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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

Comments (42)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Valerie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a terrific tool! I have been writing papers for an online course that I have been taking. I am eager to try these tools out. They will come in handy especially since it has been a while since I have had to write in APA format.
I also think that these would be excellent resources for me to have bookmarked on my computers at school for the students to learn how to properly cite work.

Rockell Warren-Daniels's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am so thankful that Jim decided to post this very useful information. Since I am taking an online course, I am always trying to make sure I have the correct citations for every quote I use. I also agree with teaching students the correct way to put materials together to prevent plagiarism. I can now use this resource for my seventh grade daughter and myself.

Ruthie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This made my day! I am presently working on a Master's program and citing items properly takes forever. Thank you for the countless hours I will save. My students will also love this resource. It is so difficult to have learning disabled students learn how to properly cite for a research paper. I will be sharing this website ( with them. They will find it invaluable!

Allison's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently getting my masters degree and I am struggling with APA style. The citation machine is a great starting point - I can still double-check in my reference book, but this site gives me an idea of what I should be looking for. Thank you so much for posting this link!

Kim's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Personally, I love citation machines; anything that makes citing sources easier for students is greatly appreciated. I think learning how to do even rudamentary citations is a must at all education levels and that we are setting our kids up for failure when they get older if we do not teach them how to cite sources as soon as we, as teachers, start asking them to compile facts from various sources. Students seem to take procedures (such as citing sources in writing) more seriously if they are consistently asked to follow the same procedures at every level. Even if students do not clearly understand what constitutes plaigarism at the lower levels, by the time they hit high school or even middle school, hopefully, citing sources is second nature and the students can develop a better understanding and appreciation of what constitutes intellectual property and how to properly cite it as they get older and their thinking matures.
I would appreciate it if someone would explain which citation method to use in various situations or explain which disciplins/fields use which method. As an undergraduate, I used MLA for all papers; but now at the graduate level, all my papers require APA citations. Because of this I expose my students at the high school level to both styles (MLA and APA) and do brief lessons that let the students explore Chicago and Turabian and how the various citation methods differ.

Karen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I will definitely use these web sites to help me cite papers for the online courses I am taking. They will also help me to assist my teenage son in his endeavors to write and cite papers. If our school is not currently aware of these sites, it will be very soon! Thank you!!!

Lynda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am an elementary school media specialist. I work with students in grades 3-5. Currently, I teach them the basics for one author books, an encyclopedia article and magazine articles. After they get the basics, I have shown them some online citation sites. I will defintely check out NoodleBib. I use MLA style with them.
As a grad student, I have used Landmark's Son of Citation Machine site ( The APA sytle is so different that I feel it is very helpful to be able to use this site.

Christy A.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really need these websites! I am having a little trouble getting my citations just right. I will pass this information on to my friends.

Hector's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I had heard of this a long time ago, but I had forgotten the website. I was very happy to find this, as I am currently learning APA style.

Jen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I just started my Masters of Education after 10 years of being out of school. I am not familiar with APA Style format which the school requires. I've been searching different websites but I feel I'm all over the place when looking for information on citations. Coming across your blog was perfect timing. The sites you mentioned will be a huge benefit to my colleagues and I. As an educator, I do believe you need to teach students how to cite their work but let them use the tools that are out there. Thank you for your help!

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