Writing Guides & Tips

Most Common Citation and Reference Mistakes

Whatever class you are in, your professor probably expects you to follow a specific referencing system when making citations in your essays. The most common styles are MLA, APA, and Chicago. All of these styles have very specific requirements that you are expected to follow when citing sources in your papers. What this sample blog post will do is highlight some of the most common citation/reference mistakes made by students, so that you will be able to avoid them and turn in perfect papers for all of your classes.

Common Citation and Reference Mistakes

Where does the period go?

When you are making an in-text citation, the period goes after the citation information in parentheses. So if you were to quote the previous line in APA style, you would say that the “period goes after the citation information” (Ultius, 2015). It is a little different in Chicago style, though, because Chicago style uses footnotes. In this case, the period goes inside the quotation if you are citing a full sentence; and it goes outside the quotation if you are just citing a phrase or if a quoted part is “somewhere in the middle” of the sentence as a whole. (See?) MLA style allows for both in-text citations and footnote citations, so where the period will go will depend on which kind of MLA you are using.

Do you write like a pro? Check out 10 mistakes professional writers never make.

The devil is in the details

The different citation styles have highly detailed guidelines about where commas should go, what should or should not be capitalized, what should or should not be italicized, and so on. The main trick is to just get the hang of the pattern, and you will be good to go for the rest of your academic career. For example, if you learn how to properly reference one journal article using APA style, then you automatically know how to reference any and all journal articles. Trust us, and just make sure you learn the pattern right. The details can be annoying—but once you know them, you know them, and you will be unlikely to mess them up again.

The problem of uncommon sources

Sometimes, you may cite an unusual kind of source, such as a movie or a dissertation. In this case, you will have to look up information online to learn how to cite that source properly, since you probably won’t have the pattern memorized. While it is easy to make a mistake when using uncommon sources, it is also true that most professors, especially at the undergraduate level, are usually understanding and forgiving about this issue.

The dot, dot, dot in the middle

If you want to quote a passage but leave some of the words in the middle, you will have to make use of an ellipsis (also known as the dot, dot, dot). You can’t just mix up the original sources words in your own ways, since this would risk misrepresenting what the author said. You will have to “make sure . . . that the reader knows” you are leaving something out.

The concept of paraphrasing

Another common citation/reference mistake is to simply leave out citations altogether when you are not directly quoting someone else. In fact, you are supposed to include a citation every time you refer to someone else’s ideas, and not just when you directly quote someone else’s words. If you are quoting a very specific idea, you can also include a page number; but if you are referring to someone else’s thought more generally, then it may be appropriate to just make a reference to the whole source.

To Use or Not to Use . . .

Finally, one further potential citation/reference mistake consists of the use of abbreviations. The most common citations are “et al.”, which means “and company”, and “ibid.”, which means “see the previous footnote”. These are used for the sake of convenience and in order to save space. However, it is important to keep in mind that usually, you can’t use these unless you have previously listed in full the information the abbreviations are referring to. You usually have to list all authors before you can use “et al.”, and you always have to list the citation in full before you can use “ibid.” in the next citation.

A Great Resource for You

If you want to make sure that you are making correct use of citations and references in your papers, then a great website you can check out is Online Writing Lab (OWL), hosted by Purdue University. Information for various styles can be found here for a variety of sources. Even the professional writers here at Ultius make use of this resource, if they ever confused about how to cite a particular source. You should definitely feel free to check it out along with our glossary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *