Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Michigan State University

IBIO 200 Strategies for finding and citing scientific sources: Citing Sources

Citing Sources

There are a few things you want to be very careful of when using information from sources:

1.  Always cite a source of information that you present in a paper.  You don't need to cite extremely common knowledge like "DNA has a double helix structure", but, if you are in doubt, better to cite than not cite.  

2.  Be careful not to plagiarize.  Even if you have included a citation, you cannot copy information word for word or even very close.  You must put ideas into your own words or use quotation marks if you are quoting a source.  The best way to avoid plagiarism is to use many sources, read them, then put them away, and then try to write about it.  

3.  Quotations can be used, but they are not common in science writing.  Try to avoid lots of quotations and use the advice above about reading and putting things in your own words.  

When do I Cite?

Using a Citation Format

When you cite sources, you must use some kind of citation style to keep things organized and uniform.  

The biological sciences field does not have a single citation style.  Use whatever your professor chooses.  The APA style is a general style that works for social sciences and sciences if you don't have another style you have to use.  

Whatever style you use, if you are using electronic sources, you first have to figure out whether your source is a book, a book chapter, a journal article, a "web site", a government report, a magazine article, etc.  


APA style tips (if you choose to use that style) 

Citing Books (electronic or not)
When you cite sources I've listed for Finding Background Information  these will be cited as books or chapters of books. Note whether the chapter you're citing has its own authors. If so, cite the title and authors of the chapter as well as the title and editors of the whole book. 

Citing Articles
When you get articles through database like Web of Science, cite the article, the journal title, the volume, date, and its authors. Do not cite the information as coming from "the internet" or "Web of Science".  Web of Science or Google are merely finding tools for the articles, but do not contain the information themselves.

Citing other Web Sites
You need to pay careful attention to what type of electronic material you are citing. If it is an online book, follow instructions for citing books. If it is an online journal, follow instructions for citing journal articles. If it is a Web site that fits no other categories, follow general APA instructions for citing Web-based material.

Michigan State University