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How to cite and what to cite


Citation: "A 'citation' is the way you tell your readers that certain material in your work came from another source. It also gives your readers the information necessary to find that source again." (

Plagiarize: "To steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own :use (another's production) without crediting the source" (

Bibliography: "The works or a list of the works referred to in a text or consulted by the author in its production." ( *sometimes called "Works Cited"

Why should you cite your resources?

Citing resources allows you to:

  • Demonstrate the amount of research you have conducted and the work you have done
    • By displaying the amount of research that went into your writing through creating proper citations and bibliographies, you're telling the reader (often your instructor), that you take pride in your work and took the assignment seriously.
  • Acknowledge the ideas of other researchers and scholars.
    • Citations and bibliographies exhibit the works of the other scholars that you have used to support your research.
  • Offer the reader a list of additional resources to refer to on your topic.
    • Readers may have an interest in the subject area you are writing about and wish to know learn more. By providing citations and bibliographies you're providing readers with additional resources for them to explore.
  • Avoid plagiarism.
    • Intellectual theft is a big deal!  Avoid wrongfully quoting or not crediting ideas written by other scholars by providing citations and a bibliography.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is when you copy the words or ideas of another person without properly crediting them. An author's words and ideas are their intellectual property.  Intellectual property requires acknowledgement of the creator's work before it is used elsewhere. Plagiarism is taken seriously at all academic institutions regardless of whether or not the plagiarism was a deliberate.

How can you avoid plagiarism?

  • If you are quoting an entire sentence or multiple sentences directly from a source, use quotation marks to indicate that you are quoting from an outside source.  Provide a citation for the direct quote.
    • e.g.: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."[1]
    • [1] Dickens, C. (1859). A Tale of Two Cities. London, England: Chapman and Hall. 
  • If you are writing about an idea you read (or watched, or heard), from a source outside of your own brain, cite it!  The purpose of citations is to acknowledge the ideas and work of others.  If you're referencing an idea or a work of someone else, cite it!
  • If in doubt, cite!  This is a good rule if you are new to academic writing or back in school after a long time away.  Better safe than sorry.  Your teacher will tell you if you are citing too frequently.   

What is common knowledge?

You don't have to cite information that is common knowledge.  Common knowledge is considered information that the average person would know.  For example: The Statue of Liberty is located in New York City. 

What should you be citing?

Everything!  Each style guide has standards for how to cite different materials.  Here are some examples of things you might cite, although the list is not comprehensive.

  • Books (both entire books and chapters of books can be cited)
  • Articles (newspapers, journals & magazines)
  • Images (print and digital)
  • Websites and blogs
  • Conversations (for example, if you interview a garden designer or horticulturist, cite the conversation!)
  • Library vertical files (how-to below)

What does a citation contain?

Different citation styles (listed below) have different components.  However, most citation styles include these main information points.

  • Title of work
  • Creator of work
  • Date work was published (often a year if it is a print resource; frequently a specific day for an online resource)
  • Publisher of work
  • Page number (if a print resource) or website URL (if a website)

Different citation styles

Your instructor may tell you which citation style to use or they may just tell you to pick a style and be consistent.  Which citation style you use for a class will therefore come down to personal preference and what you are comfortable with.  In many ways, citation styles are arbitrary.  Certain style guides are used more frequently by certain disciplines.  If you begin to write academically, scholarly journals will frequently have their own specific citation format, too!  If you are asked to pick your own citation style, don't stress out about it too much; just pick one that you like and get started.

The three style guides below are the most commonly used at universities and other academic institutions.

Vertical files

What are Vertical Files?

If you're writing a paper about the history of an NYBG garden, you've probably used a library vertical file.  If you haven't, you should!  Vertical Files are a unique library collection of folders containing photographs, newspaper articles, magazine clippings, brochures and other related ephemeral. Citing vertical files can be difficult, so guidelines can be found below.

How to cite vertical files

Format: Title of item. (date) Folder name, Vertical File collection, The LuEsther T. Mertz Library, The New York Botanical Garden. Date that items were accessed.

Example: Photograph of Bronx River Waterfall. (1909). Folder Bronx River, NYBG Vertical File, The LuEsther T. Mertz Library, The New York Botanical Garden. June 14, 2016.

Additional How-To Help

Please do not hesitate to contact the library with any questions about accessing materials in the library or at home.

Library Hours

Monday: Closed

Tuesday: 10am - 4pm

Wednesday: 10am - 4pm

Thursday: 10am - 4pm

Friday: 10am - 4pm 

Sat & Sun: Closed 

References and Further Reading

There are websites that you can use to auto-generate citations in various styles as well as websites you can use to check writing for plagiarism.  We do not have a favorite site for either function; do an Internet search to explore the available websites. If you're over whelmed by the search results, try using Citation Generator

Some library databases allow users to conveniently cite their resources in various styles with the click of a button! For example, the "Cite This Item" in JSTOR prompts users to select the citation style and provides various ways to export the citation. Other databases may have this function under a different name. 

If you would prefer to have a reference book to assist you with all of your writing needs, we recommend using A Writer's Reference 8th ed. by Diana Hacker.

Below are additional guides that have helped inspire this one: