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A guide to MLA and APA citations and formatting.

Citations: A (Very) Brief Introduction

Brought to you by: NCSU Libraries


Whether you are quoting, paraphrasing, copying and pasting, or just referencing, you do need to cite:

  • Anyone else's articulated ideas, arguments, opinions, or experiences.
  • Any artwork, pictures, videos, or other creative works produced by others.
  • Direct quotations of any words written or spoken by others.
  • Unique phrases or terms coined by others.
  • Data, statistics, or facts produced or documented by others.
  • Published research details and results, whether conducted by you or others.

These are a few items you don't need to cite no matter which citation style you use:

  • Your own personal/anecdotal information or experiences.
  • Your own arguments or opinions.
  • Your own videos, photographs, and other artwork you've created.
  • "Common knowledge"- This one is a little tricky to distinguish.  Here is a general rule of thumb: if the majority of people in your classroom already know the information, then you may not need to cite it.  For example, you may not need to cite the fact that the chemical equation of water is H20.  It's best to think of common knowledge as only the most obvious facts.
  • Generally accepted phrases or terms- this usually applies only to discipline- and audience-specific situations.  For example, if you are writing a psychology paper on dissociative identity disorder for a psychology course, you will likely not have to cite the first person to use the distinct phrase "dissociative identiy disorder" instead of "multiple personality disorder.


Please remember this list is not exhaustive, and it does apply to most citation style guidelines!  If you're uncertain when to cite something, check with your instructor, ask a librarian, or seek the answer in the appropriate style manual.