One of the most difficult things students face when it comes to writing essays for college is learning how to work with sources. Interestingly, knowing how to do this is key to being successful in college and in the professional world.

It’s no secret — writing in today’s world is more important than ever before, and much of that writing will be in concert with the writings of other people. The following guide should help you to connect your writing to the writing of others in ways that will prove beneficial throughout your schooling and beyond.

Why Cite?

When we work with texts, we must give credit where credit is due. That means that when we use the ideas or creations of others (which we should), we have to explain where that information came from. We do this for several reasons, two of which I’ll mention here:

  • To do otherwise is cheating, or, dare we say, plagiarism.
  • We need to be able to track ideas to their original source so we can use them to generate meaning in our world.

Rules to Live By

The following are some basic rules to live by when working with texts:

  • Quotations need to be the exact words from the source, misspellings and all. For instance, it would be wrong for me to say "the Global Warming argument can't support the outcomes of industrialization" (Winters, 2010, p. 17). Even though this statement might capture the gist of Winters' comments, that isn't what he said. We need to respect the author by either using his or her exact words or by taking the time to paraphrase.
  • We should only use quotations that convey the information in a better way than we could have said it, or that helps to illustrate our point (note that it is our point, not the authors' of the texts we work with).
  • In-text citations should be placed at the end of the sentence in which we are quoting or paraphrasing. If the sentence or paraphrase includes more than one sentence, the citation should be placed at the end of the paragraph. Citations should, in most cases, look like this: ". . . be discussing regulation over prosperity" (Winters, 2010, p. 17). Note that the citation is paired to the sentence by coming before the period (this is not the case if the quotation ends in any other type of punctuation). The citation should include the last name of the author, the year of publication, and the page number (whatever is applicable).
  • This is your essay, not an extension of the authors’ texts you are working with. You should do the vast majority of talking. Don't let your sources overtake your essay; maintain control of the flow of information.

Reference Pages

References pages are research tools that allow your readers a way to find the same information you worked with in your writing. Therefore, it is important that you list every source included in your essay and do it in the proper manner (be nice to your readers — don’t make them have to learn new skills just to make sense of your sources).

As far as formatting, APA references pages are set up as follows:


Benson, J. (2010). Larson B and the tide of humanity.

     Nature, 84, 391-409. doi:10.1037/0278-6134 .25.3.334

Winters, J. (2010).  What’s wrong with crying global warming?

     Modern Industry, 2(2), 5-25.

Note that these sources are in alphabetical order, that they are the reverse of a normal paragraph (first line flush left, additional line tabbed in). Note also that the first word of the citation should match the first word of the in-text citation. A good citation generator is a quick way to get these formatted, but as your classes get more complex, especially as you enter the Master’s program, you will need to know how to do this on your own.

For further assistance in working with texts, visit us at the Writing Center.

Timothy P. Goss is a full-time faculty member with Grantham University’s School of Arts and Sciences. He also serves as a Co-Director of the Writing Center and the Interim Manager of The Student Advising and Learning Center.