Cite Sources

the reference page in a textbook

UBC Learning Commons CC:BY

How to Cite Sources

Whenever you use someone else's words or ideas in your paper or presentation, you must indicate that this information is borrowed by citing your source. This applies to written sources you've used, such as books, articles and web pages, as well as other formats, such as images, sounds, TV/film clips, and DVDs. Failure to cite such sources may be considered plagiarism. Avoid distress and embarrassment by learning exactly what to cite – the who, what, where and when of your source!


Silhouettes by geralt from Pixabay

Who wrote or created it? Examples:

  • An individual author, musician, artist or other type of creator? a group of authors/creators? a corporation or organization (also known as corporate author)?
  • Is the author/creator anonymous or pseudonymous?

In all these cases the author or creator must be credited. The sole exception is if the author is genuinely unknown - your style guide will explain how to format a citation with an unknown author. Check your style guide's index to find instructions for "author, unknown" or similar phrases.

Depending on the material type:

  • Who published it? (primarily print materials)
  • Who produced it? (primarily cds/dvds/videos)

Other points to consider:

Does the work that you are citing appear within a larger work? Examples include journal articles, encyclopedia or dictionary entries and anthologies.

  • Depending on the exact type of material you may have to credit the author/creator/editor of the larger work as well.

Was the work originally created in another language?

  • The translator will need to be credited, as well as the original author/creator.


by geralt from Pixabay, CC0

What type of material did your source come from? Note, different material types have different citation elements so "what" to record can differ from source to source.

Just a few examples:

  • Book chapter versus blog entry: Book citations include the city of publication; blog citations never include this information.
  • Edited book versus journal article: Books with editors (usually collections of essays, plays, poetry etc.) require that you cite the editor as well as the author of the chapter you used; Journals have editors too but article citations do not include the editor's name.
  • Online article versus e-Book chapter: Some citation styles require that you include the date you accessed an online article or website; e-Book citations do not include the date accessed.
  • Monograph versus anthology: Monographs (books where the entire publication was written by an author or group of authors) require that you cite the book title only, not the title of the chapter you are quoting from; anthologies (collections of essays, plays, poetry etc all written by different people) require that you cite the title of the anthology AND the title of the chapter you are quoting from.


Where by Anonymous Account from Flickr, CC-by-2.0
  • Where was it published? (if relevant – applies primarily to print books)
  • Where did you find it? (if relevant - applies primarily to online items and items which are available in more than one format)
    • did you read the article in a print journal? on the publisher's website? in an article database? on the author's personal page?
    • did you read the print book or the e-book? If the e-book - which platform was it?

Depending on the style guide you are using you may need to include this information.


by geralt from Pixabay, CC0
  • When was it published?
  • Did it appear in a particular edition of a larger work? What are the details of the particular edition?
  • Did you access it on a particular date? (if relevant – applies primarily to web content)
Note: you will need to cite each source that you used twice: first in the text of your paper at the exact point where you quote or paraphrase someone else's work. This is called an "in-text citation," "footnote," or "endnote" depending on the style you are using. You'll be typing out the citation a second time in your list of Works Cited, References or Bibliography.

Here are some samples of the most common types of citations that you will see. The major styles all have official guides - these have the most detailed and accurate instructions for:

  • determining which elements to cite.
  • formatting the citations - both in the body of your paper and in the bibliography/list of references.
  • most of the formats your sources will come in.

If you need to cite something which is not covered here - check out the relevant style guide for specific assistance or contact the Library for more help. You will also find further helpful hints in the other sections of this guide.

Elements of a citation: Print Book, MLA style.

Edited Book citation Chicago Style


Print Book, anthology with editor, APA Style

Edited Book citation APA Style


Article, single author, Chicago Style

Footnote citation Chicago Style
Bibliography citation Chicago Style

Most citation styles require that you cite the same or similar elements for each material type but differ on things like the order and layout in which the elements appear. So, while the details may be different, the basic pieces of information you'll need to cite will often be the same.

Major Style Guide Access

Some style guides are used extremely frequently. These links will take you to the UBC Library holdings on these major style guides.

  • Print versions for many style guides are available at the Centre Writing and Scholarly Communications on the 3rd floor of the Irving K.Barber Library. Check their hours here
  • If you just need a quick refresher on how to format something in a style you've used before an online guide or tip-sheet might be best.
    • UBCO Library has some great tip sheets for using APA, MLA and Chicago/Turabian styles.
    • OWL from Purdue University has great quick-guides to using APA and MLA styles.
    • APA Electronic Guide is available online for citation reference on electronic resources.
    • Curtin University Library has a guide for Vancouver/Uniform style.

Which style should I use?

Your instructor may assign a specific style for you to follow. If so, use the style consistently throughout your paper - in the layout of the paper (margins, line spacing, cover page), in the footnotes/in-text citations and in your final list of references.

