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What is the difference between documentation, citation, and reference?

There is considerable overlap in how people use terms like document, cite, reference, quote, and the like. For the sake of consistency here, we will define these terms as follows:

  • documentation is the general practice of acknowledging sources by clearly indicating what you have borrowed and giving the proper bibliographic information for each source
  • a 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 provideproper bibliographic information
  • a reference is the bibliographic information that guides readers to your source.