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ACG Series: Citations: Unit 1

In this Academic Communication Guide, learn about the basics of citations and some common citation styles and tools.

Unit 1: Citations – What is citation? What tools should I use to cite?

Unit Objectives  

At the end of this ten-minute unit, you will be able to:  

a) identify what citation involves, and  

b) recall what tools you can use to cite well.  

Unit 1 Contents

What is Citation?

  • APA and IEEE

What citation system should I use?

Are there tools I can use to cite?  

  • Quick Check

Unit Summary


What is citation?

What is citation?  

When you paraphrase, summarise or quote and when you use words, ideas or another source, you are expected to acknowledge the source by documenting it. In academic writing, we call this ‘citing’. It is not enough to mention an author’s name or include a weblink at the end of your document. It is still considered plagiarism even if you give credit to the original author but do not cite using the correct format. There are two main conventions to citing sources accurately:  

  1. An in-text citation/reference number. This allows you to provide the reader with very brief (but essential) information about the source wherever in the text you have used their idea or words. Different citation systems use different formats for indicating this information (more on that to come).  

  2. A reference list/footnote. This allows you to provide the source’s complete information, including the names of all authors, article title, journal title, book title, page/volume/issue numbers, publishers, URLs, etc. This comprehensive set of information goes either at the end of your document or as a footnote at the bottom of the page, depending on the citation system you are using.  

Do remember that the in-text citation and reference list work together. If the reader wants to find out more about the idea you have incorporated into your work, they use the brief information in the in-text citation to look for the more detailed listing in your reference list to find the original text.

Here are two types of common citation systems: APA (Social Sciences) and IEEE (Engineering).  

American Psychological Association (APA) style utilises in-text citations that typically include the author’s name and the year of publication. A reference list is attached at the end of the document.  

Example of APA in-text citation: Referenced idea highlighted in yellow; in-text citation in blue 

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Example of APA reference list (end of document) 

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APA References can be broken down into the follow format: 

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year). Title of article. Title of Publication volume number (issue number), pages. 

  1. Author(s) name(s):  In APA, the reference starts with the author’s surname, initial(s). In the case of multiple authors, each author’s name is separated using a comma (,) and (before the last name) an ampersand (&). 

  1. Date: In APA, the date format is most often the year, although it may include the month for some works such as online newspapers and magazines. If the date of the work is unknown use ‘n.d’. 

  1. Title: Note that there are different formats for the title depending on the type of work you are referencing so do check this carefully.  

  1. Publication: The title of the publication is placed in italics. If it is a periodical, this is followed by the volume number in italics, the issue number in brackets and the pages. Finally a link to the work’s permanent web address (DOI) is included: 

(Purdue Online Writing Lab, n.d.) 


The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) style employs a reference number in brackets to indicate a source. A footnote with the complete information about the source is placed at the bottom of the page.  

Example of IEEE reference number: Referenced idea highlighted in yellow; reference number highlighted in blue 

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Example of IEEE footnote (bottom of the page) 

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What citation system should I use?

The citation system you use depends on your discipline and even the course you are taking. When in doubt, do not hesitate to seek clarification from your tutor or lecturer. APA is arguably the most recognised and widely used citation system in the world. However, at NTU, several schools and colleges use other systems. Here are some common examples:  

  Social Science, Education & Psychology    

  American Psychological Association (APA) 

  American Sociological Association (ASA) 


  Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 

  American Psychological Association (APA) 


  Style of Council of Science Editors (CSE) 

  American Psychological Association (APA) 


  Modern Language Association (MLA) 

  Chicago style 

Are there tools I can use to cite?

Citations may seem confusing and daunting at the start. However, you will get the hang of it with some practice. There are several tools, such as EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero, that you can use to help you with citations.  

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The NTU Library organises regular workshops for EndNote on the Windows platform and has created an Introduction to EndNote LibGuide to complement these workshops. Visit their webpage for more information.  


Quick Check  

Circle the correct answer:  

  1. There are two steps to citing another source: first, you indicate some very brief information about the source at the point where you have included the source, and  second, you include a reference list or footnote with complete information about the source.   

True  /  False 

  1. The way you cite may differ depending on the citation system you are using.   

True  /  False 

Answers to the questions are on the 'Answers' tab.

Unit Summary

Well done! You have reached the end of the first unit of this module. In this unit, you learnt that when using a source, you need to cite it. There are two important steps to citing.

The first is to provide an in-text citation that gives the reader essential information about the source at the point where you have used the idea or words of that source.

The second is a listing of the source’s complete information in the reference at the end of the document. You have also learnt that there are different citation systems for different disciplines, and you must find out from your school and professors which system you should use.

Lastly, there are several software tools you can use for free from the NTU Library. Citation may seem like a time-consuming addition to your academic communication, but it is crucial that you demonstrate to your reader that you are acknowledging the data and ideas that have helped inform your own research.