Cite Sources In College Essays Correctly

How do you cite sources in an essay

Proper citation not only acknowledges the intellectual property of others but also adds credibility and authority to your own work. 

Our article covers all the information you need to effectively cite sources in your college essays. We have prepared a structured guide that will help you choose the appropriate citation style, as well as master in-text citations and reference pages.

It is important to stay focused because improper citation of sources can lead to unintentional plagiarism. In order to avoid serious consequences, let’s take everything in order.

Right Citation Style

Individual colleges or even individual professors may have their own unique citation requirements. Their specific rules may apply to different aspects of citation, including formatting, citation rules, and even source precedence.

However, there are generally accepted citation styles. The most common ones are APA, MLA, and Chicago. Below we describe how to find out the correct citation style.

  1. The first step to understanding college-specific citation requirements is to carefully read your course syllabus. In this document, instructors describe their expectations for citation styles and other important details for essay writing. Pay attention to specific guidelines and specific preferences.
  2. It is sometimes the case that academic departments within a college have different preferences for citation styles. For example, humanities departments may prefer MLA, while social sciences may lean toward APA. Therefore, check which style prevails in your field of study.
  3. Almost all of the colleges provide links to online resources that detail the desired citation style. There you will find guidelines for meeting the relevant standards. These resources will definitely help you to apply the citation requirements of a particular college correctly.
  4. Just ask your instructor for clarification. There is no shame in being unsure about the citation style or any specific requirements. Usually, instructors are more than willing to point students in the right direction.
  5. The key to success is consistency. Of course, each faculty may have a distinctive style. But whether your college has an established style or your professor has unique preferences, consistency is key. Make sure that you stick to the chosen style or requirements throughout the essay.

Okay. We’re sure many of you have already chosen an essay topic, but if that’s not you, check out this complete list of college essay topics that will 100% inspire you. Now you know how to choose the right citation style. So let’s find out how to cite sources in your college essay.

In-Text Citations

In-text citations help you integrate sources seamlessly into your college essay while maintaining clarity and academic integrity.

How to Cite Direct Quotations

When you directly quote a passage from a source, you should place the quoted text in quotation marks and provide information about the source, including the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number.

Here is an Example:

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. (1963) declared, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” (p. 8).

Paraphrasing and Summarizing

Paraphrasing and summarizing involve rephrasing the content from a source in your own words. When paraphrasing or summarizing, you should still acknowledge the source by citing the author and publication date.

Example – Paraphrasing:

Original Text: “Climate change poses a significant threat to the global environment.”

Paraphrase: According to the report, the global environment is facing a considerable danger from climate change (Smith, 2020).

Example – Summarizing:

Original Text: The study found that regular exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity (Johnson et al., 2019).

Summary: Johnson and his team (2019) discovered that exercise has a positive impact on heart health and can help prevent diseases like diabetes and obesity.

Including Page Numbers and Author Names

In-text citations should include the author’s last name and the page number (if applicable). This allows your readers to trace the specific location of the information within the source.

Example – Including Page Number:

According to recent research, climate change is causing more frequent and severe weather events (Brown, 2021, p. 15).

Example – No Page Number:

When a source has no page numbers, as is common with webpages, simply provide the author’s name and the publication year: (Smith, 2020).

Punctuation and Formatting

The punctuation and formatting of in-text citations depend on the citation style you are using. For example, in APA style, you should use the author’s last name and the publication year in parentheses, while in MLA style, you include the author’s last name and page number in parentheses.

Example – APA Style:

The study conducted by Johnson (2018) showed that…

Example – MLA Style:

According to Smith, “the evidence is clear” (45).

Creating a Works Cited or References Page

Creating a properly formatted Works Cited (for MLA) or References (for APA) page is a crucial part of citing sources in your college essay. We will guide you on how to format and list your sources accurately.

Formatting Guidelines

The Works Cited or References page should be a separate page at the end of your essay, following specific formatting rules based on your chosen citation style (MLA, APA, etc.).

Example – MLA Style:

Works Cited

Smith, John. The Art of Writing. Penguin, 2019.

Johnson, Mary. “The Impact of Climate Change.” Environmental Studies, vol. 25, no. 2, 2020, pp. 45-60.

Example – APA Style:


Smith, J. (2019). The Art of Writing. Penguin.

Johnson, M. (2020). The Impact of Climate Change. Environmental Studies, 25(2), 45-60.

Organizing Your Citations

Citations should be organized alphabetically by the author’s last name or by the title (if there is no author) in the Works Cited or References page.

Example – MLA Style:

Works Cited

Johnson, Mary. “The Impact of Climate Change.” Environmental Studies, vol. 25, no. 2, 2020, pp. 45-60.

Smith, John. The Art of Writing. Penguin, 2019.

Example – APA Style:


Johnson, M. (2020). The Impact of Climate Change. Environmental Studies, 25(2), 45-60.

Smith, J. (2019). The Art of Writing. Penguin.

Examples for Different Source Types

Different source types (books, articles, websites, etc.) have specific citation formats. Here are examples for common source types:

Example – Book (MLA):

Smith, John. The Art of Writing. Penguin, 2019.

Example – Journal Article (APA):

Johnson, M. (2020). The Impact of Climate Change. Environmental Studies, 25(2), 45-60.

Example – Website (MLA):

Smith, Jane. “The Effects of Social Media on Society.”, 15 Sept. 2021,

Example – Online Article (APA):

Davis, P. (2018). The Benefits of Exercise for Mental Health. Health Magazine, 12(3), 28-33.

