Beware These Common Citation Mistakes

By Michele Kirschenbaum

Let’s have a moment of silence for anyone out there who just received a graded paper filled with those dreaded red marks. Ugh. Nothing is worse than spending hours and hours pouring your heart and soul into a research paper, only to receive a failing grade or an accusation of plagiarism (gasp!) due to incorrect citations. It’s tough enough finding quality resources, analyzing them, and writing a high quality paper, but to receive marks off for incorrect citing totally crushes the soul.

We know there are so many rules to follow when it comes to citing sources. We’re here to highlight some of the most common citation mistakes students and scholars make when developing their research projects. Check out our top 5 below. Perhaps you’ll recognize a mistake or two you’ve been making in your own work.

If you’re looking for some extra help or guidance, check out the Citation Machine plagiarism and grammar checker. Write your paper, pop it into our “smart proofreader” and watch the magic happen. We’ll provide suggestions for citations and grammar edits so you can worry less about those dreaded red marks and more on your learning. Try it out now!

1. Forgetting to include in-text and parenthetical citations

You’ve found the perfect piece of information to include in your paper. Cool! As you’ve learned throughout school, you need to include a citation for that source in your bibliography or works cited list. Don’t forget to also include an in-text or parenthetical citation in the body of your project.

Remember, every time outside information is added into a paper, you need to provide the reader with a glimpse as to where that information came from. You can do this with an in-text or parenthetical citation, which includes the author’s name in the sentence or directly after it, in parentheses. Depending on the citation style, you may also need to include the page number or year the source was published.

Here’s an example of how an MLA in-text and parenthetical citation could look in an assignment:

Stockett describes Celia as, “probably ten or fifteen years younger than me, twenty-two, twenty-three, and she’s real pretty” (37).

This excerpt is taken from page 37 in Kathryn Stockett’s book, The Help. In the works cited page at the end of the paper, the reader is provided with a full citation that shares the title of the book, the publisher, the year it was published, and possibly some other key pieces of information, depending on the citation style.

Every piece of information added into a paper needs two citations: a brief one in the body of the project and the full citation on the final page. Bam!

2. Period placement gone wrong

Inside? Outside? Outside and inside? It can be tricky to determine where to place those pesky little periods when including parenthetical citations.

For the majority of citation styles, the period is placed on the outside of the parentheses. Here’s a visual to help you out:

“It’s just that sometimes, our future is dictated by what we are, as opposed to what we want” (Sparks 59).

3. In-text and parenthetical citation overload

If you’re using the same reference over and over in one paragraph, it isn’t necessary to include an in-text or parenthetical citation after each sentence. Instead, save it for the end. The reader will be able to ascertain that all of the information from that single paragraph pertains to the individual in-text or parenthetical citation you’ve included.

4. Using the incorrect citation style or switching between two

Even though there are thousands (yes, thousands!) of citation styles available on Citation Machine, make sure to choose just one style for your project. Not sure whether to choose MLA formatting, APA, Chicago style format or another? Check to see if it’s included in the the assignment’s guidelines. Still not sure? Ask your teacher or school librarian. Whichever style you choose to roll with, make sure it’s consistent throughout the entire project. Remember, citations are included to help readers understand where information originated. If you choose to use various citation styles, it could cause some major confusion.

5. Problems with paraphrasing

A proper paraphrase involves taking someone else’s idea and rewriting it using your own words, in your own writing style. What it’s not is taking someone else’s idea and replacing the words with synonyms. Don’t be a synonym swapper. That’s plagiarism!

If you’re having a tough time trying to paraphrase another author’s words, try this out: Carefully read the text again. When you’re through, put it to the side, and think about what you just read. What was the author’s message? Now, rewrite it, using your own words and writing style. Remember to add an in-text or parenthetical citation at the end of the paraphrase and include the full citation in the works cited or reference page.


Good with citations? Then move on to sharpening your writing skills with the Citation Machine grammar guides! Never again wonder what is a transitive verb, possessive pronoun, conjunctive adverb, and more.