Learn and Generate Bibliographies, Citations, and Works Cited

10 Common Citation Mistakes (and How to Ensure You Avoid Them)

Writing is a skill. That’s why it’s important to keep perfecting it. Whether you are new to bibliographies or they have become your old friend, mistakes are easy to make. Learn how to avoid the most common mistakes by checking out a list of the top citation mistakes.

Citation generator

1. Missing References or Citations

One of the most common citation mistakes is missing references or citations. First of all, citations and references are a package deal. A citation within the text needs a reference in your reference page or bibliography and vice versa. However, some people forget to cite in the paper or create a reference listing for an in-text citation. One easy way to avoid this citation faux pas is to check that every in-text citation leads to a reference in your paper.

For example, an in-text citation within your paper like:

She stated, “Adding a reference listing for in-text citations can be hard” (Smith 5).

Should also have a citation in your Works Cited in MLA like:

Smith, Darla. Understanding MLA Style. Oxford UP, 2019.

2. Citations in Alphabetical Order

Reference list, works cited, and bibliography citations can’t be all willy nilly in your paper. Every style asks you to put your citations in alphabetical order by the first element of the citation. This could be an author’s last name, title, corporation, or more. When it comes to numbers, they are put in alphabetical order as they would be said. So, 360 would be alphabetized as three hundred sixty.

how to alphabetize an APA reference list

3. Missing Page Numbers

It’s important to add page numbers to your citations. Why? Reference citations and in-text citations are there for a reason. They point readers to your research. Therefore, in a book with thousands of pages, giving a page number can help a reader out. While the chance someone will look for this information is small, it’s still important.

APA In-Text Citation Example With Page Numbers

Incorrect: She stated, “Adding a reference listing for in-text citations can be hard” (Smith, 2019).

Correct: She stated, “Adding a reference listing for in-text citations can be hard” (Smith, 2019, p. 5). 

4. Not Citing Paraphrased Information

When you paraphrase or quote information in a professional or school paper, you need to include citations in the text and reference page. This is important. If you incorrectly quote information or do not cite something you paraphrased, it’s considered plagiarism. And no one wants to be a plagiarizer. Therefore, any thought or idea that is not your own should be cited, whether you put quotes around it or not. Check out an example:

Incorrect: As you can see, the research clearly shows …

Correct: As you can see, the research clearly shows … (Davis 14)

Since the author is quoting research that is not their own, they need to provide a citation for the information.

5. Outdated or Bad Resources

Not all resources are created equal. For students and professionals alike, this is a pivotal concept. It’s important to ensure the sources you use to create your papers are current, relevant, authoritative, accurate, and purposeful. For instance, Wikipedia is a good place to start your research, but it’s far from a credible source. Therefore, you wouldn’t want to cite Wikipedia. Everything you use as a credible source should pass the CRAAP test. And if you are having trouble finding sources, you can use Bibliography.com’s source generator.

reliable sources for research CRAAP

6. Not Including Web Addresses

When including a website in your research, you need to include the website URL in the reference list or bibliography citation. This shows the readers where to go to find the research you used. You often include the exact URL where you found the information, so it’s easy for a professor or reader to access. Leaving this information off your bibliography citation can get you marked down. And it makes it harder for anyone to access the research you used.

APA Reference List Citation for Website

Incorrect: American College Health Association. (2019). National College Health Assessment III: Spring 2019 reference group executive summary.

Correct: American College Health Association. (2019). National College Health Assessment III: Spring 2019 reference group executive summary. http://www.acha-ncha.org/reports_ACHA-NCHAII.html

7. Unnecessary Citations

While you can make too few citations, you can also make too many citations. The art of citations is all about balance. For example, when you are using an entire paragraph to present ideas from one specific book or the same author, you can provide one clear citation at the end, rather than cluttering up the whole paragraph with citations at the end of each sentence. Additionally, you can just cite the different pages you are referencing once the source has been established. This helps to keep your work looking clean while ensuring you aren’t plagiarizing information.

APA in-text citation same author different work

8. Incorrectly Using et al.

As you already know, et al. is used when you have multiple authors for a source in an in-text citation. It would get irritating to write out more than 20 authors in text. And it would take up a lot of space in the text of your article. Therefore, each style dictates when to use et al. rather than write out all the author’s names. However, et al. isn’t just used every time you have more than one author. Typically, you use et al. for citations of more than three authors in text. But consult your style manual just in case.

MLA In-Text et al. Example

Two Authors: (Johnson and Smith 72)

Three Authors: (Johnson et al. 72)

9. Including Author’s Initials or Honorifics In-Text Citations

Citations made in the text of the article don’t include an author’s initials or honorifics. They just include the last name of the author. This can get confusing because you do include names and initials in the reference list. See how an in-text citation should be formatted correctly.

MLA In-Text Citation Example

Correct: (Johnson and Smith 81)

Incorrect: (A. Johnson and P. Smith 81)

Incorrect: (Dr. Johnson and Dr. Smith 81)

10. Incorrect Punctuation

Last but certainly not least is incorrect punctuation in your citations. This is a big one. Because each style guide has a specific way, they want you to punctuate your citations both in text and in the reference list. Following the punctuation format of each different style is key to making sure everything is perfect. To avoid a punctuation error, you can look at examples of citations for your style or use a citation generator like Bibliography.com. These are designed to include the proper punctuation for your specific style.

APA book citation labeled diagram

Error Free Citations

Creating a bibliography or reference list can be hard. There are just so many rules for each one. Make sure your citations are perfect by avoiding the most common errors made on citations. And if you need a little help, you can check out the Bibliography.com guides for APA, MLA, and Chicago.

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