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Tips for Writing in North American Colleges: Writing from Sources Glossary


This handout is an introduction to the basics of academic writing conventions for students who are new to American colleges and universities.

Contributors:Michael Maune, Hwanhee Park, Ghada M. Gherwash, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodriguez-Fuentes, Andrew Yim, Nisha Nagarajan, Kaitlyn Neis, Tony Cimasko, Ashley Velázquez
Last Edited: 2014-12-11 11:24:16

This glossary includes several words and phrases that are useful when researching and citing sources. Many of these words are part of the metalanguage, or the specific vocabulary that we use to talk about how we research and cite sources, in a North American academic context.


An acronym that is short for the American Psychological Association. The American Psychological Association is one of the foremost academic associations in the social sciences in western academia, and they publish their own style manual for publications, which is updated almost every year.

Circa (c.)

 The word “circa” means “approximately,” and it is used mainly with dates. For example, a writer might explain that the social media website Facebook was created circa 2004. Circa is used when exact dates or times of year are not as important as the approximate year of the event.

Common knowledge

Information that has become mainstream in general or so widely known by the public domain that there is no need to be cited, e.g. the mass–energy equivalence formula is E = mc².  As this is widely known, there is no need to cite the Einstein’s articles in which he presented such information, because now it is common knowledge.

Credible Source

A publication, person, or other resource that provides accurate, clear, and reliable information about a particular topic, idea, or opinion. The credibility of a source affects the credibility of the writer citing information from that source. If a writer or student cites information from sources that are not credible, then their paper will not be very credible overall.  Generally, the most credible and reliable sources are those published in academic peer-reviewed journals. The most not credible and unreliable sources are sources written by people with no background or education in the topic or sources that can be easily edited by almost anyone (such as Wikipedia or social media).  Different fields of study and disciplines have different requirements for what constitutes a credible source, so writers should always consult the OWL, an instructor, or a knowledgeable advisor about the rules for credible sources in her or his area of study.


A citation in a works cited or references page at the end of a document. If a writer uses eight different sources in a paper, they should be cited within the paper (in the places where the information from those sources is used). Each of the eight sources should also be given an entry in the works cited or references page at the end of the document. The format and information included in the entry is dependent on the style manual the writer is using.

Foot Notes and End Notes

Extra information, usually giving citations or extra information, which the writer does not put within the main text of the document. Foot notes and end notes are usually marked within the text of the document by small numbers. These small numbers correspond to the citation or explanation at the bottom of the page (for a footnote) or at the end of the document (for an end note).


The space at the top of an electronic document. Most style manuals require the writer to put information in the header, such as last name and page number.


The space between the margin and the text in a document. Indentation is usually created in electronic documents by using the space bar or the “tab” key on the keyboard. In many types of writing, the first line of a paragraph is indented by one tab (five spaces). Indentation is also important when formatting long quotations, formatting works cited entries in MLA, and formatting outlines.

Kindle Books

A type of electronic book. “Kindle” is an electronic reading device created by the company Amazon. Kindle books are in a different format than other electronic books; however, many people can download a free version of a Kindle “e-reader” application on almost any electronic device in order to read a Kindle book.


An acronym that is short for the Modern Language Association. The Modern Language Association is one of the foremost academic associations in the humanities, literature, and linguistics in western academia, and they publish their own style manual for publications, which is updated almost every year.

Multi-volume Work

A book or publication that is published in two or more separate pieces. A publication may have multiple volumes because it has too many pages for just one piece. This is usually the case with encyclopedias. A publication may also have multiple volumes because each piece is published throughout the year at different times. This is usually the case with academic journals that are published multiple times each year.


The way the editor or publisher assigns pages to a publication. Pagination is very important for a multi-volume or multi-issue journal or other source. Generally, the editor or publisher assigns pagination by either starting at page 1 for each volume or issue or by continuing the page count throughout many volumes or issues. In the second method, the first page of a second volume of a publication will not be labeled as page one.  For example, if volume one ended with page 340, then the first page of volume two would begin with page 341.


To restate another person’s idea in the writer’s own words. A paraphrase must be quite different in vocabulary and word order, but it should still retain the original idea. Paraphrases should be cited to avoid plagiarism.

Parenthetical Citation

A set of parenthesis in which a writer puts information from a source in order to tell the reader where the information came from. Different style manuals require different information in a parenthetical citation. Different style manuals also state where the parenthetical citation can and cannot be place within a sentence.

Section Heading

A short, precise title for a part of a document. Some style manuals and reports require section headings to make it easier for the reader to find information quickly.

Signal Phrase or Lead-In Phrase

A word or words that introduce information from someone else. A signal phrase or a lead-in phrase comes before a quotation, paraphrase, or summary, and it includes citation information, like the author’s name, title of the source, the year the source was published. The word or words “signal” to the reader that the writer is using someone else’s ideas, and it “leads in” to the new information.

Signal Verb or Lead-in Verb

The active verb included in a signal phrase or a lead-in phrase. Depending on the style manual the writer is using, this verb could be in present tense, past tense, or in a conditional tense. Writers should select appropriate verbs with care to accurately represent the source they are citing.

Style Manual

A list of rules about how to research and write for academia or publication. There are several different types of style manuals, and each has different rules for the style of writing, citation, and overall format of the paper.


A message or entry on the social media website Twitter. Tweets are limited to 140 characters (letters, numbers, symbols, punctuation, and spaces). Some style manuals give specific ways cite tweets as sources. 

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