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MLA 8th edition: Why Cite Your Sources?

Using the new MLA 8th edition citation style.

Why cite?

Why do you have to cite your sources when doing papers, presentations, and other scholarly work? Academic writing is a conversation among scholars (and would-be scholars) about a topic or question. As part of that conversation you cite your sources:

  • to give credit to others when you use their words, thoughts, or other intellectual work. Research and writing are hard and the person who does it deserves to get credit for it. It may be the only reward they receive. Not citing properly can lead to suspicion of plagiarism, which is not a good thing.
  • to give your readers some assurance that your work is authoritative. Part of their evaluation of your work is based on the sources you use, and the correctness and reliability of the people you cite. If the people you use are recognized as good sources, your work is more likely to be seen as valid.
  • to show your readers what other research has been done on your topic. This also shows how your research fits into the traditions of the subject area and how you have approached your topic. You can cite something in order to disagree with it, critique it, or expand on it, as well as using it to support your argument.
  • to help your readers follow up and continue your research. Some researchers may check your citations to make sure of your accuracy in using them, but many others will use your sources as starting points for their own research -- just as you probably did when you started your research.