Academic Writing: Citing Research Sources

A “citation” is a formal acknowledgement of an information source. In academic research papers, you’re expected to use and properly cite external sources to help support your position or findings. You must cite sources not only in your bibliography but in your paper as well, either immediately following a quotation or any other specific information from a source, or as a footnote or endnote.

  • Do draw on sources as supporting evidence (or in some cases, alternative views) for your thesis and main arguments.
  • Do paraphrase (put in your own words) the main points from each source even if you don’t include all these paraphrases in your paper.
  • Do read your sources critically. You must be able to draw relationships between sources and come to conclusions about their relevance and validity in order to decide how to use them1.
  • Do incorporate each source appropriately in your paper: directly quote sources of most relevant information; paraphrase when you want to present the “gist” of a source; and always cite a source regardless of whether you’ve quoted or paraphrased.


  • Don’t use research sources or quoted/paraphrased material as a substitute for your own argumentation.
  • Don’t use sources that are irrelevant, unreliable, or that lack authority.
  • Don’t string together a series of quotes or a loose succession of source materials; that’s a list, not an argument.
  • Don’t neglect to cite your source, regardless of whether you’ve quoted directly or paraphrased from it.

Acknowledging sources appropriately and avoiding plagiarism are cornerstones of academic conduct. To help you avoid plagiarism, take the SFU Library’s self-directed tutorial.

Finally, to format your citations, you need to know which citation “style” is required for your paper. Check your assignment requirements to see whether a particular citation style is required. The SFU Library provides style guides to help you format your citations using MLA (Modern Languages Association), APA (American Psychological Association), Chicago (Turabian), and CBE, among others.


1. From Behrens, L. et al. (2007). Writing and Reading across the Disciplines, Canadian ed. Toronto:  Pearson Longman, p. 101.