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Hunter Library
Research Guides
Western Carolina University

Write and Manage Citations

Get help with citation styles, documenting your sources and keeping track of your research.


It's important to cite sources you used in your research for several reasons:

  • To show your reader you've done proper research by listing sources you used to get your information
  • To be a responsible scholar by giving credit to other researchers and acknowledging their ideas
  • To avoid plagiarism by quoting words and ideas used by other authors
  • To allow your reader to track down the sources you used by citing them accurately in your paper by way of footnotes, a bibliography or reference list

A citation should be used when content that did not originate with you is used to support your writing.

Content includes:

  • words (quotations, phrases, sayings, etc.)
  • thoughts or ideas (summarizations and paraphrases)
  • audio or visual material (photos, videos, screencaptures, powerpoint slides, social media content, audio recordings, etc.)

When in doubt: CITE -- You won’t be judged harshly for adding a citation when it isn’t needed.  However, skipping a citation (whether it’s an accident or not) is considered plagiarism, which can have serious consequences.

No need to cite what is known as common knowledge

But, what is common knowledge? Common knowledge also includes information that someone can easily trace and find the answer to.  In an academic context, common knowledge will depend on the audience, but here are some examples to get you started:

  • There are 24 hours in a day.
  • The President of the United States can serve up to two terms in office, each term lasting four years.
  • The phone number for emergency services in the United States is 9-1-1

For more examples of how to determine if something is common knowledge, check out these resources:

Choosing a citation style

There is no one standard citation style so here are a few tips on selecting and using a style:

  • If it is not stated in the syllabus or assignment ask your professor what style they prefer for their class.
  • Pick one style and use it consistently in your work.
  • Consult style guides, online and in print, to help construct citations. The guides are especially helpful for unusual resources.

Avoiding plagiarism

Plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own. As a student at WCU if you plagiarize, whether intentional or unintentional, there can be serious consequences. Luckily there are a number of great resources to help you combat plagiarism.