Writing Tips: The Importance of Citing Sources

By April 30, 2013Students

Eric Mast, Writing Center Coordinator
Union Institute & University

Two of the most important parts of academic writing are using quality sources and documenting them properly for your audience. It is important to cite your materials so that readers can easily find the same source material for their own research. It indicates that you want to share this information with others who are interested in the same subject. Also, documentation of sources will help you, the writer, establish credibility.

When writing, we integrate our ideas with the ideas of others. Our thoughts are often influenced by someone we have read and it is important to cite this. By practicing the proper method of documenting sources, we also protect ourselves from plagiarism and accusations of academic dishonesty.

The style manual that you follow will determine how you will document your sources. Sometimes, your class instructor will specify a style for the entire class to use. The three most common styles are MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association), and Turabian Style (which is based on Chicago Style). While the styles share some basic principles, they each have their own nuances. Each of these styles publishes a manual that serves as a guide for writers to follow.

Once you determine a documentation style, it is important to keep the style manual readily available while you are writing. Take a moment to become familiar with the manual, and learn where the information is located and how the book is organized. You may want to bookmark sections that you use most often.

Style manuals can be intimidating and overwhelming, so sometimes companion resources and support units are helpful. The Writing Center at Union Institute & University recommends that all students purchase the most recent edition of The Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. This handbook includes easy-to-understand advice on academic writing and other forms of writing. It also features sections devoted to each of the main styles of documentation—APA, MLA, and Chicago. For students new to documenting sources, or returning after a long hiatus, this book will be a particularly useful companion text.  

At Union Institute & University, students have additional options for writing support. The library and writing center both provide self-help assistance. Librarians know the importance of documenting sources and they can guide students to the proper materials. The writing center offers one-on-one consultations for anything related to writing. It is common for students to set up an appointment with a tutor for a refresher on how to document sources. 

The library provides a website in their help center that serves as a great quick reference tool for students working with a certain documentation style. The writing center also provides self-help resources for documenting sources and avoiding plagiarism at their Writing Help by Topic web page. Students can requests appointments with the center by joining the CampusWeb group and filling out the form or simply by emailing or calling 800-861-6400 x1136. 

Recommended external websites:
The Purdue OWL
Dianna Hacker’s Research and Documentation Online
Handouts from the University of North Carolina Writing Center 

Eric Mast is the writing center coordinator at Union Institute & University. He has been teaching college composition for 15 years at several different universities. He has been recognized for his outstanding teaching at Northern Kentucky University and for his leadership directing a tutoring center at the University of Cincinnati.