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M E 415: Mechanical Systems Design

Learn about tools for finding articles, books, standards, and prior art for the Mechanical Engineering capstone design class. This guide also includes tips and techniques engineering students need to know for conducting successful library research.

All you need to know about citations

What is a citation?

A citation is a link that connects two different sources of information. In the same way that a hyperlink sends you to a specific webpage, a citation directs you to a specific source of information. Unlike a hyperlink, a citation is meant to be used by a human and not a machine. For this reason, they are most text and not interactive (i.e. they are not clickable).

How are citations used?

Citations are used to indicate where, and from whom, a fact, idea, or quote came from. This information can be used by readers for fact checking and to explore related information sources. In fact, citations are a fantastic research shortcut: when you find a good paper, you should check the citations as they will likely contain other good readings.

When do I need to cite a source?

If the words or ideas are not yours, then they need to be cited. This applies to direct quotes (“ ”) and paraphrased (i.e. summarized) information. If you reuse a fact, statistic, data, equation, formula, image, picture, video, etc. then it too needs to be cited.

Why is citation important?

There are two very important reasons to cite information. The first is an ethical argument: citing is a way of giving credit to others for their work and ideas. There’s even a whole field of study dedicated to analyzing citations.

The second reason is that it shows your work. Teachers check citations because they want to see that students know how to do research – that they can successfully search for, locate, and use information appropriately and ethically. Your classmates may want to see your citations for another reason: to learn from them or to reuse a source you cited in their own research.

How do plagiarism and citations relate?

Plagiarism is the opposite of citing. Citation gives credit while plagiarism hides or denies credit to others. Plagiarism is unethical and sloppy - it makes it looks like an idea or words are your own when in fact they are borrowed or copied. When in doubt, cite your sources!
You can learn more about plagiarism from the Library's Understanding Plagiarism Guide.

Why are there so many citations styles?

There are a large number of citation styles available because different societies and publishers have set different standards. As you gain experience you may find some styles easier to use than others. No matter which style you use, the important thing is to use it consistently.

Citation resources

Citation Anatomy

The order and punctuation of citation components is determined by the style you use. However, the information in citations is the same, no matter the style. Below are citation examples for four different types of sources: book, book chapter, journal article, and website. The different components have been color coded to make them easier to identify.

Adapted from: UC Davis Library. "Citation Styles" UC Davis Library Subject Guides. 2020-08-12.
Type Citation formula and Example citation

Author Name. Title. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year. 

Sedaris, David. Let's Explore Diabetes with owls. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2013. 

Book chapter

Author Name. “Chapter Title.” Book Title. Ed. Editor. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year. Chapter Page Numbers.

Sedaris, David. "Hejira." Every True Pleasure : LGBTQ Tales of North Carolina. Ed. Wilton Barnhardt. University of North Carolina Press, 2019. 157-158

Journal article

Author Name. “Article Title.” Journal Title Volume Number.Issue Number (Year): Article Page Numbers.

Gana, Myrsini and David Sedaris. “Is David Sedaris Funny in Greek?” World Literature Today 88.2  (2014): 41-44.


Author Name. “Title of Page/Work.” Title of webpage/website. Publisher of website. Date of Publication. Website url, Date of Access.

Sedaris, David. "Santaland Diaries". Christmas and Commerce. This American Life. 20 December 1996, 13 August 2020