  • If you are not assigned a specific style to use then you are free to choose whichever style you would like to use - again, be consistent.
    • Many programs and disciplines have a preferred style, e.g., Psychology - APA style; History - Chicago style; English - MLA style. If you aren't sure which style to choose it's probably best to use the style most preferred by your program/discipline.

Are some Help-Guides/Sites better than others?

It depends on your needs:

  • If you need to cite a wide variety of sources and material types you probably need a very detailed guide.
    • In this case the official manual for the style is your best bet.
    • For example, MLA, APA, Chicago, and Vancouver/Uniform styles all have official manuals which the Library owns. These are exhaustively detailed and act as the "final say" if you find conflicting advice elsewhere.

I'm looking at the style guide - now what?

If you've never used a style guide before it can be confusing to navigate. The index may be the easiest way to get to the page you need to consult - but first you need to analyze your source and determine which citation elements you'll need to record.

Analyze your sources

Start with authorship:

  • Does the source have an author? Multiple authors? Is the author unknown or pseudonymous? You'll find the rules for formatting all these options in the index under "Author(s)," "Authorship" or similar term.

Check the index

Now look at the format type of your source. Finding the rules for citing different types of sources works the same way as finding out how to cite different types of authors - consult the index.

  • Are you quoting a book? A journal article? A blog entry? A sacred text? A section of a website?
  • Different format types have different elements that must be recorded – so look the format up in the index to see all the pieces of information you need to include in the citation.

Finally, make sure that you look up the rules for formatting your citation both in the text of your paper and in the list of works cited/bibliography.

  • Often the formatting rules are substantially different, e.g., you may find that the rules make you indent your in-text citations differently from how they appear in the bibliography, or the way multiple authors are handled may be very different.

ACS (American Chemical Society)

ACS is the standard style used for Chemistry.

APA (American Psychological Association)

American Psychological Association (APA) style is the standard style used for psychology and many other academic disciplines, especially the social sciences.

APA Style Guides Online

APA Style Guide In Print

ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers)

Biology 140


The Chicago Manual of Style provides two distinct citation styles: Humanities style (notes and bibliography) and Scientific/Social Sciences styles (parenthetical author/date references and reference list). Be sure to check with your instructor regarding which style they prefer that you use. Chicago style is sometimes called Turabian style, which is a modified version.

Chicago/Turabian Style Guides Online

Chicago/Turabian Style Guides in Print

CSE (Council of Science Editors)


A parenthetical style used most commonly in the UK and Australia.

IEEE Style (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)

IEEE Style is used primarily in Electrical and Computer Engineering


Used primarily in Law


Modern Languages Association (MLA) style is one of several styles for academic citation. It is used in the humanities, especially English.

MLA Style Guides Online

MLA Style Guide in Print

ICMJE Recommendations / Vancouver Style / Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts (URMs)

Commonly used in medical and scientific journals. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors has revised and renamed this style (Dec. 2018).

Citation management tools can help you collect, organize, store, share, and format citations. There are many different citation management tools and each has different features. A few of the most popular tools include RefWorks, Mendeley, Zotero, Endnote, and Papers. UBC Library officially licenses and supports Refworks for all UBC students, faculty, and alumni.

Citation management tools and databases that allow you to copy and paste formatted citations into your work sometimes produce errors. Regardless of what tool you decide to use it is still your responsibility to check and make sure that the citation has all the required information and is properly formatted.


RefWorks is the citation management tool officially supported by UBC Library and is free to use for UBC students, faculty, and alumni. Refworks has an online interface that can be used to collect and organize your citations and a plugin for Microsoft Word that helps you format your citations in any of hundreds of styles and easily integrate the citation into your work. Need help? See the Library's Refworks guide or attend a Refworks Workshop.


Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free open-source tool that aims to help you "collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources." Zotero includes both desktop and browser-based interfaces along with plugins for Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.


Mendeley is a free tool with both web-based and desktop components that includes PDF markup and social networking functionalities. Mendeley also includes plugins for Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.


EndNote is a popular paid citation management tool. The full version of EndNote costs money, but there is a free, web-based version within the Web of Science database, called My EndNote Web. My EndNote Web has fewer features than EndNote.


EasyBib allows you to create bibliographies in a variety of different citation styles, including MLA and APA. Visitors can just type in the item they need to cite, and EasyBib will provide the correct citation for each entry.

Citation Builder

Citation Builder allows you to build citations for a variety of information sources in MLA or APA. A free tool from NCSU Libraries.


LaTeX is a document preparation system often used by mathematicians, scientists, and engineers to automatically format documents that comply with thesis and journal formatting requirements. LaTeX has a steep learning curve. A few resources on LaTeX include:

Ball by Geralt from Pixabay

Data or Statistics?

