Using Online Citation and Reference Tools

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the conventions of citation and reference

Online tools have made the research process easier. You are probably aware of many tools that generate citations and works cited pages for you. We think those tools are great: they save time and allow you to focus on the knowledge work of writing a paper. However, sometimes citation generators make mistakes. Take a look at this example from a student paper:

Greenblatt, Alan. “Shibboleth Authentication Request.” Shibboleth Authentication Request.
CQ Press, 24 Sept. 2010. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

What is wrong with this citation? The student’s paper was about the value of a traditional college experience. Shibboleth authentication is a set of protocols for authenticating your access to research databases. Do you think Alan Greenblatt wrote an article about authentication systems called “Shibboleth Authentication Request?” Does it make sense that this article would be related to the topic of the traditional college experience? Probably not. This is an example of a citation that was generated by a citation generator. Computers make mistakes too, and this student didn’t check the output of the generator. Thus, readers have no idea what the actual source was. As a result, the student writer loses credibility and the entire paper suffers.

The lesson here is that it’s important to check the output of citation generators. Ask yourself if the citation you see really fits with the source you read. Understanding why citations are built the way they are can help you be more critical in your proofreading of generated works cited pages and internal citations.

Let’s think about another example from a student paper:

What is wrong with this citation? The student provides a URL but does not use MLA format on his or her works cited page. As is, the reader has some information about the source but not important features such as an author’s name, the full article title, or a date of publication. Further, by using just a URL, the student diverges from normal discourse conventions, which the reader expects to see. For example, the student using this citation is lacking any information to use in his or her in-text citation, which would normally guide readers easily to the correct source on the works cited page.

It’s important to understand the style normal to the assignment and to use resources to help match the expectations. Readers who expect to see complete information about a source and expect to see it formatted in a certain style will be turned off by deviations from the standards. This will in turn negatively impact the writer’s credibility.