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Library Orientation for Online Students

An introduction to using the resources and services provided by the Z. Smith Reynolds Library

What is citation, anyway? Why do we cite?

You might remember slogging through a research paper in high school or undergrad and thinking, "why on earth do we even bother with these tedious rules for formatting papers and bibliographies?" And you'd be right for thinking they're kind of tedious--there are so many rules about punctuation, capitalization, margins, running headers, etc. We've all been there.

These rules are defined by different professional associations, academic journals, or scholarly societies. You might recognize a few of them: MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association), Chicago, Turabian--the list goes on. Different disciplines use standard rules so that scholars in those disciplines can more easily track down each others' sources and more quickly gauge the thoroughness of their peers' research. The rules grease the wheels of scholarship, so to speak.

As students, you're learning to communicate like scholars and professional practitioners. That means learning and practicing the rules that govern scholarly communication. Scholars and practitioners cite the work of others for a number of reasons:

  • To lend their arguments credibility. By making an argument and citing strong evidence in support of it, scholars show that their ideas have merit and should be taken seriously. It also shows that they didn't just come up with the idea out of nowhere--they put in extensive work to develop their new ideas. Remember having to show your work in math class? This is kind of like that.
  • As a courtesy to the reader. Have you ever been reading a blog post and wondered why the author didn't provide a link to the thing they're talking about? Frustrating, right? Well, imagine scholars talking about an influential study that significantly informed their own research, but the author never actually tells you who conducted the original study, where it was published, or even its title. Citations are like links back to the original source, so it's important that they're accurate.
  • To show respect for the original author. Generating new knowledge doesn't happen in a vacuum; all scholars stand upon the shoulders of those who came before them. By citing the work of those who came before, scholars show that their colleagues' work was important and influential. A scholar's entire reputation could be based upon producing work that is cited by lots of people! 
  • To advance the scholarly conversation. Think of scholarship as a never-ending conversation at a huge party. Every reader is a potential newcomer to that conversation, so scholars need to bring their readers up to speed before they can add to it. By citing, they can do just that. 

Of course, by citing their sources and following their discipline's rules for publication, scholars also go a long way toward avoiding plagiarism of others' work.

What is APA Citation?

The American Psychological Association (APA) rules for citing resources used in research papers are provided in pages 193-224 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association Sixth edition.

When citing resources, consider these important APA Format Issues.

When citing electronic documents, the goal is to direct readers to the information being cited. Reference specific documents rather than home or menu pages and provide URLs. For additional information on how to cite electronic resources appropriately, please refer to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.) or the American Psychological Association’s APA Style Help page.

APA Citation Style

All information taken from outside sources for written assignments must be documented in APA format. 

The Purdue Online Writing Lab contains valuable information and resources that can help you get comfortable with APA style: Purdue Online Writing Lab: APA Style Please take the time to review the site, and consult the “APA Format and Style Guide” section for correct citation styles for different types of resources.

Finally, we at the Z. Smith Library have a comprehensive APA citation guide with tips and examples for how to cite common types of sources according to the 6th edition of the APA Manual: Z. Smith Reynolds APA Citation Guide

Excessive errors in APA style could lead to a reduction in grade. Failure to properly cite sources may be considered plagiarism and could be liable to disciplinary action under Wake Forest’s Honor Code. (For more on the Honor Code, refer to the WFU Student Handbook.)

What are some tools to make this easier?

There are lots of tools out there to make citation a bit more manageable. Depending on your comfort level with technology, we recommend one of two free tools:

  • For those who just want help formatting a bibliography: ZoteroBib ( Just paste in the title or URL of your sources and ZoteroBib will save a list of everything you want to cite. When you're ready to grab your bibliography, ZoteroBib can generate a bibliography in any format you want. Just choose your citation style, then copy and paste into your paper!
  • For those who want a fully-featured research management tool: Zotero ( The grown-up big brother of ZoteroBib, Zotero integrates into your web browser and word processor to save sources as you research and cite them as you write. It's kind of magical, really, but it does require some confidence with technology to use it well. We even have a guide to get you started: