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#40-How to Improve Student Citation Formatting

September 04, 2004


One of the most frustrating and sometimes confusing parts of research and writing, for both students and faculty, is the proper formatting of citations. Plagiarism, both intentional and otherwise, is a growing crisis in education. Sometimes, students are unaware of how to properly cite information they use from other sources. But who has time to constantly look up proper citation formats, let alone consider the possibility of actually remembering all the elements of proper citations using a multitude of formats. If creating citations was easier we would all probably do a much better job of it.

This Low Threshold Application (LTA) is designed to identify tools that will help students – or any of us who must occasionally format a citation for an article – to do a better job of writing citations. This allows instructors to spend less time teaching  a skill students should be able to get help with on their own, and more time on course material. Ultimately, if the process of creating citations is easier to accomplish, we all may become more adept at knowing the elements of citations and compiling them.

LTA Credits

Steven J. Bell
Paul J. Guttman Library
Philadelphia University


What is a Citation?

This may seem like a silly question, but let’s make sure we are all on the same page before moving on.

One of the challenges of formatting citations is the tremendous diversity of source materials – journal articles, newspapers, dissertations, books, web pages, and much more. Here are some of the most basic elements of a citation:

  • Author Name — Personal or Corporate
  • Date of Publication or Last Update in Parentheses. Use “n.d.” (stands for no date) if date cannot be found.
  • Title of document or article
  • Source of document or article, for example the title of the journal or the complete work, if relevant
  • Other publication information, for example volume number, page numbers, etc., if relevant.
  • A retrieval date statement, for example: Retrieved January 27, 2001, from the World Wide Web
  • The URL — the World Wide Web address, for example: http://www.library.unr.edu

Add to the necessity of remembering all the elements the importance of using the correct citation format. The most heavily used formats include MLA, APA, and Chicago. The Sonoma State Citation University Library’s Styles & Formats site contains more information on formats.

What Is In This LTA?

This LTA contains three segments. The first one provides instructions, with examples and screen shots, on how to navigate each of several databases to format citations. This section covers two typical library database systems, ProQuest and CSA (Cambridge Scientific Abstracts). The familiar EBSCOHost system will be adding this feature in the fall of 2004 and others are likely to do so as well. The second segment briefly explains “personal bibliographic software” and how it differs from the resources described in this LTA. The third and final segment leads to additional sources of information on formatting citations.

  1. Using Citation Formatting Tools in Library Databases
  2. Using Personal Bibliographic Software
  3. Additional Resources

Part One. Using Citation Formatting Tool in Library Databases

Chances are that your library already subscribes to a database system that incorporates a citation formatting tool into the traditional article search process. So in the spirit of LTAs, these citation formatting tools are readily available, quickly learned, cost you nothing (the library already took care of that), and can help contribute to multiple facets of the “Seven Principles for Using Technology for Good Teaching.” Several examples are presented here, but do remember that every library subscribes to a different set of electronic research databases. Though the tools are similar, you should talk to your local librarian to learn what databases your campus has access to, and what sort of citation formatting capabilities each has. It is likely your library will subscribe to those mentioned here. This LTA focuses on the following two research database systems and uses them to provide an example of the citation formatting features that are being integrated into the journal databases:

  • ProQuest
  • Cambridge Scientific Associates

Let’s assume you’ve done a search and have retrieved some results. We’ll go right into creating citations for several of those articles.

  1. First, mark the articles that you want to obtain citations for. To “mark” a record, just click the check box to the left of the article. Click on the graphic for a magnified view of this object.
  2. Click on the “marked List” (orange) tab at the top of the search result screen to go to the actual marked list.
  3. On the “marked list” page you will see three output options for your articles. Note that you will have the “Articles and Bibliography” tab highlighted. Click on the graphic for a magnified view of this object.
  4. Choose “Print Your Bibliography.” This is the first step in formatting the citations. The next screen, shown below, provides options for choosing one of several common citation formats. Click the radio button to the right of the format desired (e.g., MLA, APA, etc.). Click on the graphic for a magnified view of this object.
  5. Next, click the “print” button at the base of the screen. That will cause a printer dialog box to open, but cancel that operation. This will leave you with the page shown below, that contains the formatted citations. Students can then cut and paste these citations into the footnotes section of their paper. Click on the graphic for a magnified view of this object.
  6. Note that there is a warning that attempts to alert students that each is individually responsible for the accuracy of their bibliography. This page also contains more information on the APA citation format for those who wish to check their citations.
Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA)

Let’s assume you have done a search and have retrieved some results. We’ll go right into creating citations for several of those articles.

  1. From the documents display screen “mark” the desired records by checking the box to the left of the record number.
  2. To view the marked records, click the “View Marked Records” button.
  3. From the Marked Records screen, click the button that says “Save/Print/Email Records.”
  4. From the next screen, scroll down until you see the “QuikBib” feature mentioned. Drop the box to select from one of several popular citation formats (MLA, Chicago, etc.), choose a document format, and then click the button labled “Create.”
  5. This action will generate a list of properly formatted citations that can then be cut and pasted into a document. An example of the formatted citations page is shown below. Click on the graphic for a magnified view of this object.

Part Two. Using Personal Bibliographic Software

Many academic libraries offer faculty, researchers, and students personal bibliographic software (PBS). PBS can also be used to correctly format citation across a wide range of formats, using bibliographic data (citation elements such as author, article title, journal name) retrieved from database searches – and they can even be used to compile citations from web page data and other difficult to cite formats.

Common PBS includes EndNote, ProCite, and Reference Manager. Until recently PBS had to be purchased as software that was loaded onto each computer, and it needed to be routinely upgraded to new versions. Now, more libraries are subscribing to either REFWORKS (produced by CSA) or WRITENOTE (produced by ISI). These two products are web-based and institutions purchase them by site license so that all faculty, researchers, and students can use them from anywhere on or off campus.

PBS tools are far more sophisticated than the citation formatting tools built into library databases. They both allow researchers to create a personalized database of collected article citations, and to manipulate that information in many ways, including the creation of formatted citations in dozens of different formats. Individuals interested in exploring RefWorks or WriteNote should contact a local librarian to learn if your library subscribes to either of these services. While they make the process of properly formatting citations far easier, both of these tools are more complex than what was illustrated in PART ONE.

Part Three. Additional Resources

Libraries that do not currently offer PBS may be using a resource called NoodleBib. This is a slightly less sophisticated tool than PBS, but does allow students to create formatted bibliographies in APA or MLA style. It also has some features that promote collection and sharing citation information.

Another resource is called the CitationMachine. Students can format one citation at a time, but this web site facilitates the process by providing an appropriate template for a variety of source material (e.g., book, journal article, web page, etc.). The list of templates is divided into print and electronic resources. The CitationMachine will generate a citation in MLA and APA format. So one drawback, like NoodleBib, is that it offers just two citation formats.

Finally, there is no dearth of libraries that have developed web pages with information about formatting citations and links to additional information about APA, MLA, and others. To find examples go to the Librarians Index to the Internet and search the word citations.



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