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Understanding Citations

Why we need to understand elements of a citation

Citation Elements are the Building Blocks of Scholarship 

For example, understanding the elements of citations helps with 

  1. interpreting search results in Library Search 
  2. quickly assess reliability of information 
  3. quickly interpret different citation styles 
  4. quickly create citations in many different styles

In this workshop, you will learn

  • the basic elements of citations
  • how to identify citation elements in Library Search 
  • different types of materials need different elements 
  • adapt citation elements to a few common citation styles
How comfortable are reading results in Library Search ?
Excellent! I'm an honorary librarian!: 0 votes (0%)
Very comfortable: 0 votes (0%)
Proficient. Takes me a little but I figure it out.: 1 votes (100%)
A lot of it is confusing: 0 votes (0%)
Brand new and understand nothing.: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 1
How proficient are you in creating citations?
Excellent! I'm an honorary librarian!: 0 votes (0%)
Very comfortable: 0 votes (0%)
Proficient. Takes me a little but I figure it out.: 0 votes (0%)
A lot of it is confusing: 1 votes (100%)
Brand new and understand nothing.: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 1

Main Elements a Citation

Main Elements of a Citation 

(in no particular order)

  • Author or Editor
    • Who created the work? 
  • Title of publication
    •  What is the work called? Sometimes there will be two titles, one for a chapter and the book, or an article and the journal.
  • Date of Publication 
    • When was the work created? It can can include year, month, day
  • Location of Publication 
    • Where was this published? 
    • This can include publisher name, publisher city, OR the volume and issue of a journal. 
  • Method of access
    • How did you access the work? For example, you might see a url or DOI .
  • Date of access
    • When did you access the material? this is usually only for electronic works?


Finding citation elements in Library Search and databases

3 most Common types of works you will see in Library Search 

Different type of works require different types of citation elements. The 3 most common types of works you will encounter are: 

  • books, 
  • articles in an edited volumes
  • articles in a journal

Let's look at this search in Library Search,contains,looking%20for%20alaska&tab=default_tab&search_scope=EVERYTHING&vid=01WMU&lang=en_US&offset=0

What citation styles are your familiar with ?
APA: 0 votes (0%)
MLA: 0 votes (0%)
Chicago: 0 votes (0%)
Harvard: 0 votes (0%)
Other: 0 votes (0%)
None: 0 votes (0%)
Some of APA, MLA, Chicago, etc...: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 0

How to read a complete citation

Reading Complete Citations

You might be given a complete citation. Knowing how to interpret the elements will help you access that material. 

1. Read from left to right

MLA example of a journal article citation: 

Benjamin, Shanna Greene. “The Space That Race Creates: An Interstitial Analysis of Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif.’” Studies in American Fiction, vol. 40, no. 1, 2013, pp. 87-106.

APA example of a journal article

Grady, J. S., Her, M., Moreno, G., Perez, C., & Yelinek, J. (2019). Emotions in storybooks: A comparison of storybooks that represent ethnic and racial groups in the United States. Psychology of Popular Media Culture8(3), 207–217.

2. Pick out key elements

  •  The first element is typical the creator, author or contributor.
  • Next, the title of the work follows 
  • Then publication information such as publisher, place of publication, and/or volume number, issue number, and page ranges followed.
  • The date of publication included in the citation
  • The order and punctuation changes according to the style. 

3. Identify what type of work it is. This will help you develop a strategy for finding the information. 

  • book?
    • identify the title, author, possibly edition and search Books and Media in Library Search
  • book chapter?
    • identify book title and editor name to search Books and Media in Library Search
  • article?
    • identify the article title, author and publication date to search Articles in Library Search. You might need the journal title. 

4. How can you access it?

  • Does it include a doi or url? 

Research Minutes: How to Read Citations

Research Minutes is a series for undergraduate students at Cornell University covering library research topics. This episode covers how to read citations of books, book articles, and journal articles.

Citation Styles

Three common citation styles

  • APA -  Social Science, Sciences, Business
  • MLA - Humanities
    • MLA calls the elements containers
  • Chicago - Social Sciences, Humanities

What changes from style to style?

  • Punctuation
    • Citation styles vary widely on the use of punctuation.
    • Common difference are found in the use of italics, underlining, commas, colons, and periods
  • Capitalization 
    • Which words are capitalized vary
  • Placement of the Date: one of the easiest ways to decipher a formatting style
  • Use of footnotes/endnotes
    • very Chicago!
  • Access requirements 
    • DOI or URL varies by style
    • Access date also varies by style
  • How the complete citations are formatted in a reference list and how in-text parenthetical citations (or footnotes/endnotes) are formatted. 

Understanding DOIs

What is a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) and why is it important?

  • A DOI is unique alphanumeric sequence given to an article 
  • All DOIs start with "10."  You may see it written as

    • ....
    • ...
    • doi:10. ...
  • It is a series of 10-12 numbers
  • DOIs are also more stable, permanent ways of linking to an article. 
    • DOIs are more stable than URLs. 
    • Finding and linking to articles is easier by using a DOI resolver
  • Many citation styles now prefer DOIs to indicate access.