Universität Bielefeld

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Citing Correctly

Let’s be brief. In order to cite texts correctly in your own work, there are essentially just two crucial rules:

Rule 1– Decide on a citation style.

Rule 2 - Apply this citation style consistently throughout the entire text.

All further information for German-language works can be found in the outstanding guide "Zitieren und Bibliographieren" written by our colleagues at the Seminar für Volkskunde/Europäische Ethnologie at WWU Münster University (external link). The brochure also includes information about how to cite online sources correctly. Another outstanding German-language resource is the guide "Quellenangaben und Zitate in wissenschaftlichen Texten" by the Schreibberatung at the Pädagogische Hochschule/Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz (external link).

Was this too brief for you? Then you would be well advised to spend some time learning about the function of direct citations. First off: The title of this page is “Citing Correctly”, not “Plagiarizing Correctly”. It is matter of course that scholars do not pass off the work of others as their own, and that every idea you adopt from another author be clearly identified! (For more information on how precisely this works, take another look at the brochures from Münster or the Nordwestschweiz.)

Yet consider carefully whether to paraphrase the adopted ideas or cite them word for word. Our recommendation is to work with paraphrases as much as possible. First of all, they show that you are able to express complicated issues in your own words. What is more, they present a learning option. You will improve each time you force yourself to reformulate complicated ideas by yourself so that others can understand them clearly.

If you do wish to use a direct citation, please be aware of how it actually works in your text. According to Thomas Forrer and Jürgen Spitzmüller (external link), literal renderings should have at least one of the following five functions:

  1. They PRESENT a text passage to be discussed in the next text section. In this case, the citation can make it easier for the reader to understand your line of thought.
  2. You SUBSTANTIATE a statement you made by offering a passage from a source or research text.
  3. You REPORT on a text to show the origin of ideas, results, considerations and data that neither come from you nor constitute undisputed knowledge.
  4. You use an EXPOSITORY citation and render a text passage because the exact wording is relevant to your argument.
  5. You use a direct citation AUTHORITATIVELY, i.e., you cite a recognized (!) work in order relieve yourself of the duty of providing your own argumentation. Never use an authoritative citation at the end of a paragraph, a chapter, or an entire text, however. This creates the impression that you are not able to close your own line of argumentation in your own words.


Quick links to more

“Zitieren und Bibliographieren” guide by the colleagues of the Seminar für Volkskunde/Europäische Ethnologie at WWU Münster University: external link

Thomas Forrer and Jürgen Spitzmüller in the function of citations: eexternal link

"Quellenangaben und Zitate in wissenschaftlichen Texten" guide by the Schreibberatung of the Pädagogische Hochschule/Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz: external link