After a nice relaxing Thanksgiving weekend, the last thing I want to see is a calendar full of deadlines! But if you’re anything like me, that’s the reality of it. Essays are due soon or looming on the horizon, and one very important aspect to writing essays is your citation! I don’t know how it was at your high school, but mine was very casual about citation for essays. By now you may have guessed that university makes citation a whole lot less casual, and it can sometimes be confusing. But don’t worry, I’m here to help! Here’s what I wish I’d known in first year about citation…
A citation style is basically the manner in which you reference sources. Coming to university, one of the first things you need to know is that almost every department or professor has a preferred citation style. When you get your essay assignment they will often specify which one you have to use (at the risk of losing marks if you fail to follow it correctly). For example, History will almost always be Chicago Style; English will almost always be Modern Language Association (MLA) style, etc.
Considering that most first-year students take about five courses their first semester, and each are likely to prefer a different citation style, you will most likely have to dabble in several different citation styles right off the bat. Fortunately there is a great online resource to help you! The University of Lethbridge library provides these basic guides to assist with citation: http://www.uleth.ca/lib/guides/research/display.asp?PageID=1.
Many aspects of citation are tedious, such as making sure you put the authors’ names in the right order, making sure you italicize book titles, put journal article titles in quotations, etc. But there is another aspect to citation that makes all of that look trivial. I’m talking about plagiarism. Your first day of classes may have included a solemn warning that if you are caught plagiarizing you will receive harsh penalties such as an automatic failure of the course, a note in your permanent file, and even expulsion from school. Well, now’s the time to heed that warning. Cheaters beware.
But it is also possible to plagiarize unintentionally by not giving credit to the proper sources at the appropriate times. This is where citation is very important. Don’t completely panic – they can probably tell when it’s an honest mistake and won’t throw you out of university for putting italics on the wrong words. But here is a basic guide on how to avoid accidental plagiarism: http://sja.ucdavis.edu/files/plagiarism.pdf.
The good news is that citation only gets easier the more you do it. And believe me, during the course of your degree, you will have a loooooooooot of practice. By the time you get to focus on a particular department (for your major), you will likely start to memorize the citation style. Just keep a citation guide handy and remember to give credit where credit is due!
Now, back to writing my essay…