Why do we bother citing someone elses work in our papers? Most people’s initial answer is so they don’t get caught plagiarizing. While that is certainly true, there are other more important reasons we cite that improve what we write.
When we conduct research, we need to cite our work to show where we found information. This gives credit to the original writer of the text you are using to support your points. It also, however, shows your reader that you conducted research and know what information is out there about your topic. Demonstrating this gives you credibility with your reader and he or she will consider you more reliable. Your reader will be more likely to trust your analysis, opinions, and ideas.
Citations also give the reader an insight into the kind of research you are conducting, how prevalent an idea is, and sometimes even how recently a text was published. An APA in-text citation, for example, provides the reader with the year a work was published, letting the reader know the age of your research (it may be useful to be very current, you may be demonstrating long-term historical impacts, or comparing old and new texts). An MLA citation, may show how frequently in a work an idea is used. For example, you may directly quote similar ideas from ten different pages in a book, showing the reader each time how frequently that idea pops up in that work.
Another reason we cite is to share our research with each other. Many readers will peruse an article’s bibliography or reference list to see if there are any books, articles or website they want to read for their own writing. Doing this creates a community in your field as people share with each other what they’re reading.
Citations may seem labor-intensive, frustrating and overwhelming, but there is a purpose behind them. By making sure each citation follows the exact same format, readers can follow you better, understand your material and look the works up themselves. When you’re finalizing your paper and trying to make sense of all the citation rules, remember that there is more there than just not cheating. You are building a paper that you can be proud to share, that shows everyone how much effort you’ve dedicated to your writing process.