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What, Why & When

Why: Using correct citation is crucial for academic writing and the basis of all scholarly work. Therefore it is most important that you understand and apply the following rules. Whenever you research a topic, you will read other people’s books and articles and use the information found there for your own interpretation of the subject. Therefore you need to make sure to respect other’s intellectual property and do not violate copyright laws. Moreover, your statements become more credible if you can show that someone else has had similar results.

When: Citations and references need to be used in all your academic works, whether these are essays, term papers, presentations, or your final thesis. Whenever you quote or paraphrase from another person’s text, speech or medium, you want to hint at a certain publication or passage, or when you have taken information from another text you must credit your source.


  • Make the sources we used for our own work visible and trackable, and our statements verifiable.
  • Give credit to the original author or creator of a text.

Getting Started

One of the difficulties of correct citation is that there are innumerable ways of doing it. Nearly every academic discipline and country has their own preference. The most important aspect here is that you stay consistent and do not mix several methods within one text (you can always ask your lecturers for their preferred style).

There are two prominent ways of referencing you can use within your text:


This first method has gained more popularity in the last years, especially in international contexts, but also in Germany. By using this method the reader can keep his attention on the main text without having to skip to the bottom of the page for references. Here, a short reference in brackets is placed at the end of the respective sentence or paragraph, usually in front of any punctuation marks.

  • (Surname Year, Page) → (Copeland 1997, p. 132)
  • (Surname Title, Page) → (Copeland Money, p. 132)


Using footnotes for any references is especially common in the traditional humanities. They are numbered and placed at the bottom of the page which is useful if you want to keep your text neat and easy to read. Creating a footnote is quite easy, most writing programmes do it for you.

  • 1Copeland 1997, p. 132.
  • 2Miller 2003, p. 45.

→ Make sure to end every footnote with a full stop!


At the end of your paper you need to compile all of your cited sources in a bibliography. This list should be ordered alphabetically using the authors’ surnames. Here you give the full bibliographic information of your source containing at least author, title, year and place of publication. In the bibliography we differentiate between monographies, journal articles, articles within anthologies, websites etc. Each of these categories has to be referenced differently. You can find detailed instructions in the sources listed below, but here are some examples:

MLA Style
Essay in a collection:

  • Last Name, First Name. "Title." Title of collection, editor(s), publisher, year, page(s))
  • Copeland, Edward. “Money.” The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, edited by Copeland and Juliet McMaster, Cambridge UP, 1997, pp. 131-48.

APA Style

  • Last Name, Initials. (year). Title: Subtitle. Publisher.
  • Sapolsky, R. M. (2017). Behave: The biology of humans at our best and worst. Penguin Books.

Chicago Style

Tip: Software like Citavi can help you manage your references and create a bibliography for you.

Links & Further reading

The author of this entry is Katharina Kirn.