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Just as important as citing sources in one’s own writing, it is important to be able to properly read and understand citations and bibliographies we come across when reading the works of others. In an effort to better understand what information in-text citations and bibliographies tell us, let’s get started in breaking the code!

In-Text Citations

In-text citations let us know the information we are reading didn’t come from the author, but from another person or body of work. A citation can always be identified because it will be surrounded by parentheses ( ). Within the confines of those two miniature walls is our first code that must be broken. The first piece of information we are given is usually the last name of an author or authors from whom the information is borrowed or the title of the article (if no author is given). Depending on the type of source, you may also have a page number. In text-citations are links to a works cited page or bibliography.

Let’s say the in-text citation reads (Darwin 226). If you were to go to the works cited page, you would see this entry:

Example 1

Notice the first thing to appear is the last name ”Darwin.” So, the information used in the writing was borrowed from page 226 in Darwin’s book.

Now, what if you see this entry (”Increasing Our Ability to Predict Contemporary Evolution”). Notice there is no author and only a title. You would still be able to find this source on the works-cited page as:

Example 2

Bibliographic Citations

On your screen is a sample bibliographic entry from a book.

Example 3

The bibliography is found at the end of the work you’re reading. As explained above, whatever appears first in the bibliographic entry is what will appear in the in-text citation. All references will be listed in alphabetical order based on what appears first, author or title.

Most professional journals will use an APA format for bibliography entries and in-text citation, but some sources may include a bibliography in MLA format, which is what is shown above. Using the same source, an APA bibliography entry would appear as this:

APA example

You will notice differences, such as only his first initial is used and the date is not shown after the name. It doesn’t matter if you know what to look for when examining a source.

What’s important is to recognize what is included. For example, if you were using an article on world population rates and wanted to include recent data, you may notice in the bibliography that the information is outdated by reading the published date and, therefore, the information would not be relevant data. The page numbers are also important, especially when the source is a book because they direct you to exactly where the information came from in that cited book.

Why Citations Are Important

So, why is it important to know the code of citations and bibliographies? It encourages the reader to check the information provided by the author. When you see a citation, you immediately know that you are getting, at best, secondhand information – also known as a secondary source. However, there are times when someone mistakenly gets a quote wrong, uses a quote out of context and even goes beyond the parameters of a particular study in generalizing results. The only way to know if the citation utilized is appropriate is to check it out with your own eyes. Knowing the code of a bibliography will give you everything you need to find the primary source and verify the information.

Lesson Summary

Being a code-breaker, you can now with confidence identify when an author is using information provided by a third party, or secondhand information. You can also read through a reference for the clues needed to lead you to the source utilized so that you can check it out for yourself and see if the author used the information appropriately or took the original author out of context.

You are now prepared with the skills to be a citation and bibliographic code-breaker. Congratulations!

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