Before plunging in make sure you know whether you are referencing data or statistics. Unfortunately, the terms are sometimes used as though they are interchangeable. This is not the case: "statistics are the interpretation and summary of data" while "data are raw information from which statistics are derived" ("Data or Statistics?" Finding and Using Data for your Research).


The most important thing to remember is that you want your citation to include enough information so that a reader could find the same dataset again in the future, even if the link you provide no longer works. It's necessary to include a mixture of general and specific information to help them be certain that they've found the same dataset that you were referring to.

Citing data has not always been standard practice, especially if it is data you have collected yourself, but as data becomes more and more widely shared proper attribution is increasingly important. Citing datasets helps them become part of the scholarly record and gives proper credit to the creator of the dataset.

Puzzle Parts by Hans from Pixabay

Most of the time this information wouldn't be included in the dataset itself, but would be located in the item record of the data repository.

Many data repositories provide information about how to cite their products - look closely to see if you can find anything. This is your best bet for relevant information, as the structure of repositories and how they display different elements varies widely.

The most important elements to include are:

Author/Creator - This could either be the personal name of the researcher, or the institution that collected the data.

Title - Include the full title as it appears in the record for the dataset, including table or catalogue numbers if they are provided. If there is more than one title and you want to cite a part within a whole (such as a series within a table, etc), you can include both titles in the same way that you would include other parts within a whole, such as an article within a journal, or a chapter within a book.

Publication date - Most datasets should include some kind of publication date, even if it is hard to find.

Identifier and/or Link - Most published datasets should have some sort of a unique identifier, most commonly a DOI or a URI. This is the most reliable way to identify a particular resource. Many dataset providers will include a permanent URL in addition to or instead of a unique identifier. Link the DOI to the data source if you are working digitally, or include the URL in print.

Other elements that may be good to include:

Edition or Version - This may help to identify your dataset if it is one that undergoes continuous changes.

Resource Type - Include if the style you are using normally includes a resource type

Publisher - This could be the repository where it's located, or whoever has verified the data.

Statistics Canada has a reference building tool that can help you identify which elements to include for a wide range of data and statistics products.

Clock by Geralt at Pixabay

Once you've tracked down all the right elements, you'll need to put them together by using the appropriate style guidelines, consistent with the rest of your citation list.


Many of the major style guides do not yet include specific instructions about how to cite datasets. In order to create a citation for a dataset, you'll need the same basic pieces of information as you would for any other citation. As described in the UBC library's general How to Cite guide, these are found by asking Who/What/When/Where about the item you are citing.

At this point, APA is the only major style that has given specific examples of how to create a data citation.

For other styles, you will need to arrange the elements in the same way as other resources with similar elements. Think about the similarities between the elements you have and the ones in more common resources (ie: a repository may be like a publisher, a series within a table may be like a chapter within a book). This can help you to build out your citation even if you don't have a specific example to model.

Links to style guide resources can be found on the library's How to Cite guide.

Dataset repositories, also known as research data repositories, provide researchers with a stable place to store and provide others with access to their research data:

Depending on the research discipline, data can often be deposited in one or more data centers (or repositories) that will provide access to the data. These repositories may have specific requirements :
  • subject/research domain
  • data re-use and access
  • metadata.

UO Libraries. "Data Repositories". Research Data Management

Binary by Geralt from Pixabay

Some dataset repositories also have their own guidelines and suggestions for how to construct a data citation, which elements to include, and where to find those on the site. Look carefully around the repository's website to see if you can find any information about citing their data.

If you are interested in looking at some research data repositories here is a very short list. Databib maintains a very extensive list of research data repositories if you would like to explore further.

  • Abacus Abacus is the Research Data Collection of the British Columbia Research Libraries' Data Services, a collaboration involving the Data Libraries at Simon Fraser University (SFU), the University of British Columbia (UBC), the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) and the University of Victoria (UVic).
  • figshare A cloud-based storage system which "allows researchers to publish all of their data in a citable, searchable and sharable manner." NOTE: "all figures, media, poster, papers and multiple file uploads (filesets) are published under a CC-BY license... All datasets are published under CC0"
  • UK Data Service Provides "single point of access to a wide range of secondary data including large-scale government surveys, international macrodata, business microdata, qualitative studies and census data from 1971 to 2011." Mostly UK data, but also includes some data from IGOs like the IMF, OECD and the World Bank.
  • ICSPR "An international consortium of more than 700 academic institutions and research organizations....ICPSR maintains a data archive of more than 500,000 files of research in the social sciences. It hosts 16 specialized collections of data in education, aging, criminal justice, substance abuse, terrorism, and other fields."
Question Mark by Geralt from Pixabay

I can't find all the elements I need:

The different elements needed for the citation may be hard to find, depending on the source of your dataset. The information usually provided about datasets is not as standardized as it is for books and articles, which can make things confusing.

