Citation Vocabulary Cheat Sheet

Citations, along with grammar, punctuation, research, and exam preparation, are an essential part of academic life. However, with different citation rules for different institutions, different subjects, and different types of sources, it can be hard to keep track of the terminology involved.

Don’t worry! We’ve put together a quick citation vocabulary cheat sheet which should come in handy if your tutor or classmates mention a term that leaves you feeling confused. To keep things simple, all examples will refer to a book as the source. When using a different source type, you can find citing help via


Ok, this one should be easy. A citation is a way to reference any sources that you’ve used while researching and writing your paper, project, or any other piece of academic work. You need to think about both in-text citations and also supplying a full citation (sometimes called a reference in some citation styles) on a reference list, works cited list, or bibliography.

APA style

Short for American Psychological Association, APA is one of the most popular citation styles. It’s most commonly used within science subjects.

MLA style

Short for Modern Language Association, MLA is one of the most popular citation styles. It’s most commonly used within English and humanities subjects.

Chicago style

Chicago Manual of Style citations are most commonly used within history and humanities subjects. There are two different types of citations which fall under Chicago style: author/date and footnote/bibliography.

In-text citation

In-text citations sit within the body of your work (often within parentheses), usually following a direct quote or paraphrased information. They give the reader basic information about the source, which may include the author, the date of publication (for some styles of citation), and the page number if relevant.

APA style in-text citation example:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” said Gandalf (Tolkien, 1954, p. 20).

MLA style in-text citation example:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” said Gandalf (Tolkien 20).

Note that, if the author is referenced within the sentence, you don’t need to include the author’s name in parentheses.

Reference list / Works cited list

Your reference list or works cited list is where the full information on your sources is included. All of the  in-text citations in the body of your paper should have a corresponding full citation in the reference/works cited list.

The information given on the reference/works cited list should allow the reader to easily look up your source. Additional information that might be given here could include the author’s full name, the full title of the source, the name of an editor or translator, publisher, and place of publication, depending on the citation style being used.

APA citation example:

Shakespeare, W. (1996). Hamlet. T. J. Spencer (Ed.). London, England: Penguin Books.

MLA citation example:

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by George Richard Hibbard, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp 18-22.


A bibliography differs from a reference list or works cited list in that it includes details of every source that you used when writing your paper or essay, even if you haven’t quoted or paraphrased from that source. For example, a tutor might request a bibliography if you’re writing a paper that requires a lot of background reading and research. It would show them exactly what materials you have consulted, and prove that you’ve put in the hard work, even if you don’t have in-text citations referring to every source.

Annotated bibliography

An annotated bibliography includes a citation for each source, followed by a brief paragraph. Information within this paragraph could include anything that you feel might be useful for the reader to know. For example, you could include some information on why you feel the source is relevant to your work, or report on the accuracy or quality of the source.

Source type

This term refers to the type of material that you have used within your work (and wish to cite). Common source types include books, images, websites, and articles, but you can cite anything from a political speech to a movie.

Primary source

A primary source is an original work such as a recording, photograph, newspaper article written from a firsthand experience, or letter. An example of a primary source is actual text of the Magna Carta or photographs of King Tut’s tomb taken by Howard Carter and his team.

Secondary source

A secondary source is an interpretation or evaluation of a primary source, such as a biographical work, analysis of a study, or review. An example of a secondary source is an interpretation of the Magna Carta. Another example is a present day article analyzing Howard Carter’s photographs.

Tertiary source

A tertiary source is a collection/interpretation of primary and secondary sources, such as a textbook, manual, or directory. Note that some types of sources, such as textbooks for example, can be either secondary or tertiary, depending on their content. An example of a tertiary source is a book all about the Magna Carta and its effects on the world.


An online database is a collection of digital information. In libraries, databases are usually comprised of digital articles, research papers, videos, or photographs. These sources are useful when researching for a paper.


