Know Citation Elements
A citation is a standard format for describing a publication or any other source
of information. The main parts of a citation for published materials--whether published
on paper or electronically-- are  the name(s) of the author(s), editor(s), or creator(s)
 the title of the publication, and  the publication data. Citations to Web sites
include the same elements if available, using the URL and the date of access as part
of the publication data. Citations to other kinds of sources are based on the same
pattern as much as possible while identifying the medium as accurately as possible.
The elements that make a citation can be ordered in different ways, but they must
be presented so that anyone can distinctly identify them. The bottom line is that
a citation should point to the source of information. The one who creates the citation
should include all the elements that are necessary to help others find the source.
In turn, those who read the citation should understand what the creator is saying.
Various academic disciplines publish style manuals to guide authors and scholars in
writing citations.The professor who is requiring you to write a research paper probably
requires that you use a certain style manual. Being information literate includes
the ability to read and write citations accurately, and the only way to learn is by
reading and writing citations often. At first you may have to laboriously follow a
style manual, but eventually you will come to think of publications in terms of their
citations. At that point, you will have to use a style manual only for citing less
common types of sources. If you don’t know which style manual to use, ask your professor.
If you don’t have an appropriate style manual, you can use one at the library. Copies
of the most frequently used style manuals at the university are kept at the Reference Desk in McWherter Library.
Understand Basic Citation Formats
Two kinds of library materials you will use most often in your research are books
and periodicals (magazines, journals and newspapers), so those are the sources you
must recognize in citations. Not only do you have to be able to distinguish between
a book and a periodical in the research process, but you have to be able to cite them
properly yourself when you use them in your research paper. One distinctive clue is
that the title of an article in a periodical is enclosed in quotation marks, though
you cannot judge by this fact alone since titles of essays and other parts of books
are enclosed in quotation marks also. The easiest way to distinguish between a citation
to a book and a citation to an article in a periodical is to look at the publication data. A book citation includes the place of publication, the name of the publisher, and
the year of publication. A citation to an article in a periodical does not contain
the name and location of the publisher; instead it has the name of the periodical,
a volume number, sometimes an issue number, and a date that often includes a particular
month or season. Examine the two citations which are shown below in the MLA format
(the style manual of the Modern Language Association). What differences do you see
in the kind of information given?
Goldstein, Arnold P. Delinquent Gangs: a Psychological Perspective. Champaign, Ill.: Research Press, 1991.
Lyon, Jean-Marie, Scott Henggele, and James A. Hall. “The Family Relations, Peer
Relations, and Criminal Activities of Caucasian and Hispanic-American Gang Members.”
Journal of Abnormal Psychology 20 (1992): 439-449.
If you see the basic difference between these two citations, you have the basis for
identifying variations. Citations to books include the name and location of the publisher.
Periodical citations contain the title of the article followed by the name of the
periodical, its volume and issue number and/or date, and page numbers.
The periodical citation shown above is for an article in a journal, a scholarly periodical.
Magazines and newspapers are also periodicals, though they are usually cited by date
rather than by volume number. Otherwise, the format indicates that they are periodicals:
Oh, Susan. "Project Turnaround: An Ontario Program Puts Young Offenders through Boot
Camp," Maclean's, April 5, 1999, p. 20.
Vanzi, Max. "State Loses Momentum in Curbing Delinquency." Los Angeles Times, 28 Nov. 1997, pA1.
When only part of a book is cited, the documentation may look similar to an article in a periodical. If you
see a publisher's name and location, though, you know that the "article" is in a book.
In the example shown below, you will see that an "article" (essay, chapter) called
"Crime and Responsibility," written by Henry Tam, is published in the book Introducing Applied Ethics, edited by Brenda Almond and published by Blackwell, located in Cambridge, in 1995.
Tam's "article" is on pages 133-155.
Tam, Henry. "Crime and Responsibility." Introducing Applied Ethics. Ed. Brenda Almond. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1995. pp. 133-155.
Though there are differences in citation formats, you should see a pattern of similarities
than enable you to recognize the type of source being cited. With this ability, you
will then know what to look for and at least a clue as to where you may be able to
find the cited source. Even if you don't know where to find the source, you can communicate
your need for assistance more effectively.
Identify Citations in Databases
Citations in electronic databases will have whatever format the index or database
imposes. But they will always contain the elements that make up a standard citation:
author, title, and publication data. If you recognize the basic differences in the
book and periodical citations, you can recognize the differences when those identifying
elements appear in database records.
Social Justice, Winter 1997 v24 n4 p96(21)
Representations of gangs and delinquency: wild in the streets? (Losing a Generation:
Probing the Myths & Reality of Youth and Violence) Paul A. Perrone; Meda Chesney-Lind.
The citation shown above is part of a record retrieved from Expanded Academic Index. You know that this is a citation to an article in a periodical because Expanded Academic
Index covers only periodicals. But you can also tell that it is a periodical by looking
at the citation: the publication data include a volume and an issue number, a date
that includes a month/season and year, and a page number, which in this case is just
the beginning page number. (The number 21 refers to the number of pages in the article.)
Here is how the citation elements break down:
|Authors: Paul A. Perrone and Meda Chesney-Lind
Title of article: Representations of gangs and delinquency: wild in the streets?
Name of periodical: Social Justice
Date of periodical: Winter 1997; Volume 24, Issue number 4
Pagination: The article begins on page 96 and has 21 pages (pp: 96-117)
Look at these records from another database (MLA International Bibliography) and see
if you can identify the citations. What kinds of sources are they? (After you look
at each one, click on the "Back" button to get back to this page.)
If you looked carefully at the records, you saw that there is a data field called
Pub Type that tells you what kind of publication is being described. Record A cites
an article in a journal, Record B cites a chapter in a book, and Record C cites a
dissertation, which is a paper written by candidates for a doctoral degree. Not all
of the resources you use to find citations will identify the type of source being
cited, so you should be prepared to recognize the source type by reading the citation
There are many kinds of information sources, but most of your citations will probably
be books and periodicals. You may see many different kinds of sources cited, and you
may have to cite them yourself. That is why you need a good style manual. Many sources
such as audio-visuals, government publications, television newscasts and Web pages
are easy to recognize if they are cited correctly, but, unfortunately, sometimes they
are not. If you cannot recognize what the source is from the citation, check your
style manual or ask a librarian or someone else who may be able to help identify the
source. Before you start looking for the source, you have to know what it is!