  • Several data and statistics repositories actually collect datasets from several different agencies and providers. If you're unable to find enough information about the dataset in the repository, tracking down the dataset where it was originally published may turn up additional information.
  • Many data providers will offer their own guidelines for citing their datasets. This can help to decode some of the language used to describe particular elements. Sometimes these guidelines are general for the whole site, and sometimes they will be linked directly from the dataset record itself.
  • Do your best to include as many elements as possible and keep your data citation consistent with the rest of your list. If some key element is unavailable, try to make sure there is still enough information so that someone else can find it.

The data I'm using comes from multiple sources:

Sometimes datasets can be drawing information from multiple sources at once, making them confusing to cite. This is particularly common when creating charts and tables, whether you are making them yourself or using online tools built in by the data providers.

You must cite ALL the sources of your data.

  • If you are combining data from several series from the same provider, cite all the series. (eg: combined series in CANSIM)
  • If you are combining data from several different providers, cite all the sources. (eg: a table you've made comparing trade data from Industry Canada to employment data from CANSIM)
  • If you're including a table or graph in your paper which combines data from multiple sources, include a note describing which data elements came from where, with in-text citations. Give each source an entry in your reference list. This guide from SFU shows citation examples in APA style of tables and figures drawing from multiple data sources.
  • If you're not including a table or graph, provide this same information in the text of your paper.
  • If your data is drawing from so many sources that citing each source in the traditional manner is unreasonable, see the section on "Microattribution" in the Digital Curation Centre guide.
Network by Geralt from Pixabay

Much of the information on this page has drawn on the following very thorough guide to citing data, which includes an extensive bibliography should you wish to do further reading on the subject. Ball, A. & Duke, M. (2012). ‘How to Cite Datasets and Link to Publications’. DCC How-to Guides. Edinburgh: Digital Curation Centre. Available online: -

UBC Library's general How to Cite guide provides links to different style guides and more in-depth information about identifying the elements of a citation.

Statistics Canada has a reference building tool that can help you identify which elements to include for a wide range of data and statistics products.

The DOI Citation Formatter tool will generate a citation based on a DOI in the citation style of your choice. Make sure to double-check that all of your elements have ended up in the right place!

This guide from SFU shows citation examples in APA style of tables and figures drawing from multiple data sources.

My citation doesn't match anything in the guide

If you can’t find an example that matches your source exactly, base your citation on the closest example you can find.

  • Be consistent with formatting and punctuation.
  • Make sure you include enough information so that someone else reading your reference list could find the sources you’ve listed.
  • Librarians can help you locate citation rules and examples; however, they cannot format or proof-read your citations for you.

I'm supposed to include an element but I can't find it in my source

Some elements, such as authors for websites, DOIs and permanent URLs can be tricky to track down. Don't assume that because some elements are not easy to find that the information doesn't exist. Frequently the information is available if you look for it - though DOIs in particular are not created for every journal article that you will find.

  • If you don't immediately see an author associated with a website, online article, blog entry etc. look for "about us," "help," "more information," and/or "contact us" type links to see if these sections contain information about the authorship/ownership of the site and its various content areas.
  • A DOI, also known as a "digital object identifier," is a permanent identifying number assigned to an article. Many journals and databases assign a DOI to each article they own/provide access to. As mentioned above, DOIs are not assigned to every single journal article. That said, most will have a DOI so look very carefully on the article's title page and/or the detailed description of the article which appeared in your results list before deciding that there isn't a DOI for the article.
  • Sometimes the URL which appears in your web-browser is not "permanent." It is only valid for your current session and will expire as soon as you navigate away from the webpage or shut down your computer. Do not use a temporary, or "session-based" URL in your citations:
    • if the browser URL contains the phrase "sessionid," "SID," or "session" it's mostly likely a temporary URL
    • if the browser URL is very long with a lot of symbols it's likely a temporary URL
    • if the article description contains a link to a "permanent URL," "PURL," "Permalink," "Stable URL" or some similar phrase then the browser URL is most likely temporary.

Look carefully on the article's title page and/or the detailed description of the article which appeared in your results list to see if there are any links to a permanent URL for the article.

I let the computer generate my citation but it doesn't look right

Some databases, such as Academic Search Complete, ABI/Inform and the Library's Summon search have tools which can automatically generate a citation for you. However, citations generated with these tools may not be perfectly formatted.

  • You will always need to carefully review and edit auto-generated citations for accuracy.
  • Ultimately, it is your responsibility to make sure that your citations are accurate, consistently formatted and contain all the required elements.
The content in this section of the guide has been adapted from David Lam Library's Business Citation Examples PDF

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