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What is the Difference Between a Citation and a Reference?

Today’s Ask Dr. Diane:  What do professors mean when they say to include citations and references?

Students are often required to have both citations¬†and references when creating their college assignments.¬† There can be confusion as to what the difference is between a citation and a reference. ¬†Cornell explains, ‚Äúa citation occurs when you use a specific source in your work and then follow up with the proper bibliographic information; plagiarism issues arise when you use a specific source, but fail to indicate what you have borrowed, and/or fail to provide proper bibliographic information a reference is the bibliographic information that guides readers to your source.‚ÄĚ

It may seem easier to understand when given examples of each.  Here is an example of a citation:

‚ÄúCanadians can celebrate that smoking rates have dropped dramatically in Canada in the past three decades‚ÄĚ (Reutter, 2001, p. 13).¬†

You may also paraphrase what others have written.  Here is an example of how to do this correctly:

According to the Canadian Lung Association (2008), most people who quit smoking use a combination of methods. 

These should be included within the body of the document. They should not be confused with references.  References should be included on the separate Reference Page.

An example of how to list references on a Reference Page is listed below.  Keep in mind that formatting will not show up correctly on a blog.  The first line of each reference should be at the left margin and each following line should be indented 1/2 inch.  Here is an example without the indentations showing up:


Canadian Lung Association. (2008). How to quit. Retrieved May 26, 2008, from

Reutter, L. (2001). Health and wellness. In P. A. Potter, A. G. Perry, J. C. Ross-Kerr, & M. J. Wood (Eds.), Canadian fundamentals of nursing (2nd ed.) (pp. 2-30). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Harcourt Canada.

It is important to note that many students think they should just include references to show the sites they visited or read to complete the assignment.  This is not correct.  References should be listed to explain where the citation information was obtained.  If a citation was not listed within the document, it doesn’t make sense to list a reference.