Citing Online Sources and Digital Media

In today’s digital age, online sources and digital media are prevalent in research and academic writing. Properly citing these sources is essential to maintain academic integrity. This section provides guidelines and examples for citing various online sources in your college application essay.

Webpages and Online Articles

When citing webpages or online articles, include the author (if available), the title of the page or article, the name of the website, the publication date (if available), and the URL.

Example – MLA Style:

Author(s). “Title of the Article or Webpage.” Website Name, Date of Publication, URL.

Smith, Jane. “The Effects of Social Media on Society.”, 15 Sept. 2021,

Example – APA Style:

Author(s). (Year). Title of the Article or Webpage. Website Name. URL

Davis, P. (2018). The Benefits of Exercise for Mental Health. Health Magazine.

Social Media, Blogs, and Podcasts

For citing social media posts, blogs, or podcasts, include the author’s username or name, the title or caption of the post, the name of the platform, the publication date (if available), and the URL (if applicable).

Example – MLA Style (Twitter):

@Username. “Tweet Text.” Twitter, Day Month Year, URL.

@ScienceJunkie. “Just discovered an exciting breakthrough in quantum physics!” Twitter, 20 May 2022,

Example – APA Style (Blog Post):

Author(s). (Year, Month Day). Title of the Blog Post. Blog Name. URL

Smith, J. (2021, April 5). The Art of Storytelling. BlogSpot,

YouTube Videos and Online Multimedia

When citing YouTube videos or online multimedia, include the video creator’s name, the title of the video, the name of the channel, the upload date, and the URL.

Example – MLA Style:

Author(s)/Creator. “Title of Video.” Name of Channel, Date of Upload, URL.

Smith, John. “Introduction to Modern Art.” ArtExplained, 1 July 2029,

Example – APA Style:

Author(s)/Creator. (Year, Month Day). Title of Video. Name of Channel. URL

Johnson, M. (2021, August 12). How to Bake the Perfect Chocolate Cake. Baking Delights.

Citing Sources From Books and Journals

Books and academic journals are common sources for college essays. Properly citing these sources is essential for giving credit to the original authors and allowing readers to verify your references. This section provides guidelines and examples for citing books and journal articles.

Books, E-books, and Chapters

When citing a book, e-book, or a specific chapter from a book, include the author(s) or editor(s), the title of the book (italicized or underlined), the publication information, and the page numbers (for a specific chapter).

Example – MLA Style (Book):

Author(s). Title of the Book. Publisher, Year.

Smith, John. The Art of Writing. Penguin, 2019.

Example – APA Style (E-book):

Author(s). (Year). Title of the Book. Publisher. URL

Johnson, M. (2020). Environmental Studies: An Introduction. Wiley.

Example – MLA Style (Chapter in a Book):

Author(s) of the Chapter. “Title of the Chapter.” Title of the Book, edited by Editor(s), Publisher, Year, Page(s).

Jones, Mary. “Literary Themes in the 21st Century.” Contemporary Literature Studies, edited by A. Smith and B. Johnson, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 45-62.

Academic Journals and Scholarly Articles

When citing a journal article, include the author(s), the title of the article (in quotation marks), the title of the journal (italicized or underlined), volume and issue number (if available), publication year, and page range.

Example – MLA Style (Journal Article):

Author(s). “Title of the Article.” Title of the Journal, vol. volume, no. issue, Year, Page(s).

Smith, Jane. “The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity.” Environmental Science Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 2, 2021, pp. 35-50.

Example – APA Style (Scholarly Article):

Author(s). (Year). Title of the Article. Title of the Journal, volume(issue), Page(s).

Johnson, M. (2019). Exploring Cognitive Development in Adolescents. Developmental Psychology, 15(3), 412-427.

Tips for Optimizing the Citation Process

We try to provide as much insight as possible to all our readers. Therefore, we thought it would be useful to leave you with some valuable tips. All in order to help you optimize your citation process.

Use Citation Management Software

Citation management tools, such as Zotero, Mendeley, and EndNote, will become reliable assistants in collecting and organizing references to your sources. Also, do not forget about our free citation generator which supports more than 10 citation styles. Such tools will help you save a lot of time and ensure excellent accuracy.

For example, with Zotero, you can simply import references from databases, websites, and directories. Then, a little bit of magic, and there you go, you get the references in the citation style of your choice. It doesn’t get any easier than that. The risk of mistakes is minimized.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t overlook common citation mistakes. Missing information, improper formatting, or mixing different citation styles can severely damage your college essay. Checking for mistakes will save you time, take our word for it.

It is easy to overlook the publication date when citing a website, but it is crucial for accurate citation. Missing the publication date will result in inaccuracy in your reference.

Proofread your Citations

No one has canceled the need for proofreading yet, so be sure to take the time to do it. Check for errors or missing elements. Make sure that they correspond to the desired citation style in advance.

In APA style, the author’s last name is followed by his or her initials, separated by a comma (e.g., Smith, J.). A simple mistake such as “Smith J.” can be very embarrassing.

The Last Word on Proper Citation

Proper citation is the foundation of credibility and intellectual honesty. When you cite sources correctly, you recognize the scholars and experts who have contributed to your field. Spend a few minutes checking your citations, because authenticity makes your arguments more convincing and your research more solid.

Keep in mind that citation is not just a set of rules to follow; it is an ethical obligation to respect the work of others. This is how you demonstrate your own academic rigor.