You have just arrived for a meeting about a group project. You and your classmate Chad are early, so you chat about the project.
“I think we should do our project on the way small businesses can take advantage of green technology tax incentives,” you say.
“That’s a great idea,” Chad says.
The rest of your group members arrive, and you begin to brainstorm ideas for your project. Before you can share your idea, however, Chad speaks up:
“I’ve been thinking that we should write something about green technology tax incentives. Maybe we could write about the ways small businesses can benefit.”
Everyone thinks it’s a great idea and compliments Chad on coming up with it.
If this happened to you, you would probably feel angry that Chad presented your idea as his own, even if he didn’t use your exact words. If, however, Chad had told the group that it was your idea, and that he supported it, you would have had no reason to be angry.
Citing is a form of giving credit. If your source is accurately cited, you will have told your audience/ readers whose ideas/words belong to whom and exactly where to go in order to find those words.
Scholars like Jesse Stommel and Pete Rorabaugh say that it’s easier to understand citation when you think of it as a way of saying thank you to those who have given you great ideas. In a blog post, Stommel says no one has truly original ideas, but that we should practice “citation, generosity, connection, and collaboration” to work with sources ethically.  .
Why Cite Sources?
There are many good reasons to cite sources:
Misrepresenting your academic achievements by not giving credit to others indicates a lack of academic integrity. This is not only looked down upon by the scholarly community, but it is also punished. When you are a student, this could mean a failing grade or even expulsion from your program.
One major purpose of citations is to provide credit where it is due. When you provide accurate citations, you are acknowledging both the hard work that has gone into producing research and the person(s) who performed that research.
To Provide Credibility to Your Work & Place Your Work in Context
Providing accurate citations puts your work and ideas into an academic context. Citing accurately tells your readers that you’ve done your research and know what others have said about your topic. Not only do citations provide context for your work, but they also lend credibility and authority to your claims.
For example, if you are researching and writing about sustainability and construction, you should cite experts in sustainability, construction, and sustainable construction in order to demonstrate that you have a good grasp of the most common ideas in these fields. Although you can make a claim about sustainable construction after doing research only in that particular field, your claim will carry more weight if you can demonstrate that it can be supported by the research of experts in closely related fields as well.
Citing sources about sustainability and construction as well as sustainable construction demonstrates your mastery of a diversity of views and approaches to the topic. Further, proper citation also demonstrates the ways in which research is social: no one researches in a vacuum—we all rely on the work of others to help us during the research process.
To Help Your Future Researching Self & Other Researchers to Easily Locate Sources
Having accurate citations will help you as a researcher and writer to keep track of the sources and information you find so that you can easily find the source again. Accurate citations may take some effort to produce, but they will save you time in the long run. Think of proper citation as a gift to your future researching self!
Ethical Citation Beyond Giving Credit
Citation is also a time to think about what kinds of sources you value and whom you cite. One way to ensure that you have a thorough view of the issue is to look intentionally for scholars from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Sometimes, when you are busy, it’s easy to reach for the first few sources you find in a database. But if all of these scholars are of the same demographic (for example, if they are all white men in the 45-60 age range), you’ would likely be missing some important perspectives. Taking this aspect into consideration will help you do more thorough analysis.
Other Potential Challenges in Citing Sources:
You Learned How to Cite in A Different School System.
Citation practices are not universal. Different countries and cultures approach using sources in different ways. If you’re new to the Canadian school system, you might have learned a different way of citing. Try to familiarize yourself to the requirements of your current college program as soon as possible if that is the case.
Not Really Understanding the Material Used
If you are working in a new field or subject area, you might have difficulty understanding the information provided by other scholars, so you might find it challenging to paraphrase or summarize that work properly. It can be tempting to change just one or two words in a sentence, but this is still plagiarism.
Running Out of Time
When you are a student taking many classes, working and/or taking care of family members, it may be hard to devote the time needed to doing good scholarship and accurately representing the sources you have used. Research takes time. The sooner you can start and the more time you can devote to it, the better your work will be.
Shifting Cultural Expectations of Citation
Because of new technologies that make finding, using and sharing information easier, some of our cultural expectations around citing methods are changing as well. For example, blog posts often “reference” other articles or works by simply linking to them. It makes it easy for the reader to see where the author’s ideas have come from and to view the source very quickly. In their more informal texts, blog authors do not have a list of citations (bibliographic entries). The links do the work for them. This is a great strategy for online digital mediums — initially, in any case. Over time, however, links might break, leaving readers with no hints (like an author, title, and date) to know how else to find the reference.
While in some areas of the non-academic world some citation rules may have “relaxed” in this manner, expectations around citing sources in academic research and in formal workplace reports have not changed much in the last decade. Whatever your future profession, whenever you have to produce a research report at work, you will most likely be expected to use a standard academic citation style such as APA.