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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!

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Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Comments (42) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love Citation Generators and wish I had known they existed when I started my graduate program. One of my fav's is called BibMe. It's free, all you have to do is register.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

where can I find site that will cite sources for me?

Janine's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Returning to the classroom as a student after 24 years, has been intimidating, to say the least, but having to learn the APA format required when writing papers for my Master's courses has been the biggest struggle of all. I feel like the proverbial "old dog" trying to learn a new trick. Thank you for sharing the sources for proper citing of material that will make my life a bit easier and will help my "bag of tricks" to grow.

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

I am sitting in a session in Mitchell, SD with folks from TIE on this project: and they mentioned this wonderful bibliography tool:

The greatest piece of this is that it will look up the book by title and then autofill. Does not replace, but adds! Yowzer!

Elizabeth Sky-McIlvain's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Listened to your podcast as I read the article: nice way to educate! Yes, we encourage online citation tools - anything to get the students building a Works Cited list quickly. We use MLA, but also are moving toward NoteShare to organize research, so we don't use tools that will build a complete citation list - students do that themselves.
Here's why I like citation: shows students that Google is not a source.
I don't fully agree with you that we should just roll over to the copy/paste patchwork concept, just because it is ubiquitous and easy. In fact, my own experience, research and learning from MEA leaders suggests that summarizing, not copying, is a key skill for our students to master. So, I have them quote very sparingly, educate them to the "telephone game" nature of misinformation spread on the web via c&p (easily done by taking any sentence from a game WIKI and googling it), and in grade 8 (also in our HS) teach how to summarize and annotate as literacies.

Lin Savory's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If you are working on your master's you will need the Little Brown book by Jane Aaron. My copy has been custom published by the University that I am attending which is Ashford University so the ISBN number will not be correct for you. I would think your university bookstore has the book. It is a life saver and a must.

Jason Wilson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Jason Wilson and am studying at CTU in Denver for a BSIT degree. In my return to college I was introduced to APA for the first time. I had always liked the AMA style but I do not get to pick here. For a large book, it's so much easier to look up the footnote number in the back to see the associated reference. I wanted a citation tool that let me save my bibliography so as to complete it later but I didn't want to pay. To save $8, and gain in experience, I created . The domain name cost $6.50, so I guess I have only saved $1.50, but I learned a lot and that's the important part. Recently I expanded it to include MLA, Chicago and Turabian. Perhaps someday I'll get around to adding my favorite style, AMA.

I added a comments section on the site so that everyone can fill up my email if I have messed something up.

Carol's picture

Something has changed drastically since many of us learned to do citation: the proliferation of different kinds of media. No one can possibly keep up with learning how to cite everything. For example, the very new handbook my university uses, one that's just a couple of years old, is already out of date. How do you cite YouTube? Twitter? Podcasts, etc.? Our students need these tools--and so do we! Anyone who thinks it takes no effort to use them is woefully wrong. The challenge these days isn't in getting the spacing and punctuation right, it's often in identifying what kind of source is being cited. Is it an online journal article? An electronic version of a print journal? The permutations sometimes seem endless!


Marisa Kaplan's picture
Marisa Kaplan
Former NYC teacher, Consultant, Creator and writer of

I'm a teacher in NYC that just came onboard the Citelighter team. If you haven't checked it out yet, you should. It is easy to capture and cite a text online in a snap and the interface is so simple to use.

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