Why and How We Cite

hmtoggle_plus1 Why do we cite?

Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press with movable type in the second half of the 15th century led to printed materials (books, newspapers, pamphlets, etc.) becoming the central means of social communication. Until the end of the 20th century, these were also the dominant media for scholarly communication. Only the invention of the computer, which allows text to be written electronically and distributed on the Internet, fundamentally changed this. Today, electronically created and stored texts play  a vital role.

Over time, print shops and publishing companies were founded to produce and distribute printed matter. To identify specific printed works, in addition to the name of the author and title, it was necessary to include the place of publication, the publisher, and the year of publication.

The printed word quickly became the preferred medium for recording and passing on knowledge. This trend was also accompanied by the social need to make printed materials readily available and accessible. The library became the established institution to meet this need. Today, national, local, university and institutional libraries exist to serve various users.

When writing, we cite in order to give credit to those whose ideas we build upon, and to allow others to verify our claims. These principles in turn require that works cited be handled according to certain rules. Every source referenced, be it directly or indirectly, must be given proper credit, which is done as a citation in the text together with a complete citation in a bibliography.

hmtoggle_plus1 Is there a basic format for bibliographic citations?

The basic form of a citation includes:

  • Name of the author
  • Title
  • Place of publication (or place of printing)
  • Year of publication

Where applicable, this basic form is supplemented with additions such as a subtitle, edition, publisher, or series title, depending on the type of material being cited. Which additions appear in the bibliography depend on the citation style. This produces the following template (additions in italics):

  • Name of the author
  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • Volume number and title
  • Edition
  • Place of publication
  • Publisher
  • Year of publication
  • Series title and number of volumes in the series

The basic template varies by reference type. For example, in an edited book, the name of the editors appear instead of the names of the authors. Refer to the overview of reference types for help in choosing the correct reference type to use.