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Understanding citations


Understanding citations

You know that you need to “cite your sources”, but what does that mean in practice? Learn what citations are and how to include them in different types of assessments.

What is a citation?

A citation is essentially an abbreviation with a special format. Each citation refers to a different source you are using in your work. It provides a couple of details about the source, and it points the audience to the reference list (sometimes called a bibliography) for further information.

Depending on the referencing style you’re using, citations can take different forms:

  • Parenthetical citations have information that appears between parentheses or brackets.
  • Footnotes have two parts: a small number that appears above the text line, called a footnote number, and a note at the bottom of the page with more information.
  • Endnotes have the same small numbers as footnotes, but the notes appear at the end of the document or section of writing.

Tips for inserting citations in written work

Parenthetical citations can appear at the beginning or end of a quote, paraphrase, or summary. You can also have more than one citation in a sentence if you are synthesising the ideas from multiple sources. When citations are placed at the end of a sentence, they generally appear inside the sentence punctuation.


  • ". . ." (Author 2022:62).
  • According to Author (2022), . . .
  • In contrast, Researcher’s (2023) study suggested . . .
  • While Author (2022) proposed . . ., this idea was rejected by Researcher (2023) due to . . .
  • Author (2022) and Researcher (2023) agree that . . ., but others take the viewpoint that . . . (Writer 2022; Creator 2023).

Footnote and endnote numbers appear at the end of the ideas you’re referencing, but similar to parenthetical citations, you can integrate information about the source, such as the surnames of the authors, using reporting words. Unlike parenthetical citations, footnote and endnote numbers are placed outside the sentence punctuation.


  • According to Author, . . .1
  • While Author proposed . . .,1 this idea was rejected by Researcher due to . . .2

Don’t forget that in general, footnote numbers need corresponding footnotes at the bottom of each page, and endnote numbers need endnotes at the end of the document or section of writing. For more examples and the complete guidelines for the referencing styles used at RMIT, visit Easy Cite.

Citations in presentations and multimedia work

It is important to include citations in all of your work, including presentations and multimedia projects.

When you are giving an oral presentation or creating a multimedia piece that references the ideas of others, make sure to incorporate the same information you would include in a written citation. Depending on the referencing style you’re following, this might mean mentioning the surnames of authors and dates of publications when speaking. The same information should be included in your slides or other visual aids.


  • “This chart summarises the findings from the 2023 study by Author and Researcher, who found that . . .”

At the end of your work, be sure to include a list of references, just as you would for a written assessment.

Please note: The examples on this page use the RMIT Harvard and Chicago A referencing styles. Check your course handbook or speak to your instructor about the referencing style required in your area of study.