources in your assignments, you are contributing to and participating in scholarly communication! You grow in your understanding of a field of study by learning from its subject experts.
  • Reason 2:  To give credit and show professionalism–Giving credit is key for showing professionalism and giving evidence in your paper. You will mainly use scholarly and professional sources to support your research and to give other researchers credit for their findings. Citations allow others (and you!) to find the sources used in your paper and to learn more about them.
  • Reason 3:  To avoid plagiarism–You are required to give credit to your sources in order to avoid the consequences of plagiarism. Watch the short video below to learn about plagiarism and how to avoid it.

It might help to think: is this my own idea, or did I read or hear about it in one of my sources? If it came from somewhere else, cite it. Most professors have different opinions about what qualifies as “common knowledge,” so don’t assume that what you are writing about is common knowledge and does not need to be cited. Always ask your professor to be sure.


The main reasons why we cite are to:

    1. Participate in scholarly communication
    2. Give credit to our sources
    3. Avoid plagiarism

MLA Style Citation Tutorial, 9th ed. by Sarah Bailey; Kara Blizzard; and Doris Wagner, CC BY-SA 4.0


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Why Do We Cite? Copyright © by Sarah Bailey; Kara Blizzard; Doris Wagner; and Christina Frasier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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