Paraphrasing refers to the expression of an idea in your own words. It’s important to remember to still cite your sources when paraphrasing.


When you repeat someone else’s words, work, or idea exactly as it appears in your source, this is known as quoting. Put quotes in quotation marks and include an in-text citation.


Summarizing refers to the condensing of an idea to express it more succinctly. If you’re summarizing someone else’s work or ideas, you still must cite your source.


And finally, this is a really important one. Plagiarism refers to the passing off of someone else’s work, words, or ideas as your own, and is the very thing that citation is designed to avoid. Using a plagiarism checker and citation creator like the ones at is an easy way to ensure that all of your sources are properly cited and your paper is 100% plagiarism free.

Now that you’ve got citation terms down, brush up on your grammatical ones! Read up on irregular verbs, relative pronouns, conjunctive adverbs, and more with our free grammar guides.

Common Knowledge 101: What You Need to Know to Pass

In most academic circles, common knowledge does not need to be cited in a research paper. This can be a great time-saver since it’s one less APA, MLA format, or Chicago style citation you need to create. But first, you need know the answer to this big question: What is common knowledge? Since plagiarism is considered a serious offense both inside and outside of school, being sure about what common knowledge is can save you from a lot of unnecessary trouble and stress.

What is common knowledge

In general, common knowledge is something known or understood, by reasonably educated people without the need to confirm it through research. Common knowledge is a fact that cannot be argued. It’s usually something you know off the top of your head.

Common Knowledge Examples:

  • We live on the earth.
  • Paris is the capital of France.
  • There are 365 days in a year.
  • In grammar, a “book” is a noun.
  • Bananas are yellow when ripe.

Not so common, common knowledge

At first common knowledge is a straightforward concept, but it’s a little more challenging when you start to realize that what is considered common knowledge changes based on who we are talking to. Here are a few factors that can have an effect on what is considered common knowledge.


In the United States, it’s common knowledge that the national bird is the bald eagle. If you were talking to a group of Australians about the fact above, it probably wouldn’t be considered common knowledge.

Academic field

When addressing a group of veterinarians, the fact that a cow has four stomachs is common knowledge. That same information presented to accountants is not common knowledge.

Cultural group

We can reasonably assume that a member of the Islamic faith would know the five pillars of Islam, but when writing a college paper for an Introduction to World Religions class, this information is best cited. Keep in mind, if the five pillars are presented to a group of religious Ph.D. candidates, a citation is not needed because these are well-known facts in this academic field.

As you can see, what is common knowledge in one group is not common in another. To help you protect yourself from plagiarism, we have designed a little test.

The common knowledge test

To figure out, if the information you are presenting is common knowledge. Visualize the audience you are writing for and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do ninety percent of these people know this information already?
  • Is there any reason for a member of my audience to question the validity or source of my information?

If the answer to question number one is “yes,” and question two is “no,” you do not need to include a citation.

What if I’m not sure about the answers to those questions?

If you are not sure, take the safe route and cite the information. You will not be faulted for taking the precaution. Proper citing can be time-consuming. Because of this, it is very tempting to label everything common knowledge. What feels like a nice shortcut in the middle of a big paper could lead you to a huge hassle down the line.

Now that you know how to identify common knowledge like a pro, you can use proper citation when you need to and feel confident leaving it out when you don’t.

Strengthen your writing skills with a solid understanding of grammar. A good place to start? The BibMe Plus grammar guides! Learn what is a determiner, how to identify a prepositional phrase, rules around subject-verb agreement, and other helpful topics.

5 Research Tips Your Librarian Wished You Knew

Looking for research tips to make writing that essay a little easier? Libraries and librarians are great resources for student, no matter what the topic is. Every day they help students like you find the most relevant sources for the topic you’re researching for a project—skills that are essential for carrying on into college, grad school, and real life.

Here are the things that your librarian wished you knew about libraries, research and the tools they can provide.

