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APA Citation Style: When Should I Cite?

This guide provides information on the 6th edition of the APA citation style as used at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. This guide will be updated to the 7th edition in Fall 2020.

Why Cite Your Sources?

In all types of research and scholarly writing, it is important to cite your sources in order to:

  • Help readers identify and locate the source you used.

Readers may want to locate a source you have cited to verify the information or to learn more about the topic. A proper citation includes all of the information necessary for a reader to locate a source.

  • Provide evidence that your position is well-researched.

Scholarly writing is grounded in research. Citations allow you to demonstrate that your position is thoroughly researched.

  • Give credit to the author of ideas which are not your own, and thereby avoid plagiarism.

Giving proper credit to those whose ideas, words, and thoughts you use is not only respectful to those authors, but is also often required to avoid plagiarism.

What Should I Cite?

You may have heard people say that you do not have to cite your source when the information you include is “common knowledge.” But what is common knowledge?

Broadly speaking, common knowledge refers to information that the average, educated reader would accept as reliable without having to look it up. This includes:

  • Information that most people know, such as that water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius or that Sir John A. Macdonald was the first Prime Minister of Canada.
  • Information shared by a cultural or national group, such as the names of famous heroes or events in the nation’s history that are remembered and celebrated.
  • Knowledge shared by members of a certain field, such as the fact that the necessary condition for diffraction of radiation of wavelength from a crystalline solid is given by Bragg’s law.

However, what may be common knowledge in one culture, nation, academic discipline or peer group may not be common knowledge in another.

How do I determine if the information I am using is common knowledge?

To help you decide whether information can be considered common knowledge, ask yourself:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What can I assume they already know?
  • Will I be asked where I obtained my information?

Some examples:

  • A description of the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome would need to be cited for a composition in a general writing class but probably not need citation for an audience of graduate students in psychology.
  • A reference to the practice of fair value accounting would be understood by a group of economists, but would need citation to an audience of non-experts.
  • A statement reporting that 24% of children under the age of 18 live in households headed by single mothers would need to be cited.  This is information that would not be known to the average reader, who would want to know where the figure was obtained.

The best advice is: When in doubt, cite your source.

What is not Common Knowledge?

  • Datasets generated by you or others.
  • Statistics obtained from sources such as the US Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • References to studies done by others.
  • Reference to specific dates, numbers, or facts the reader would not know unless s/he had done the research.


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Plagiarism occurs when a student submits work in respect of which ideas or words are taken from another source and presented as if they are the student’s own, without appropriate acknowledgement of the original source.  It is the act of presenting another’s materials as one’s own without appropriate acknowledgement that constitutes plagiarism, whether or not the student does so intentionally.  Included in the concept of plagiarism are:

  1. Presenting a work as the work of a student without acknowledging that it is wholly or partly the work of others.
  2. Presenting words, ideas, images or data of others as those of the student and failing to identify the original creator and/or source.
  3. Submitting the same work for assessment for more than one assignment or course, without written permission from all of the instructor(s) involved.
  4. Failing to recognize and acknowledge the substantive contributions of others.
  5. Presenting work for a SAIT course, program or examination that in any way compromises the integrity of the evaluation process.
  6. Submitting for grading work that the student has been given by, or has bought from, someone else.

Note: A student who assists another student in an act or attempted act of academic misconduct will be considered to have committed an act of academic misconduct.


"What Should I Cite?"  adapted, with permission, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Academic Integrity Handbook for Students, ©2018.

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