Citation and its Uses

by Fain Riopelle

Tracking a conversation

The main purpose of citations is to show readers what the conversation you’re taking part in looks like. In other words, it helps the reader track the progress of the conversation. For example, if a writer wants to contribute new information on methods of teaching history, they will help the audience understand where that conversation currently is by integrating secondary sources to track it and citing those sources.


How do you figure out how a source fits into an ongoing conversation?

If you’re reading something, the writer should tell you. Pay attention to how writers talk about their sources. For example, here’s an excerpt from an open letter by Geoffrey Chase, a composition director at Northern Arizona University:

In a recent article on liberal education, William Cronon writes, “More than anything else, being an educated person means being able to see connections that allow one to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways” (78). Paraphrasing Cronon, I would like to suggest that being a teacher means being able to make sense of the academic community and act within it in creative, productive ways. (Chase 16)

In other words, what Chase is saying here is essentially, “Hey, Cronon says this thing about what it means to be an educated person. I think he’s right, and here’s how I think it applies to teachers, in particular.”

Compare that with this little imaginary conversation:

Tim: What should we do, tonight?

Fred: Well, Carol said yesterday that she wanted to go see that new movie downtown. Seems like a good idea to me.

This conversation might not be about something academic, but what Fred is doing here is fundamentally the same thing as what Geoffrey Chase is doing with William Cronon’s article. Each of them is just saying, “This other person said something earlier, and I want to respond to what they said in some way.”


Various citation styles

Citation also allows a writer to give credit where it’s due. Try to be as thorough as possible when listing your citations so as to avoid the appearance that you are taking someone else’s ideas and trying to pass them off as your own. Although different citation styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) have small differences that emphasize different aspects of a work, you can generally expect that a citation will need the following things, if you can find them:

  • Author
  • Title of work
  • Title of publication
  • Date of publication
  • Volume and issue number
  • Place of publication OR Name of publishing house

Works Cited

Chase, Geoffrey. “Composition, Community, and Curriculum: A Letter to New Composition Teachers.” In Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition, eds. Duane Roan et al., National Council of Teachers of English, 2002, pp 11-17.

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