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Citation Tutorial


Organize Source Information

This guide will help you learn how to find and use style guides, locate, use and organize citation information, and understand purposes of citation.

The Goals: Clarity & Speed

Whatever system you use for organizing your research notes, it should achieve these three goals:

1. Clear Attribution

Which ideas or quotes are attributed to which sources?

2. Clear Boundaries

What are the boundaries between your ideas and others' ideas and words?

3. Speed

How can you economize? Focus on information at this stagenot formatting issues.

(One efficient way to achieve all three goals is to simplify citation with a citation manager, like Zotero!)

1. Word processor

Any system of tracking research notes should have a system for tagging quotes with source information in a way that keeps tags attached to quotes as you re-arrange the order. The word processor method benefits from the speed and ease of copying and pasting. The disadvantage is that re-arranging quotes can be a little slow.

image of table showing bibliographic info and quotation from article by Juliet Schor


  1. Download the "Research Notes Form" (above).
  2. Use the boxes and tables to enter source information and notes about each source.
  3. Add page numbers, and codes to remind yourself how you are representing the source: Q for direct quote, P for paraphrase, S for summary, M for My own thoughts.
  4. In each row of notes, enter the author's last name (or initials for multiple authors) and a word from the title (e.g. SSZZ Critical)
  5. Copy and paste extra boxes and tables as needed for additional entries.
  6. Every table of notes should be preceded by complete bibliographic information for a source. (Format is not important.) Every row of notes should have a page number, a letter code, author's last name (and maybe a word from the title).
  7. To get ready to write, re-arrange research material by copying and pasting whole table rows of notes into a new document. Continue to re-arrange by copying and pasting until the order makes sense.
  8. Write!

3. Print and Highlight

If you prefer to work from printouts of articles and photocopies of book chapters, this technique might work for you, though it is likely more time-consuming than other methods. It also carries the risk of your paper blindly following the organization of the source articles.


  1. Download each article you think you might need into a folder with the name of your project.
  2. As you download each article, also save the bibliographic information, either on paper, copying into a word processor, or with a citation manager.
  3. Print the articles you need to read.
  4. Highlight passages directly relevant to your project.
  5. If relevant passages are long, summarize them on the back: one sentence of summary per paragraph of article, max.
  6. Use your paper outline headings to label highlighted passages in the margins.
  7. On the first page of each printed article, list the outline headings you have used as labels within the body.
  8. Write!

2. Paper

If you would rather work on paper, here is a time-tested method using 3x5 cards. Though it might be a little slower to hand write (and later re-type) quotes, the last step of re-arranging cards into an order that makes sense can be much more efficient than the word processor version:

image of notecard showing quotation, with this on the top line: Schor, Moral Stances, 277 Q


  1. Note down complete source bibliographic information in a word doc or on paper (see Record Source Information) or in a citation manager.
  2. On a card, write the last name of the author, (a word from the title if necessary), and the page number from which you are quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing material.
  3. Write the quote, paraphrase, or summary, and your own notes.
  4. Be sure to indicate directly quoted material. It doesn't matter how, as long as it's clear: use quotation marks, draw a box around it, highlight it... .
  5. For paraphrased or summarized material, write a prominent P or S; if you write down your own reflections or commentary, write a prominent M for "My own thoughts."
  6. When you have written cards for all of your source work, you can arrange and re-arrange them on a large surface (table, bulletin-board, floor) until they are in an order that makes sense for your project.
  7. Write!

4. Open Tabs, Copy/Paste

As you research, you will very likely find that you are tempted to start writing in an open doc window while you have multiple tabs open to various articles you have just found in databases. You may also be tempted to skip the steps in methods 1-3 that allow you to digest and re-organize source information, and just copy and paste text directly from source articles into your paper.


  1. Don't do this.

  2. See methods 1-3.

Why? It will satisfy criteria 3 (Speed), but sacrifice 1 (Clear Attribution) and 2 (Clear Boundaries). When you are in a hurry, copying and pasting directly from articles to your paper, you will lose track of the boundaries between your ideas and the source ideas. You will mistake other people's ideas and words for your own, and neglect to cite them. You will also close a tab before noting the source information; then you either have to abandon that great quote, or attempt to find that source again. Or... the third option, use the quotation but fail to cite the source. Which you can't do, because you understand Academic Integrity.

A Word About Anxiety

Citation often causes anxiety. Of course it does! Citation style rules are about the worst combination of arbitrary, complicated, and precise, and because they are often mentioned on the same day as plagiarism, they can have a powerful negative emotional charge.

Anxiety about citation can even cause people to avoid using a potentially great source just because they don't know how to go about citing it. In other words, fear of a small consequence (a few docked points on the bibliography) leads them to risk a bigger consequence: less engagement with ideas, less learning, and a less informed and less interesting paper. 

You, however, won't make that mistake. You know that as long as you record everything as instructed on Recording Source Information, keep it organized as shown on this page, and learn resources for formatting on the next page, you can use any kind of source imaginable, and it will all work out.