Citing Sources

Learning Objectives

  • Describe the importance of, and techniques for, citing sources

Learning in a history course requires consulting a wide variety of sources to gather information about a given event or time period. You may be asked to evaluate, interpret, synthesize, analyze, or respond to a variety of these sources. When doing so, it is essential that you avoid plagiarism, do your own work, and properly cite all of the sources that you reference. Citations are also important because they allow replication–meaning a subsequent researcher can check your facts, and evaluate the accuracy of the argument’s evidence.


We typically think of plagiarism as cheating. While that is true, plagiarism often occurs because the process of citation can be confusing; technology makes copy + paste so easy, and knowing exactly what to cite is not always simple. You can avoid plagiarism by learning how to cite material and keeping track of sources in your notes. Give yourself plenty of time to process sources so you don’t plagiarize by mistake. Here are some examples of plagiarism:

  • Submitting work or a paper written by someone else as your own.
  • Using words and phrases from the source text and patching them together in new sentences.
  • Failing to acknowledge the sources of words or information.
  • Not providing quotation marks around a direct quotation. This leads to the false assumption that the words are your own.
  • Borrowing the idea or opinion of someone else without giving the person credit.
  • Restating or paraphrasing a passage without citing the original author.
  • Borrowing facts or statistics that are not common knowledge without proper acknowledgment.

Try It

Look at a few more examples of plagiarism in the following activity.

Citing Sources

The most commonly used citation styles in the humanities and history courses are Chicago and MLA. These provide standardized formats for properly citing sources. You can consult online writing labs, websites, and citation tools to help you manage your citations and to ensure you do them correctly. Many students choose to use a citation tracker app or website, such as Zotero, Mendeley, or Easybib.

Chicago Style

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (along with its student-focused counterpart, Turabian Style), is the favored citation style by most historians. There are two main citation methods: notes-bibliography and author-date. The most common method uses a raised numeral in the text after the item cited that goes to a corresponding footnote/endnote. Additionally, a complete bibliography is typically included at the end of the paper. This is considered the notes-bibliography method because of the inclusion of the citation as a footnote.

Another option within the Chicago style is the author-date method, which looks similar to MLA and APA styles, in which the work is cited in the text using the author’s name and date without footnotes, and then a full citation is included at the end on a References page.

Chicago Citations

To cite something using the notes-bibliography method in Chicago style, you include a footnote/endnote with information that is nearly identical to the bibliography included at the end of the text, except that the author is listed with their first name first, instead of their last name. The note also includes the page numbers, though that is not needed in the final bibliography. For example, if you included information in your research from a book, you could cite it in a footnote like this:
  • 1. First name Last name, Title of Book (Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication), page number.

If you were to cite more information from the same source later in the document, you would not need to include the entire bibliographic footnote, but could shorten it just to include the author’s last name, a short title, and a page number if it has one. For example:

  • 2. Last name, Title of Book, pages.

You could cite that same information in the bibliography like this:

  • Last name, First name. Title of Book. Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication.

Chicago Citation Examples

Here are just a few examples of Chicago-style citations. Please consult a citation guide for a more comprehensive explanation of citation techniques.
  • As a footnote:
    • 1. Antony Penrose, The Lives of Lee Miller (London: Thames and Hudson, 1985), 191.
  • In bibliography:
    • Penrose, Antony. The Lives of Lee Miller. London: Thames and Hudson, 1985.


  • As a footnote:
    • 1. Harvey G. Cox, “Moral Reasoning and the Humanities,” Liberal Education 71, no. 3 (1985): 199.
  • In bibliography:
    • Cox, Harvey G. “Moral Reasoning and the Humanities.” Liberal Education 71, no. 3 (1985): 195-204.

Online Journal

  • As a footnote:
    • 1. Lana Hysell, “The Bone of Contention,” Anthropomorphic Digest 7, no. 2 (2004): par. 8,
  • In bibliography:
    • Hysell, Lana. “The Bone of Contention.” Anthropomorphic Digest 7, no. 2 (2004).
Online Magazine
  • As a footnote:
    • 1. Lisa M. Budreau, “The Politics of Remembrance: The Gold Star Mothers’ Pilgrimage and America’s Fading Memory of the Real War,” Military History, April 3, 2008,
  • In bibliography:
    • Budreau, Lisa M. “The Politics of Remembrance.” Military History, April 3, 2008.
Article from a Database
  • As a footnote:
    • 1. Mike J. Crawford, et al., “Selecting Outcome Measures in Mental Health: The Views of Service Users,” Journal of Mental Health 20, no. 4 (2011): 340, doi: 10.3109/09638237.2011.577114.
  • In bibliography:
    • Crawford, Mike J., et al. “Selecting Outcome Measures in Mental Health: The Views of Service Users.” Journal of Mental Health 20, no. 4 (2011): 336-346. doi: 10.3109/09638237.2011.577114.
  • As a footnote:
    • 1. “Air Pollutants,” Environmental Protection Agency, last modified August 22, 2012,
  • Second footnote:
    • 2. Environmental Protection Agency, “Air Pollutants.”
  • In bibliography:
    • “Air Pollutants.” Environmental Protection Agency. Last modified August 22, 2012.

