Picture this: The next essay is due soon and you already know what you are going to write about? The literature has been selected and you could start writing your essay straight away? Great! But before you start working on your essay, you should dedicate some time to make sure you know how to cite correctly!

To do so, it is important to understand why citation is crucial in the first place.

Citation is important because it is necessary for the reader to understand which knowledge and findings come from which person or research institution and did not just pop into your head. Being able to derive this kind of information from your citation is necessary because intellectual property is protected by copyright. Citation makes clear which intellectual property you adopted and which thoughts and findings are your own. This makes your results transparent, verifiable, and comprehensible.


How to avoid plagiarism

If you write a scientific paper and pass off another author’s findings as your own, this is called plagiarism. This can apply to both literal and analogous copying of texts. You can avoid plagiarism by writing down and organising your sources of literature from the beginning so that you know exactly which statements you took from which author. There are also literature management programmes that can help you cite in a structured and clean manner. Citavi or EndNote are some of the most popular citation software. Sometimes universities even offer free access to these programmes.

It is often the case that when you work on a text for weeks or even months you become confused about what you wrote yourself and which sentences were quotes or paraphrased. Even if this inaccuracy should be avoided at all costs, citation mistakes can never be completely ruled out. For this purpose, some universities offer programmes which allow you to check your work for possible plagiarism before you submit it. You can also find plagiarism software such as Scribbr, Unicheck Mentorium, Bachelor Print, and others on the Internet. In most cases, however, these are not free of charge. Anyhow, it remains necessary to make sure that you go through your literature properly and work with it; this will save you a lot of work.


What and when do I have to quote?

Quotations are literal and indirect reproductions of content or knowledge from other sources.

Ex. direct quotation: Hegel is of the opinion that “the spirit exists as absolute freedom” (Hegel, 1807, p. 386).

Ex. indirect quotation: Hegel writes that consciousness is the element in which spiritual beings or powers have their substance (cf. Hegel, 1807, p. 387).


Do I have to quote everything?

General knowledge is often based on findings that have been recorded by various scientists and have been known for a long time and are therefore no longer controversial. This includes, for example, dates of well-known historical events or elementary knowledge from your subject area. Therefore, you do not have to cite general knowledge in most cases. Examples of general knowledge include terms such as managers, companies, or liquidity. Terms such as the BCG matrix or Porter’s Five Forces are terms that every business student will have heard before, but they must be cited because they cannot be assumed to be general knowledge. The BCG matrix, for example, could be cited from the work “Henderson on corporate strategy” (Henderson, 1979).

The definition of what counts as general knowledge and what does not, however, varies depending on the target group. For Bachelor’s theses, it is, therefore, advisable to cite more than for Master’s theses, since elementary knowledge is already a prerequisite for a Master’s programme. In case you are unsure about whether you need to quote a particular term, it is better to cite too much than too little!


Citing original sources

There are primary and secondary citations. Primary quotations are quotations from original sources. An example of this is, as mentioned above, the citation of the BCG matrix according to Henderson. Secondary citations are quotations of citations, i.e., one obtains the findings of one scientist from the work of another. Secondary citations should be avoided if the original work can be obtained at a reasonable cost. This also includes interlibrary loans within your country. For literature acquisition, it is definitely worthwhile looking at footnotes or bracket references in order to read the original sources as well!


Citation Styles

First of all, ask your supervisor which citation style they prefer. Often there is also a style guide for your respective department, which you should consult.


  1. APA style (author-year style)

In this citation style, the last name of the authors, the year of publication, and the page numbers from which you are quoting are given in brackets. Ex.: (Schmid, 2001, pp. 220-230).

(cf. American Psychological Association, 2010)


  1. IEEE editorial style (numerical style)

Here, a number is placed after the cited text passage, starting with the number 1. Ex.: [1]. The complete source is then listed in the bibliography under [1].

(cf. IEEE website)


  1. Chicago style (footnote style)


For this variant, the footnote is referred to within the text with a superscript number. The sources are located at the bottom of each page in the footer.

(cf. Univ. of Chicago Press, 2010).

Of course, there are other citation styles; however, the above are very commonly used.


How to cite efficiently

There are literature management programmes that can help you to cite correctly and create a bibliography in a structured and clean manner. Examples of such programmes are, as already mentioned, Citavi or EndNote.


How to manage your findings and reading

If you are in the middle of writing a seminar paper and would like to add a thought or insight that you gained a few days ago but can’t remember where it is, it is always helpful at this point to summarise scientific papers on one page so that you can find the information you have read more quickly.

This can be done in bullet points and in tabular form:

  • What is the title?
  • Who are the authors?
  • When was it published?
  • What is the research question?
  • What methodology is used?
  • What data are used?
  • What results do the authors find?
  • How might this be relevant to my own work?
  • What is good/bad about the study?

This way, you can quickly and repeatedly check whether you have quoted from the right source or find out more quickly where you might have found an insight.



You must include a bibliography at the end of your paper. What it looks like often depends on the citation style you use. The various organisations that have developed these citation styles sometimes also make specifications. Last but not least, it is important what your supervisor specifies. In all citation programmes, you can set very precisely what your bibliography should look like.


Citation is nothing too difficult

At first, citation may seem a little complicated. But once you’ve got to grips with it, it’s not difficult at all. Our blog post offers a good first point of reference. Most universities also provide advice on how to cite correctly and some have their own citation guidelines that you can use as a guide for your own academic work. So, you don’t need to be afraid of plagiarism as long as you follow the tips mentioned here.

We wish you every success with your next essay or thesis!


  1. American Psychological Association (Hg.) (2010). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Sixth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  2. Homepage der IEEE (Advancing Technology for Humanity). Zuletzt geöffnet am 05.06.2020.


  1. Univ. of Chicago Press (Hg.) (2010). The Chicago Manual of Style [The essential guide for writers, editors, and publishers]. Sixteenth Edition. Chicago, Ill. [u.a.]: Univ. of Chicago Press.