Learning the proper formats for citing sources is one of the important things that students need to learn when writing research papers. There is a wide variation in formats from discipline to discipline that makes it necessary to pay careful attention to the citation style that is expected in the discipline you are writing in. Even within the field of music, citation styles are not always the same: for example, in music history and theory the Chicago Manual of Style gives the standard reference style for citation and other stylistic matters in these disciplines, whereas in music education a different standard, APA, is used. (See Style manuals and resources for more details.)
In some ways, a field of inquiry such as music history, music theory, or music education is like a conversation. When writing papers or doing research, it is important to find out what has already been written that is relevant to your topic, to provide a solid foundation for your own thinking and writing. In this sense new research builds on work that has already been done. In order to do find out what has been written that is related to your topic, it is important to know how to use the resources in the library (see Working with sources). Today’s web-based resources, including online databases and encyclopedias, make doing this kind of resources much easier to do than in the past. The amount of research that you should do is relative to your course and assignment. (If you are in doubt about this, ask your instructor for clarification.) However a paper must be more than a collection of things that you have read: it is important to reflect on the information you find and to develop your own ideas. In other words, your paper should be based on your own critical thinking, which can incorporate some of the sources that you have found.
If you wish, you can to include quotations, paraphrases, or summaries of some of the material that you have read. (See Quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing.) However you must cite or acknowledge, and give a reference for the source that you have used. If you don’t do this, you will be guilty of plagiarism, a very serious offense (see the Plagiarism entry on this website). Don’t assume that your professor won’t realize that you are quoting the work of others without giving them credit: Remember that your professor probably already knows any material that you have found, or can easily track it down on line! Quoting or paraphrasing from other sources is standard practice in academic writing, and shows that you have researched your topic, provided that you give your source(s) proper credit. This is sometimes done in the text itself, but in formal academic writing it is usually done with footnotes (see Footnotes and citations).