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United States Military Academy Library

Documenting Sources: Citations

Understanding Citations - confirm which citation style your instructor has asked you to use.

Citing or documenting the sources used in your research serves three purposes:

  1. It gives proper credit to the authors of the words or ideas that you incorporated into your paper.
  2. It allows those who are reading your work to locate your sources, in order to learn more about the ideas that you are presenting.
  3. Citing your sources consistently and accurately helps you avoid committing plagiarism in your writing.


If you cite a source in your bibliography simply like this:

it does technically indicate where you found it, and someone might be able to find it again. But:

  • What if the URL breaks?
  • What if your reader doesn't have access to USMA Library's databases? (This is the URL to the PDF view of a journal article in the database Science Direct.)

A good citation makes it easy for the reader to figure out the who, what, when, and where of the source. In MLA style, a citation also often indicates how it was accessed.


Within MLA style, the format of the citation also tells you "how" -- that this source is a journal article that you accessed through an online database.


Content is courtesy of the Giesel Library, St. Anselm College

This page illustrates how to interpret the parts of an MLA citation for different types of sources. This is important when you have a citation in hand (for example, from the bibliography of a journal article, from a website, or from a professor) and want to track down the original source. Although citations look different in other styles such as APA, Chicago or Turabian, for example, the same information is generally present, but with a different order and formatting.

Identifying the key parts of a citation will help you know how to search for the source. For example:

  • If the item is a book or book chapter, you should search the title of the book or chapter in the USMA Library Catalog.
  • If the item is a journal article, you should search the journal's title in the Journals by Title and use the volume, issue, or year of publication to browse to the desired article.


Book citation

Book Chapters

If the entire book was written by the same author(s), including the chapter being cited, there will be no book editor(s) listed in the citation.

Book chater citation

Journal Articles

If the article is available online in a research database, you will often see the database's name and the date of retrieval in the citation, as in the example below. If the article was obtained from a print copy of a magazine or journal, the citation will end with the page numbers.

Journal article citation

Web Sources

If the web document has no author or publication date, its citation will not include this information. The "publisher" refers to the organization, company, or other entity on whose website the article or page resides.

Web Source Citation

Content is courtesy of the Giesel Library, St. Anselm College

This page will help you distinguish among the major kinds of sources that you will encounter in the library's research resources. It provides tips on what to look for to determine whether an item is a book, book chapter, or journal article.

Once you decide what type of source you have, you will know what information you need in order to cite it properly in your paper or presentation.

Is it a book?

Look for:

  • a single title
  • publisher information
  • no page numbers

A book in the Library catalog:

Book in Catalog


Is it a book chapter?

Look for:

  • both a chapter title and a book title
  • publisher information
  • page numbers

A book chapter:

Chapter in EBSCO

Is it a journal article?

Look for:

  • both an article title and a journal title
  • a volume number
  • page numbers

A journal article:

Article in EBSCO


A journal article in a database:

Web Source Citation

Content is courtesy of the Giesel Library, St. Anselm College

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