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Citation and Plagiarism Guide Ask Us

Guide Sections

The "Why" of Citations

On the Shoulders of Giants

In a letter he wrote in 1676, Isaac Newton stated that “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”  It is this concept of each generation’s work being built upon the work of those who came before that underscores the importance of citation in scholarly writing. Every new idea in academia is informed by data, research and existing literature, and it is through citation that these building blocks of innovation are recognized.

Citing is the act of formally granting credit to an author/creator for their ideas or work that you have borrowed for use in your own work.  Although there are many different citation styles, the most commonly used by Canadian and American universities are:

APA The style created and maintained by the American Psychological Association, which is now on its 7th edition, is most commonly used in the social sciences (psychology, anthropology, economics, political science, linguistics, human geography, etc.).
MLA The style created and maintained by the Modern Language Association, which is now on its 7th edition, is most commonly used in the humanities (classics, language, law, literature, humanities, etc.).


The style created and maintained by the Council of Science Editors, which is now in its 8th edition, is most commonly used in the sciences (chemistry, biology, etc.).

The Chicago Manual of Style is most commonly used in history and is now on its 16th edition.


UNB Students: For information on how to use APA, MLA or CMS, visit the UNB Writing & Study Skills Centre.

For information on how to use CSE, visit CSE Citation Style Examples.

STU Students: For information on different citation styles, visit the STU Writing Centre.


Why Citations Matter

Citations are a way to "join the conversation" taking place within the scholarly community.  You can't always talk to the researchers you’re citing, but by citing them in your work you are bringing them into your conversation, while telling people that you are a part of theirs.  Becoming a scholar (at any level) means joining and adding to the discourse in the field, and citation is a vital part of this.

In addition to the abstract act of ‘joining the conversation’, there are some very real and valuable reasons to cite any work that you are using to support your own conclusions.

  1. Citations give credit to the person whose work you have used.  In some cases, an article you have cited and the research behind it may have taken a year or more for the author to produce.  Research is the result of a huge amount of effort on the part of the author, and citations are a way of showing respect for all that effort – especially since you are benefitting from it.
  2. Citations let you (and others) track down the information being discussed.  When you cite correctly, it can allow your audience to access the same resources you did.  This can give them a way to expand their knowledge on a subject, or even just to develop a better understanding of your work.  Additionally, you can use others’ citations to do the same thing – in fact, this is an excellent way to find resources to further augment any arguments you may be making.
  3. Citations show that you have done your research.  Citing other works assures your audience that you have done the necessary work to both understand your own arguments and to be able to defend them intelligently.  Citations grant you credibility that your name and work alone may not offer.
  4. Citations distinguish your work from the works you are citing. Citing others works, in addition to granting credit to the authors whose works you have cited, helps you to distinguish your own contributions.  In a paper in which citation has been done well, it should be clear to the reader what you have learned from others, and what you have contributed yourself.

Last modified on December 2, 2023 17:27