Citation is the process of giving credit to other people’s words, ideas, and work in an academic context.
Citation shows how your work is part of a scholarly conversation. When you cite another person’s work, you show that you have engaged with other scholars. You also show how your ideas and research build on other people’s work. Citation also allows your reader to fact check your research and learn more from the original source. Citation makes your research path more visible to readers. When your research path is visible, your work is more credible.
Good citation practices help prevent you from plagiarizing. Avoiding plagiarism is important because plagiarizing can result in failing an assignment and even facing disciplinary action from the University. Plagiarism also undermines the authority of your work and prevents you from fully learning from assignments.
The three most common citation styles are APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association), and Chicago Style. In general, APA is used in the social sciences, MLA is used in the humanities, and Chicago Style is used in history. However, your instructor will tell you what style you should use in your work for class assignments.
Citation management software tools can help keep your sources organized, record the information needed to cite your sources, and automatically generate in-line citations and bibliographies. Tools like this can save you a lot of time! Columbia University Libraries recommends the citation management software Zotero because it is free and open source, and it's relatively easy to use.
Go to zotero.org and follow the download instructions. Be sure to download both the software and the browser extension.
Use Zotero's documentation to get started and troubleshoot any technology issues. If you're having trouble with Zotero when you first install the software, we recommend closing your browser and Zotero and restarting your computer.
If you can't find the help you need, you can browse or ask a question in the Zotero forums.
Check the Columbia University Libraries workshop calendar for upcoming Zotero workshops. The Libraries usually offer Zotero workshops at least every couple of weeks.