Citation: When, How, Why?

In an academic culture that bases most of our own research by building upon the research of others, citation is very important. Research and ideas are intellectual property, and credit is due for those who work so tirelessly on their work. That being said, it is crucial to explore when, how and why we are using citation.


Citations should be used whenever you find yourself using information that you would not know without researching. It is easy to write on a tangent, but it is important to recognize when you are using facts that are not “general knowledge.” I will outline some instances below that would require citation based on my target genre essay on Lewis Wicke Hine’s photography (which I will link here.).

Historic Facts:

An example of when you should use citations is when using historic facts. Below is a quote from my essay:

“Lewis Wicke Hine was an American documentary photographer whose works served as documentation of the need for social and labour reform in “American factories, mines, mills and other industries” (Leaper p. 510).” (Underwood p. 2)

The facts that Hine was an American documentary photographer who explored american factories, mills and other industries in not common knowledge, and therefore those facts need to be supported by a citation.

Research or Ideas of Others:

Citations should always be used when you are directly discussing someone else’s research whether it be comparing it to your own or using it to support your own ideas. I have included an example below:

“For a gelatin silver print, which uses paper covered in a silver salt emulsion and is exposed under a negative plate, there is much grey colouring that suggests a shorter exposure time (Rosenblum p. 380).” (Underwood p. 3)

This quote emphasizes that it was not my idea or research that proves the colouring of the the photo suggests a shorter exposure time, it was in fact Rosenblum’s idea as suggested from their extensive knowledge and research into the medium of gelatin silver prints.


There are many ways to use citations. Again I will pull on examples from my essay to show examples. For the purpose of this class and social sciences, APA (American Psychological Association) is the preferred style. Other common styles include MLA (Modern Language Association) which is used often for humanities subjects, and Chicago which is used for arts.

1. Direct quotation embedded in the grammar of the sentence.

“His work with the organization pushed him to become a professional “social photographer” (Rosenblum 378).” (Underwood p. 2)

This is the style I tend to use most often, using quotes as a fluent part of a sentence. This is especially useful when including factual information from another text. The above example embeds the wording “social photographer” which Rosenblum uses to describe Hine’s occupation. He was in fact a social photographer, so the small quote flows nicely in the description of how his work influenced his own occupation. 

2.Paraphrase (indirect) quotation embedded in the grammar of the sentence.

“He studied sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and New York University and later became a teacher (Leaper p. 510). (Underwood p. 2)

This quote paraphrases a paragraph that Leaper in detail describes Hine’s education background. This sentence condenses facts based on Leaper’s research, and therefore require a citation. The information id paraphrased to condense the facts to be very direct.

3. Direct quotation embedded in the grammar of the sentence, using the author’s name within the sentence.

“The NCLC used his images in “pamphlets, books, lectures and travelling exhibits,” which according to Art Historian, Laura Leaper, arguably lead to the success of passing social legislation prohibiting child labour in 1916 (p. 510).” (Underwood p. 3)

This style is a little more personal than including the author’s name in brackets at the end of the sentence. This form introduces the author of the quotation acknowledging their occupation and area of research. I often like to use this format in the first citation from an author to properly introduce them in the essay or article. It is important to include the quotations where necessary and include the page number at the end of the sentence.

4. Direct blocked quotation introduced with a colon.

Under the act:

“the products of mines that employed children under age sixteen and factories employing children under age fourteen could not be transported by means of interstate commerce. The law also prohibited interstate shipment of products from factories that employed children under age sixteen for more than eight hours a day, for more than six days any week, or at night. Violation of the law constituted a criminal misdemeanor for which factories could be fined” (Ross p. 1). (Underwood p. 4)

When using quotes longer than 3 lines it is a good rule of thumb to introduce them using a colon and indent the large quote following the bracketed citation. Large quotations like this should be used sparingly.

5. Paraphrased quotation, starting with author name, embedded in the grammar of the sentence.

“Rosenblum highlights that at the Ethical Culture School in New York he used the camera as a learning tool to counteract the negative ideas among many American against immigrants (p. 377). (Underwood p. 2)

This quotation is used to show just how important it is when paraphrasing to make citations. In this paraphrase it is made clear at the beginning of the sentence that this is not the original thought of the author (myself), by using the cited author’s name to introduce the paraphrase.


One thing that is important to remember when using quotations is to ask yourself why this citation is important. At times writers can get caught up in the demand to make citations to ensure there is no chance for plagiarism. However, it is important to make sure that the citations are relevant to your article or essay and add support, not just word count. I like to ask myself:

  • What is this citation adding to my work?
  • Without this citation or information, does my work struggle to support my ideas?
  • Is there a more relevant citation I could use?
  • Is the format of the citation the most appropriate?

If when writing, you answer yes, than I assume you are right. Be critical of your own work and make those you are using to compare or support your ideas proud to be referenced and included in your work.


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