How to cite sources in academic writing

When writing a dissertation or research paper, you make frequent use of sources. As soon as you have used a source, that source’s reference comes into play.

It is important that you know what a source reference is and how to properly acknowledge a source. Otherwise, you run the risk of committing plagiarism because your source citing is not in order.

What is a source?

All the works of other people that you use in writing your dissertation are sources. A source can thus be an article in the newspaper from which you obtain information for your dissertation. Or it can be that one economic model with which you calculate the profitability of a business.

Not every source is suitable to use in your dissertation. You must evaluate the source credibility using for instance the CRAAP test. Once you use a source, you must include a source reference, which is also called a citation.

How may I use a source in my paper?

When you want to use a source in your paper, you need to make a choice between quoting or paraphrasing the source. Then, you let the reader know where he or she can find the source. This last part is the actual source reference or citation.

There are some instances where you don’t have to cite a source. Information and statements considered common knowledge do not need a citation. An example is “Paris is the capital of France”.

What is a source citation?

With a source citation or reference, you show that the information you are presenting or, for example, the model you are using, does not come from you but from someone else.

The inclusion of a source reference is called either referencing or citing. The reader of your dissertation can use the source citation to locate where you have obtained your information.

Example of source citing (marked in yellow)

“Making an APA Generator is a lot of work. But now everyone can use this tool free to create sources according to the APA Style” (Swaen, 2014, p. 3).

Why must I include a source citation?

The source citation serves a number of purposes:

  • You give the author of the source the acknowledgement that is due him/her.
  • You give the reader of the dissertation the opportunity to locate the source.
  • By including a source citation, you prevent plagiarism.

Citation styles

For noting sources, there are set rules that are dependent on the citation style that you must use. The most widely used citation styles are APA style, MLA format and Chicago style.

Citation software

As soon as you start to work with source referencing, you will find that it is quite a big job. There are many rules that you have to consider, and the number of sources that you use can be enormous.

Fortunately, there are many tools you can use to manage sources and generate the source in the correct citation style. Extensive tools for managing sources are: EndNote, Mendeley, CiteULike, RefBase, and Papers.

Based on our experiences, we have developed a free citation generator. This generator allows you to quickly and easily generate all your sources in APA style and MLA format.


Citing and referencing sources incorrectly can lead to plagiarism. You can avoid plagiarism by working carefully and utilizing a plagiarism scan. There are both paid and free plagiarism checkers.

The best plagiarism checker of 2019 is the Scribbr Plagiarism Checker. It will help ensure that you are treating sources appropriately and give you peace of mind that your document is free of all types of plagiarism.

Is this article helpful?

Want to be sure you are not committing plagiarism?

Have peace of mind and start our plagiarism check now.
Start the check
Reliable & fast