  1. Avoid using questions when conducting a general search online or in a database

When using a database or search engine to find sources or ideas, try to be as specific as possible with your search criteria. Avoid generalizing, and don’t forget to include proper capitalization to ensure you get the most accurate results possible.

Question words like who, how, and what sometimes muddle the search rather than help. For example, instead of typing “what is an annotated bibliography,” you’ll have different, but more relevant search results if you typed “annotated bibliography definition.”

  1. Databases that would otherwise cost you a fee to access are often free at your library

Is there anything more frustrating than finding the perfect journal article, only to find that it lives behind a paywall? If you find an interesting article in a paid database, ask the reference librarian at your library. Chances are, they have access to the database (which means you do, too) or to a database with similar sources.

  1. Don’t forget to check subject headings when conducting your research

These are a systematic list of terms that describe a given subject matter. Subject headings can be one word, two or more words, a phrase, a city, a country, a geographic region or a person. For example, the following are all valid subject headings:


Subject headings are great for three reasons. First, they can help you quickly discern if a source is actually about the topic that you are researching or not. Second, you can use subject headings in an advanced search to help you find sources that are relevant to your project. Third, you can use them to discover other articles. For example, in a database, you can sometimes click the subject heading to see a listing of all title related to that subject heading. From there, you can do a little browsing and see if any other source interests or inspires you. 

  1. Libraries have more than just books

They can provide FREE access to the Internet, archival materials, audio recordings, films, databases, and so much more. They even often offer classes that may help you in your research or develop your reading and writing skills. (Bonus tip: learn how to do a works cited page.)

  1. When in doubt, ask your librarian!

Librarians are always willing to help provide research tips and point you in the right direction if you get stuck. It’s their job! Your librarian can also help you cite sources in APA, MLA or Chicago style.

When your research is complete, don’t forget to run your writing assignment through a plagiarism checker, like the one you can find right here on BibMe! This will help ensure that you didn’t miss a citation or accidentally pick up text from your research. You can also check your assignment for grammar errors like a misspelled pronoun, incorrect subject-verb agreement, an uncapitalized proper noun, and more!

Become an Internet Search Ninja With These 5 Advanced Tips

Don’t let the simple, stark white, ad-free homepage of Internet search engines deceive you. They have the potential to convince a novice user that it’s a basic research service. The truth is, it is anything but basic. Google, along with Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines, has the ability to turn millions of unwanted search results into a refined set of options. How? With some simple tricks and hacks included in this article.

Continue reading to unlock the magic and become an Internet search ninja! If you’re searching for information for a research paper, don’t forget to start citing sources (usually in MLA format or APA style). It’ll help you keep track of what you found and save you the headache of trying to remember and cite information later.

Hack #1: Use Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are words added into search strings to help narrow, broaden, or refine results. The three words used for this function are and, not, and or.

When to use Boolean operators:

  • when you want two or more keywords included in the search results
  • when you want to exclude certain words from the search results
  • when you want to account for similar terms and broaden your search

To combine two search terms, place the conjunction AND in between both words or phrases. The results will show websites that include both terms in the page’s content.

Cell phones AND brain cancer

Chicken AND waffles

To exclude certain words from the search results, add the adverb NOT before the term you’d like to exclude. The results will show websites that do not include that term in the results.

Meatballs NOT pork

This search will display sites that include information about meatballs, but the word “pork” is not included anywhere on the page.

Note: Google does not recognize the term “NOT.” Instead, use a hyphen before the word you’d like to exclude.

Meatballs -pork

To account for similar keywords and synonyms, place OR between words. The results will show websites that include one word or the other.

democracy OR commonwealth OR self-government

Hack #2: Related Websites

Ever feel as though you’ve found the perfect website and you’d love to see others like it? Try adding the word “related” into the Google search bar, follow it with a colon, and add the site you’d love to see a clone of.

