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Cite It Right: Online Citation Tools and Formal Citations

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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We hear it often: "Plagiarism is rampant! Teachers as detectives! Punish the wrongdoers! Stand up for what is right! Seize the moral high ground!"

I have written about plagiarism before, but this time I want to discuss how the offense can often be subtler than buying a published paper online or overtly copying and pasting a document. Rather, it can be a case of simply failing to properly cite sources. If a chunk of text, an image, or a multimedia clip is taken from a source without citation, then -- bingo! -- plagiarism.

In fact, we should probably include the ability to copy and paste and to blend content from multiple digital sources into a single document or file as a key twenty-first-century skill. With this realization, rather than discouraging such behavior we should be encouraging it, while simultaneously teaching students how to properly cite materials.

Here are some online tools for students that take the confusion out of citing sources:

  • Education blogger David Warlick's Citation Machine, which he describes as a tool that will help students, teachers, and researchers learn how to properly "respect other people's intellectual properties"
  • NoodleTools -- with its wonderfully simple NoodleBib functionality -- which targets grades 1-5 and English as a Second Language students and requires the creation of an account but is free and allows you to save bibliographies as lists
  • SourceAid, the tool for professionals that encourages educators to, as the SourceAid Web site states, "invest in the academic integrity of your classroom by providing your students with the best tools to cite properly and avoid plagiarism."

These Web sites vary in the number and type of citations they illustrate, as well as the diversity of sources they cite. Each discusses how to cite books, Web sites, and encyclopedias, but they are not equal and should be reviewed by teachers and students to identify the one that is right for them and for their work. While perusing these sites, be sure to look at the interactive resources available on NoodleTools under "Teacher Resources," the SourceAid newsletter on research skills, and the other wonderful tools and resources available from Warlick's Landmarks for Schools.

Arguments I occasionally hear against the use of these powerful tools remind me of the calculator debates. The ability to automate the creation of citations still makes some educators nervous and has them wondering whether, by allowing students to avoid the pain of learning how to properly cite their term papers, they aren't doing enough to support the development of good researchers. Many are concerned that these tools just make it too easy for students to cite without really understanding how and why to cite, and when.

Do you and/or your school support the use of online citation builders? Do you use Modern Language Association or American Psychological Association formatting and style guides? Why or why not -- and, if so, which is your favorite? Are there other tools we should know about? I'm interested in your comments. And, yes, I promise to cite you as a resource!

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you so much for the information on proper citation.It has been nine years since I have had to write papers using APA style. I have struggled some with proper citing and am always very conscious I am doing it hte correct way. Spending a short amount of time on these sites has vastly improved my overall quality of the paperers.

JLS's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm in the same boat as you, except I've been out for seven years. I did all my undergrad work in MLA format and the profs want APA at my new school. I'm looking forward to these sites to assist in the transition.

Charissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


This information is great! I have used MLA and am now being asked to use APA style. To me, APA style is easier to use. The websites that you provided will be of much help and I am thankful that I came across your blog. I plan on sharing this information with other students as well. Thanks again!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for this valuable information. I recently began working on my Master's degree and have to use APA style. This will save me time with citations. I am passing this website on ........

Jennifer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you Jim. I am presently working on my masters degree. I have not written a paper in over twenty years. I am having more difficulty with the citations than I am with the actual course material!

Christine Z's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim....You Rock!

I sound just like everyone else in this blog...thanks for sharing the important information. I have also currently started a master's program and the school requires us to write in APA format. MLA was the way to go, up until now. Do you know the reason for the different citing styles? It is important to give credit where it's due. So many people plagiarize and do not realize that they are doing anything wrong.

It has taken some time to get used to the format. My professor seems to like my writing...just not my citations. I have been losing points for leaving out periods, commas, and such. Thanks again. I plan to share these sites with my students as well.

J.R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hmm... Why different styles? Good question. Here is a link to an article at NoodleTools ( which tells "which is generally used by which areas of study..."

In a K-12 setting, the important thing is to help all students learn that they can cite, and that consistency is the key...

Good luck!

Jim Moulton

Jean Sullivant's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for this great list. Although I have never used online citation builders in teaching students how to write a bibliography, I definitely will try NoodleTools with my Grade 8 kids for their next paper. I'd rather they use an online tool to include all the elements of the citation than give in something incorrect or incomplete.

I have had a long struggle with bibliography through undergraduate programs, jobs and graduate programs - each requiring a different citation style. I've mastered and used Medical Library Association Style, Modern Language Association Style, the Chicago Manual of Style method, and Turabian. I'm struggling now with APA style, and will definitely use one of the tools you wrote about to make my life easier.


Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

where can i find a website to cite my resources for me

Kiley K's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I began my masters one month ago and the thing that has stressed me out the most is proper citation. I was used to MLA style in my undergraduate studies and for my graduate studies they use APA. Thanks for the great resource! I am going to share with my classmates (with a proper citation of course!).

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