How to Document Your Sources
Has your teacher required you to document the sources you have used while writing your research paper? Don’t worry. Help is on the way. Read on.
Forms of Documentation
Documentation is necessary to avoid charges of plagiarism. Documentation of sources can take the form of citations, notes, a reference list, and/or a bibliography. All of these show your reader the informational sources you have consulted in writing your paper.
- Bibliographies, reference lists, and works cited lists are placed at the ends of papers. Most often they are alphabetical listings of all the sources consulted in the course of one’s research. Making a bibliography or a reference list is not simply a matter of placing your in-body notes or citations into an alphabetical list. A note or citation takes a different format once it is incorporated into a bibliography or reference list.
- An endnote, footnote, or parenthetical citation documents the source of a specific statement of fact or of a quotation at the point where it occurs in the body of the paper. While endnotes are placed in a list at the end of the paper, they should not to be confused with a bibliography or reference list. Endnote lists are numerically ordered lists of sources which correspond with the placement of numbers in the body of the text.
Sometimes endnotes are enough. Make sure to find out whether your teacher requires both notes and a bibliography. Papers usually include both notes (or citations) and a bibliography (or reference list) at the end. The terminology can be confusing. Keep in mind that the terminology your teacher uses might not agree exactly with the definitions provided here. When your teacher asks you to “cite your references” or “list your citations,” find out exactly what he or she means.
Styles of Documentation
Notes, citations, bibliographies, and references within a research paper should be presented in a consistent style. Usually your teacher will tell you which style he or she requires. Some of the most popular styles are APA (from the American Psychological Association), MLA (from the Modern Language Association), Chicago (from the University of Chicago Press), and Turabian (from Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations). If your teacher did not tell you which style to use, here are some guideposts:
- APA – usually used in social science papers.
- MLA – usually used in humanities papers.
- Chicago – usually used in history papers.
- Turabian – used where Chicago style is appropriate but usually for papers that will not be published.
You should always use an up-to-date style manual or style guide while writing a paper. The Enoch Pratt Library has many style manuals on its shelves.
Free Source Documentation Web Tools
In conjunction with a style manual, you might also consider using one of the several free source documentation tools available on the World Wide Web. The tool will first ask you to choose a style. Then you will be asked a series of questions about each entry. For example, if you are writing a bibliographic entry for a journal article, some of the questions might be: What is the journal name? What is the volume? What is the issue number? What is the date of publication? What is the title of the article? What is the author’s name? Is there more than one author? What page number does the relevant material appear on? The tool will then format the entry according to the chosen style.
Always check the result with an up-to-date style manual in hand because these tools aren’t perfect, and often there are peculiarities with sources that the documentation tools don’t accommodate.
Some free source documentation sites that you might want to try are listed below:
Sometimes sites will allow you to import bibliographic data without having to type it into a form. Be careful because often a particular style will call for information that the imported data does not contain. Also be aware that your choice of capitalized or lower case letters will usually not be corrected by the tool.
Most of the tools work for multiple types of sources. DocsCite, however, works only for government documents, which are notoriously tricky to reference.
You can usually cut and paste the entries you create with these tools into a Word document. Some tools offer you the opportunity of registering with the site. Registered users can then create and store full bibliographies.
Make sure you know what it is that you have created (i.e. a citation? a bibliographic entry?). Most of these tools create only the bibliographic entry.
Of the free tools listed above, Zotero has the most capabilities, including the importation and storage of data and the construction of footnotes, endnotes, parenthetical citations, and bibliographies in many different styles. Zotero, however, requires the greatest initial investment of time. It is a Firefox plug-in and must be downloaded as such. It also requires registration. Because of its complexity, Zotero users will need to allot significant time to reading the instructions for use. For students who must write several research papers over the course of their studies, Zotero will more than make up for this in time saved laboring over source documentation.
If you have any questions about how to get started or need help using some of these sources, please e-mail us, call (410) 396-5430, or contact us by mail:
Enoch Pratt Free Library
State Library Resource Center
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201