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Plagiarism tutorial: Citation elements

Plagiarism Tutorial

Elements of a bibliographic citation

Gathering the necessary information for a citation is easy as long as you remember the key elements. You should also keep in mind the purpose of a citation: to show the reader where the source can be found. Once you have written your citation, check back to see if you could find that source using only the information you have provided. Needed elements are:

  • Who created it: Author (sometimes you will not be able to find this - in that case you can skip that part of the citation. Do not write "Unknown" or "Anonymous.")
  • What it's called: Title (book or chapter title, journal article title, title of the web page)
  • Where to find it: Publication information (who published it, where, when). The type of publication information that is needed depends on the type of publication: a magazine or journal citation doesn't need a city of publication; a website may provide no information other than the sponsor ("publisher"). Before you skip a particular element of a citation, be sure you haven't simply overlooked it.

Again, remember to gather all bibliographic information as you take notes on a source. It can be very difficult to re-create a search to find a source you didn’t write down.

The library has an extensive citation guide customized for Menlo students. If you choose to write citations yourself (instead of using Noodlebib), be sure to look at the examples and guidelines here: Menlo School Citation Guide. For the most part, teachers would rather see a poorly-formatted citation (or attempt at citation) than no citation at all.

Now you try it!

The following citation of a book is seen on a student's MLA-style Works Cited page:

Steinbeck, John. Cannery Row. New York: 1994.

Are all of the necessary elements included in this citation?



The following citation of a website is seen in a student's Chicago style Bibliography:

Pavlakis, Dean. "Belgian Congo." Yale University Genocide Studies Program. Last
         modified 2010.

Are all of the necessary elements included in this citation?



Note that a date of access is no longer required by the Chicago Style Manual. You may include the access date if you want, by putting the date of access before the modification date, like this:

Pavlakis, Dean. "Belgian Congo." Yale University Genocide Studies Program. Accessed
          January 7, 2012. Last modified 2010.


Finding some citation elements can be tricky. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • If you can find more than one copyright date, use the most recent date listed
  • If there are several publication cities, use the first US city
  • If there are multiple authors, include them in the order they appear in the text

Skip any information you can't find, but be sure you really searched before omitting that piece.

Questions? Comments?

Click here if you have a question or comment about this tutorial.