Citations and Referencing

by Nicolette L. Cagle with contributions from Elizabeth Shapiro and Deborah Gallagher


Proper citation and referencing is the hallmark of polished professional and academic writing. Citing sources is an ethical acknowledgement of other authors’ words and ideas. Citing also establishes the authority of your text and demonstrates your research skills and depth of knowledge. This handout defines and outlines the expectations for citation and referencing in the NSOE MEM program.

What is the difference between citation and referencing?

Citations acknowledge sources of ideas and words in the body of your text, usually parenthetically or as a superscripted foot- or end-note. References detail the full publication information about a source, usually at the end of a document.

When do we cite and reference sources?

You should cite and reference sources whenever you present an idea or language that is not your own. This means that citation and references are not limited to texts, but may also include personal communications, electronic media, and any other source of ideas or language. You do not need to cite general information or common knowledge, but you must be very careful in deciding what is general information and common knowledge for your audience and discourse community. When in doubt, include a citation and ask an instructor or experienced colleague for guidance.

How do we cite and reference sources?

There are many different formats for citing and referencing sources. Some of these formats are discipline-specific. For example, many scientists use the guidelines offered by the Council of Science Editors (CSE), known as CSE style. Many writers in the liberal arts and humanities use the guidelines of the Modern Language Association (AKA: MLA style). In the social sciences, writers use the citation style of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Sources should be cited parenthetically in-text and referenced at the end of a document. You can also cite a source by referencing the work directly, e.g., Williams (1994) explored several possibilities. When you reference a work directly, you should use the past tense (e.g., explored) or present perfect (e.g., has explored). Remember, in most cases you are not citing the author(s), but the work itself. In many cases, you will be citing several works, e.g., (Williams, 1994; Smith, 2001).

Whenever you cite a source in-text, you need to have a bibliographical reference for that source at the end of the document. This section is often labeled “references” or “works cited.” Each type of source (journal article, book, chapter, etc.) has specific guidelines for the type of information that needs to be provided and in what order and format. Most lists include the author’s last name and first initial, the year of publication in parentheses, an article or book title, a journal title or publisher information, and page numbers. Reference formatting can be tricky, so please review the guidelines carefully, paying special attention to the location of punctuation, capitalization, and italics.

What sources are appropriate to reference?

You should cite and reference any source from which you glean ideas or language. In academia, you should only use high-quality sources. High-quality sources generally are peer-reviewed, e.g., academic journal articles. Other sources may or may not be appropriate, depending on the assignment and audience. Be especially careful when tempted to use a webpage. When in doubt about whether a source is appropriate, ask an instructor or experienced colleague for guidance.

Why do we cite and reference?

As noted above, using citations and references is an ethical acknowledgement of others’ ideas, scholarship, and language. Readers of your work, whether it be an interdepartmental memo or a report to Congress, will take your ideas and recommendations more seriously if they can trace their lineage and know that they are built upon a solid foundation. Reference lists also provide a list of further readings for readers who want to learn more.

What is plagiarism and how can we avoid plagiarizing?

Plagiarism occurs when we use someone else’s words, data, or ideas without acknowledging their origin. Plagiarism is a serious offense, and it can result in dismissal from the NSOE MEM program. Moreover, plagiarizing violates Duke’s Honor code. You can find a fuller description of plagiarism, as well as resources and on-line tutorials designed to help you avoid plagiarism, at the Nicholas School Honor Code website.

To avoid plagiarizing, you should cite and reference all sources, no matter what type. For example, if you use an idea from an on-line source in your paper or report, you must cite and reference the website where you found that information. Failure to do so is plagiarism. In addition, if you use exact wording from a source, you must demark those words with quotation marks, then cite and reference the source. Failure to do so is plagiarism. Remember: when in doubt, cite and reference.

How can we make citing and referencing easier?

Citing and referencing sources requires vigilance and attention to detail, especially when working on long documents. To help keep track of your sources, you might consider using reference management software. Reference management software allows you to create a database of references. Some reference management software operates in conjunction with word processing programs, allowing you to cite sources and generate a reference list as you type your document.

Two reference management software programs are available free to Duke students, including EndNote (available here) and RefWorks (available here). You can learn to use these programs by completing tutorials on-line. An EndNote tutorial is available here. RefWorks tutorials are available here.

A short presentation on citations and plagiarism in MPs can be found here.


Citation Management Software

Citation management software is one of the easiest methods of organizing sources, materials, and quickly and properly creating proper citations.


Cost: Freemium*
Free Online Storage: 2 GB
iOS App: Yes
Android App: Yes (unofficial)
Desktop App: Yes
Web App: Yes
Microsoft Word Plugin: Yes


Cost: Freemium*
Free Online Storage: 300 MB
iOS App: Yes (unofficial)
Android App: Yes (unofficial)
Desktop App: Yes
Web App: Yes
Microsoft Word Plugin: Yes


Cost: Free for Duke students (Normal: $250 | Students: $115)
Free Online Storage: Unlimited
iOS App: Yes
Android App: No
Desktop App: Yes
Web App: Yes (2-year access)
Microsoft Word Plugin: Yes
Download: Duke OIT (Requires login)


*Freemium is a pricing strategy by which a product or service (typically a digital offering such as software, media, games or web services) is provided free of charge, but money (premium) is charged for proprietary features, functionality, or virtual goods. (Source:

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