Hack #3: Synonym Searching With ~

If your searches don’t seem to be producing what you were expecting, you no longer need to head back to the search bar to try out similar keywords. Take away the effort of substituting and modifying your keywords by inserting a tilde (~) before one of your search terms. This symbol, used before a word, prompts Google to search for synonyms.

Side effects of ~pain relievers

This search string will search for side effects of pain relievers, side effects of painkillers, side effects of pain medications, etc.

Hack #4: Search by Date Range

It’s possible to search for articles from a specific date range. This feature is especially handy if you’re looking for an article published on a particular date or you’re looking for updated or newly released articles.

Google provides the option to search for posts, articles, or websites published in the past hour, past 24 hours, past week, past month, past year, or, you can define a custom date range.

To use this feature, search as you normally would, and at the top of the results page, click “Tools.” Use the drop down menu under “Any time” to choose a date or date range.

Hack #5:  Search for a specific word in the title

If you’re attempting to locate articles, posts, or websites that have a specific word or words in the title, it’s possible in Google with the intitle command. Type intitle, add a colon directly after it, and add your search term. Google will only display results that include that specific word in the title.

Back to the Future intitle:Michael J. Fox

This search will display articles about Back to the Future, with Michael J. Fox’s name in the title.

Diabetes intitle:candy

Search results will display articles about diabetes, with the word candy in the title.

Now that you’ve learned some nifty Internet search hacks, try them out! Use these tricks and tips next time you have a big assignment or when you’re simply searching for fun. They’ll save you time and energy, which is always appreciated.

The Mysterious (but Awesome) Invisible Web

If you’ve done a research paper before (we bet you have) then you know there are a TON of different types of sources you can use to conduct research. This can make it difficult to zero in on relevant information. Using the same search term over and over again tends to just bring up the same old results.

But what if there was a side of the Internet that was somewhat hidden, yet contained valuable information on your topic? Good news: there is! It’s called the “Invisible Web,” and it’s not as scary as it sounds.

What is the Invisible Web?

The “invisible web” might sound like a mysterious weapon, or a book you have to read for class, but it’s actually much cooler than that. The term “invisible web” refers to sources, like databases, that search engines do not have direct access to, or cannot display results for.

For example, if you were to type in the word “cat” into Google, you would most likely see a list of pages from the visible web, such as Wikipedia, with information about cats. What you wouldn’t see, however, is the information about cats contained in databases.

Databases usually have curated content that is fairly credible and relevant to your research topic. However, you wouldn’t normally have access to or find this content via the visible web since databases generally block software “spiders,” employed by search engines, that search the web for page results. Tip: Teachers love it when you include databases in your works cited page or APA reference page.

How Can I Access the Invisible Web?

Don’t worry, the invisible web may be “hidden,” but it is not completely inaccessible! You can access information from databases by searching with very specific terms. Here are some of the best places to start:

For government sources:

This is the official web portal for the US government. It contains a wealth of information and lists of places to find sources such as historical government documents and photographs.

For topics in the humanities: Voice of the Shuttle

Originally a web project created by scholars at the University of California, this site is a concise guide to reliable sources in the humanities, such as Philosophy, Anthropology, and History,

For topics in the sciences: Web of Science

This subscription service provides direct access to research publications, and houses access to over 18,000 scientific journals.

Want more? Visit your local public library or school library website to see what databases they offer to their patrons. Many offer access to databases you’d otherwise have to pay for. If you have trouble finding or using databases, find a librarian to help you out—they’re the best!

Why Should I Use it for Writing Research Papers?

Using the invisible web for your research paper will help your work stand out. While it is pretty simple to type in a keyword into a search engine, it shows initiative when you expand your search to other sources. You will also reduce the risk of repeating the same references as your classmates!


Easily cite sources as you research, then scan your paper for errors with BibMe Plus’s grammar and plagiarism checker. Spot potential errors, find quotes that may need to be cited, and start building a stronger paper today!