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I have to attribute and cite. But how do I write citations?

Christine Lee
Christine Lee
Content Manager






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The way to avoid plagiarism, students are told, is to attribute and cite. I remember when my teachers began telling us to cite and attribute in secondary education (8th grade in the American education system) and while I didn’t disagree, it was also overwhelming. The closest analogy I could come up with was that it felt like having just learned to drive an automatic transmission car--and then being given a manual transmission and being told to “start the car and then shift into first gear.”

That’s all good, except how do you shift? What’s a clutch? How do you keep a car from stalling? How on earth does this thing that you thought you knew how to drive, suddenly require a lot more coordination?

I’d learned to write an essay and learned to synthesize a thesis statement. I’d learned to compose supporting arguments and I’d learned to write a conclusion. I understood what originality meant--that all my analyses were connected by my own ideas. And I learned that anything copied had to be in quotation marks.

And now--that wasn’t good enough. I had to learn something called citation format. I began by learning The Chicago Manual of Style (also known as CMOS). And while that felt like translating morse code, I would eventually learn that there exists MORE than one citation format. Over the years, I would learn MLA (Modern Language Association) format, which became my favorite, if only because I no longer had to use Latin abbreviations like “ibid.” Most recently, I’ve had to learn APA (American Psychological Association) format for education research.

Why do these different citation formats even exist? Each subject area does favor one format over the other. CMOS is embraced by Business, History, and the Fine Arts. MLA by the Humanities. And APA is used by Education, Psychology, and Sciences. And to keep a long story short, each of these formats is customized to highlight information and sources relevant to each subject area.

When the threat of being marked down a grade or committing plagiarism looms, it makes learning and using citation formats very stressful. It feels ridiculous, even. But it is a part of respect in academia, to cite work, and it is an ongoing document of communication to attribute and give credit to those whose ideas we quote.

tl;dr you have to cite.

But we do want to help! We’re here to point out resources for students who are looking for information on citation formats and how to cite properly. Because here’s the thing: at Turnitin, we don’ t cheer when a student’s work is tagged as a work of plagiarism. We cheer when work is ORIGINAL and citations, included.

1. Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab)

We could basically put this one link out here and it would cover all the bases for what most students need. Purdue OWL includes guidance on APA, MLA, CMOS, IEEE, and AMA (American Medical Association, NOT Ask Me Anything) Styles.

Purdue OWL gives an introduction to each style, with examples of how to format anything from a print periodical to electronic sources like a website or online journal.

2. Turnitin Blog

For example, our post on memes--how do you cite them? Because you know what? Memes (if you refer to them in your paper) should be cited, too!

3. Easybib

Provides some beginner-level citations basics.

4. CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style) website

The official CMOS website.

5. The APA Style Blog

If you want to nerd out or have a specific question about APA style, it may be found here on the APA Style blog.

6. The MLA Style Center

It sounds like a fashion site, but really it’s the MLA’s official website.

The following is a list of more specialized styles:

We hope you bookmark this page as you make your way through the world of attribution and citation formats! And remember: we're rooting for you.