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How to Read a Citation: Introduction


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This LibGuide was created by Ellen Hamptom Filgo Librarian at Butler University, Indianapolis, IN. Other users of LibGuides are welcome to use this Guide as a template and to make changes as necessary to fit their custom needs.

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A citation is a reference to an item that gives enough information in order for you to identify it and to be able to find it again.

Generally, citations include four elements:

  1. Author
  2. Title
  3. Source
  4. Date 

The source information is the clue to figuring out what kind of resource the citation points to:

  • For a book, the source information will be a place of publication and a publisher.
  • For an article, the source information will be the journal title, the volume and issue numbers and the page numbers.
  • For a website, the source information will be the URL (which normally begins http://).

Other types of publications (audio/visual materials, government documents, dissertations, etc.) will generally include the basic four elements, but will also include enough information in order for the person reading the citation to identify both the type of information source, as well as how to find the information again.

What is a citation for?

"Broadly, a citation is a reference to a published or unpublished source (not always the original source).

A prime purpose of a citation is intellectual honesty: to attribute prior or unoriginal work and ideas to the correct sources, and to allow the reader to determine independently whether the referenced material supports the author's argument in the claimed way."

-- Citation. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved August 16, 2011, from

Where to find citations

Citations can be found in the bibliography or works cited section of books and scholarly articles as well as listed in the library's electronic or printed indexes and databases.