The best protection from plagiarism? Cite your sources the right way. Learn all basic rules in just 7 minutes. Discover the different types of citations and how to properly cite in footnotes. Explained in simple terms. Click now and watch for free!

Welcome to the tutorial “Correct citation made easy – These are the rules you should know“. Proper citation is an essential part of academic writing. If you adopt other people's ideas, you have to mark this properly. This way, you not only create transparency and traceability; you also protect yourself from the devastating consequences of plagiarism. Before you write your first academic texts, you should therefore be familiar with the relevant citation rules. This tutorial gives you a compact overview of the basic rules of scientific citation.


The main quotation types at a glance


Let's first look at what types of citations are distinguished. When quoting, there are basically two options: You can quote directly or indirectly.


Direct quotations are characterized by the fact that a passage of text is adopted verbatim, including any emphasis contained therein. To indicate a literal quote as such, you put it in double quotation marks. If the directly quoted excerpt exceeds three lines or 40 words, it is formatted as a so-called block quotation. A block quotation forms its own paragraph and is usually indented on the left and right, with smaller font and single-line spacing. Unlike the shorter direct quotations, block quotations do not necessarily need to be put in quotation marks because of its striking format. The direct form of citation is suitable if the original wording of the text passage is relevant.



A special case of a direct quotation is the quotation within a quotation. In this case, the text passage you quote verbatim contains another verbatim quote from another person. If your direct quote is a normal verbatim quote or a block quote with double quotation marks, you must change the double quotation marks of the quote in the citation to single quotation marks. However, the situation is different for a block quote without double quotation marks: Since your block quote does not have quotation marks here, you must use the double quotation marks of the quote in the citation.


Another special case of a direct quotation is the secondary quotation. Here you quote a text passage not from the original source, but from a secondary source. To make this clear, you use the reference "as cited in". In the reference list, you only indicate the secondary source though.

However, you should use secondary quotations only in an emergency, namely when you cannot access the original source. This is because those who use secondary quotations are unable to verify whether the original source is correctly presented.


Let us now turn to indirect quotations. In the case of indirect quotations, a passage in the text is reproduced in one's own words. The quoted passage is therefore paraphrased. Therefore, no quotation marks are used here. As a rule of thumb, you can remember that you should use indirect quotations more often than direct quotations, especially since, as paraphrases, they reflect your own effort in comparison to direct quotations.


Citing correctly with these citation rules


Now that you have an overview of the different types of quotations, the next question is how to correctly cite a directly or indirectly quoted source. A citation is correct exactly when it conforms to the rules of the chosen citation style.

The most commonly used citation styles include APA citation style, MLA style, Harvard or "American" citation style, and German citation style. The APA and MLA citation styles are tied to the specifications of one organization, the American Psychological Association, or APA, and the Modern Language Association, or MLA, respectively. Harvard citation style and German citation style, on the other hand, are not subject to the guidelines of any organization, so their rules may differ from university to university. Therefore, find out exactly which citation style is required and strictly adhere to it.

Depending on the citation style, you can make your citation in footnotes or directly in the text. The citation in footnotes follows the German citation style. With APA guidelines, Harvard citation style, and MLA style, in-text citation is mandatory.


If you cite in the text, the information is given by a reference in brackets or in the body text. There you specify the author, the year of publication, and if necessary the page number or page range.


When citing in footnotes, sources are indicated using consecutive Arabic numerals at the bottom of a page. Footnotes are inserted in the body text by means of a superscript Arabic numeral. In the case of indirect quotations, the footnote character is either placed directly at the word or group of words to which you refer, or after the closing character of a sentence or sub-sentence. In the case of direct quotations, place the footnote either directly after the closing quotation mark or, if it is a block quote without quotation marks, after the closing punctuation mark.


Footnotes are formatted with single line spacing and a smaller font size (usually two points smaller than the font of the body text). For the sake of clarity, it is also common to indent footnotes so that, starting with the second line, the footnote text begins below the first word of the first footnote line, rather than below the footnote number. In addition, all citations in footnotes end with a full stop.


Last but not least, we would like to draw your attention to a few abbreviations that are essential for proper citation, depending on the citation style. A first important abbreviation is "cf." for "compare". It is used in the German and Harvard citation styles to indicate an indirectly cited source. However, if you want to indirectly cite several sources at the same time, use the abbreviation only once, and not per source. If you want to specify a page range that extends over two pages, you can use the abbreviation "f." for "following page". To refer to a page range of more than two pages, the abbreviation "ff." is often used. which stands for "following pages". However, you should avoid using this abbreviation because it is inaccurate. Instead, specify the exact page range.

If you want to cite the same source again, you can do so with the abbreviation "ibid." for "ibidem". However, you should not use this abbreviation at the beginning of a new page. This is because it is inconvenient for the reader if they first have to scroll back to find out which source the author is referring to. The abbreviation "ibid." is provided exclusively in the Harvard and German citation styles.

If you want to identify the editor of an edited book, use "ed." or "eds." if more than one person is involved.

Occasionally, you may come across formal or content-related errors in sources. With direct quotations these errors must be reproduced as well. However, you can use the designation "[sic]" to indicate that you found them like this in the source. The abbreviation stands for the Latin "sīc erat scriptum" and means 'thus it was written'. Another common Latin abbreviation is "et al." for "et alii" or "et aliae," which means "and others". It is used when a source has three or more authors.


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