MLA Style

MLA citations are similar to Chicago citations but they follow different conventions. MLA citations do not use footnotes or endnotes, but instead list the author and page number in in-text, or parenthetical citations, and then a corresponding Works Cited page for the full reference. For in-text citations, the author’s last name and the page number(s) from which the quotation or paraphrase is taken must appear in parentheses at the end of the sentence.

  • At the end of the day, Wilbur made “in excess of half a million dollars” (Marx 43).

If you use the name of the author to set up your quote or paraphrase, you mention the author’s name in the sentence and then put the page number only in the parentheses at the end of the sentence.

  • According to Marx, Wilbur made “in excess of half a million dollars” (43).

If you need to cite more than one source in your in-text citation, you should use a semicolon to separate the sources.

  • (Jones 101; Williams 23).

It’s important to remember that in MLA style, each citation in your text must have a complete bibliographic entry in your Works Cited page, so, if readers want to go to the original source, they can.

MLA Works Cited

Two containers. Shows all of the information in Container 1, plus container 2 information that includes the title of container, other contributors, version, number, publisher, publication date, and location, which are all the same elements existing in container 1.

Figure 1. You use two containers if the source you are using is part of a larger source, such as a poem within an anthology, a series within a T.V. show, or a journal within a database.

Instead of offering a specific way to format each and every source time, to cite bibliographic information in MLA, use “containers” to include all the needed information. These containers, pictured in Figure 1, provide you with the required elements, order, and punctuation for each of your works cited entries.

As you work to format your works cited entries, you will notice that many sources require only one container. These are sources that you access directly from their original publication, such as books, an online magazine article, and general websites. You should follow the order of items listed in the container, following the simplified punctuation rules you see in the container as well. You will place a period after the author and the title of the source. Then, you should place commas after each item until the end of the entry.

Below the first container, the second container provides publication information for where you retrieved that information. For example, a journal article you access through your library’s databases will have its original publication information (container 1) and access information from the online database (container 2).

Focus on the Core Elements

Regardless of the source type, for the references page, you are asked to locate the same “core elements” from your sources and place them in a standard order in order to create citations. These core elements are explained in detail below. Note that you do not need to memorize every step of this process, but should take this opportunity to understand how citations are created. (You will likely use some kind of citation generator to do this work for you, but you will need a general familiarity so that you can know what information to plug into that citation generator and so that you can understand how to double-check the citation generator’s inevitable mistakes.) You can always use the MLA handbook, the MLA Style Center, or to other online resources to help you create the citations you need for your paper.

MLA Citation Examples

The basic guidelines for many types of MLA citations are listed below. To see more, visit MLA Citations on the Excelsior OWL website, Purdue OWL website, or in this citation guide from Santa Fe College.

Print Books with a Single Author

  • If you are accessing a print book, then you will need just one container for publication information.
    • Minot, Stephen. Three Genres. Pearson, 2003.

Books with Multiple Authors

  • If you are accessing a print book, then you will need just one container for publication information.
    • Two Authors
      • Sennett, Richard, and Jonathan Cobb. The Hidden Injuries of Class. Vintage Books, 1973.
    • More Than Two Authors: For more than two authors: list only the first author followed by the phrase “et al.” (Latin abbreviation for “and others”; no period after “et”) in place of the other authors’ names.
      • Smith, John, et al. Writing and Erasing: New Theories for Pencils. Utah State UP, 2001.

Print Magazine Articles

  • If you are accessing a print magazine article, then you will need just one container for publication information.
    • Gallivan, Joseph. “Against the Odds.” Oregon Humanities, Summer 2008, pp. 16-24.

Online Magazine Articles

  • If you are accessing a magazine article directly from the web, you will most likely need just one container to present publication information.
    • Bilger, Burkhard. “The Height Gap.” The New Yorker, 5 Apr. 2004,

Online Journal Articles

  • If you are accessing a journal article directly from the journal’s website, you will most likely need just one container to present publication information. Note that MLA now requires full URLs for online material. However, if your article includes a DOI (digital object identifier), that information should be provided instead of the URL.
    • Collins, Ross. “Writing and Desire: Synthesizing Rhetorical Theories of Genre and Lacanian Theories of the Unconscious.” Composition Forum, vol. 33, Spring 2016,
    • Cho, Helen, Sam D. Stout, and Thomas A. Bishop. 2006 Cortical Bone Remodeling Rates in a Sample of African American and European American Descent Groups from the American Midwest: Comparisons of Age and Sex in Ribs. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 130(2):214-226. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.20312.

Article from a Database

  • If you are accessing a journal article from a database, you will need two containers to present the original publication information as well as the access information from the database.
    • Goldman, Anne. “Questions of Transport: Reading Primo Levi Reading Dante.” The Georgia Review, vol. 64, no. 1, 2010, pp. 69-88. JSTOR,

Online Newspaper

  • If you are accessing a newspaper article directly from the web, you will most likely need just one container to present publication information. Reviews and letters to the editor should be presented in a similar manner.
    • St. Fleur, Nicholas. “City Bees Stick to a Flower Diet Rather Than Slurp Up Soda.” The New York Times, 19 May 2016,


  • Websites that contain articles, postings, and almost anything else have been simplified in the 8th edition of the MLA Handbook. Just one container is needed for most websites.
    • Hollmichel, Stephanie. “The Reading Brain: Differences between Digital and Print.” So Many Books, 25 Apr. 2013,