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How to Read Citations in Texts and Bibliographies

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Doresa Jennings

Doresa holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies.

Citations provide important information about how an author gathered and utilized the information from sources in the article or research paper, for example. Learn why it is important to know how to read citations and explore in-text citations and bibliographies. Updated: 08/22/2021


Just as important as citing sources in one's own writing, it is important to be able to properly read and understand citations and bibliographies we come across when reading the works of others. In an effort to better understand what information in-text citations and bibliographies tell us, let's get started in breaking the code!

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  • 0:12 Introduction
  • 0:33 In-Text Citations
  • 1:37 Bibliographic Citations
  • 5:03 Why Citations Are Important
  • 5:52 Lesson Summary
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In-Text Citations

In-text citations let us know the information we are reading didn't come from the author, but from another person or body of work. A citation can always be identified because it will be surrounded by parentheses ( ). Within the confines of those two miniature walls is our first code that must be broken. The first piece of information we are given is at least one name. This will be the last name of the author or authors from whom the information has been borrowed. The second piece of information you will be given is the year of publication. If the author of the piece you are reading is using a direct quote, you will also be given the page or paragraph numbers in which the cited information can be found. While an in-text citation gives us a lot of good information, we still need a more complete reference from the bibliography page before we can track down this information ourselves.

Bibliographic Citations

On your screen is a sample bibliographic entry from a book. And, if you're wondering, yes, that is a real book, yes, I really do have it and yes, I really did read it!

Wetzel, D. (1994). The Complete Joel's Journal and Fact-Filled Fart Book. Bayside, NY: Planet Books.

The bibliography is found at the end the work you're reading. All references will be listed in alphabetical order starting with the author's last name. The reference will begin very similarly to our in-text citation: with the author's last name. For our example, the author's last name is Wetzel. You will also receive the first and, if they have one, middle initial of the author. In our example, that's D, so the author's first name begins with the letter D, and they do not have (or did not provide) a middle initial. This is really helpful because we have authors that sometimes have the same last name but not necessarily the same first name, so, for example, there may be a lot of people with the last name Smith. Having that first initial, and middle initial if they have it, is really important.

The next thing you're going to see is the year of publication. It's always good to know if a book was published in 1912 or 2012. Things like that tend to have an impact on the way information is written. In our example, the year of publication is 1994. The very next piece of information you will find is the title of the piece. The title in our example is The Complete Joel's Journal and Fact-Filled Fart Book. Because this is a book, the next thing you'll find is the location where it was published - Bayside, NY - and the name of the publishing company, Planet Books. That's what you're going to see if your source came from a book. Things will look a little different if it came from a journal or a magazine. The following is an example of a magazine article citation:

Henry, W.A. III. (1990, April 9). Making the grade in today's schools. Time, 135, 28-31.

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