Columbia College

Home / Academics / Academic Resources

Academic Resources

There are a broad range of resources available to you that will assist you in making good academic decisions. Beyond the resources listed below, your adviser in the Berick Center for Student Advising and the faculty Director of Undergraduate Studies in your academic department can assist you in identifying more resources specifically geared to your interests and requirements.

You will do your best work when you genuinely learn from the intellectual challenges of classes, assignments, papers and examinations. It is your responsibility to identify the resources you need in order to successfully rise to these challenges.

Your Instructor

The first person you should ask any questions you may have about the expectations for a given class is the instructor.

Your Adviser

If you have general questions about academic integrity and the disciplinary process you should direct these to your adviser in the Berick Center for Student Advising. Your adviser can also assist you in identifying other campus resources that might be of assistance as you develop study skills and good work habits.

Citing Sources

What is a citation?

A citation provides enough information to enable a reader to find the same original source material. Typically, this will include author, title of text, date of publication, place of publication, and publisher.

When to cite sources

You must cite all sources that have directly or indirectly contributed to your analysis, synthesis, and/or argument in the work you submit.


You should quote your sources when it is important to convey the original author’s precise words.

  • If you use the exact text – words, phrases, sentences – you must enclose them in quotation marks and cite.
  • Short quotes – words and phrases – can be embedded into the text you write. Longer quotes – sentences and paragraphs – should be indented and separated from your words.


If you rewrite the original text in your own words, you must cite the source.


If you summarize the argument or data of another author, you must cite the source.


You must cite any text you read that helped you think about your paper even if you do not reference it directly in the text of your paper.

If a person assisted you in clarifying your thoughts – either in conversation or email correspondence – you must cite this source.

One way might be to acknowledge in a footnote connected to your paper’s title or opening sentence your indebtedness to a book or person (noting the date(s) of any relevant conversation or correspondence). Alternatively, for a more significant piece of work – such as an independent study or senior thesis – you can include a paragraph of acknowledgements, noting the range of assistance you received from many people.

Common Knowledge

Common knowledge is information that a reader can reasonably be expected to know. It does not need to be cited.

  • For example, “Barak Obama, the President of the United States, was a student of Columbia College” can be considered to be common knowledge and does not need to be referenced.

However, common knowledge does not include opinion.

  • For example, you might agree with the statement “Columbia College is the best college” – but this is an opinion, not common knowledge and to make this case you would have to cite sources and data that support the supposition.

You should therefore be careful in the assumptions that you make in assessing what might be considered common knowledge.

Moreover, what might be common knowledge in one discipline might not be common knowledge in another discipline. It is important, then, to learn from your instructor the expectations for citing common knowledge in any given class.

If in any doubt, err on the side of caution and cite your source.

How to Cite Sources

Learning to cite correctly can be challenging. There are many different citation styles, which are often discipline- or division-specific. You should seek guidance from your instructor or TA to ensure that you understand the citation expectations for any given class.

The most common citation styles are:


Modern Language Association (MLA)

Mathematics and Science

American Chemical Society (ACS) – Chemical Sciences

American Institute of Physics (AIP) - Astronomy, Astrophysics, and Physics

Council of Science Editors (CSE) – Biological Sciences

Mathematics and Computer Science

Social Sciences

American Anthropological Association (AAA) – Anthropology and Ethnography

American Psychological Association (APA) – Social Sciences

Chicago Manual of Style – History


An invaluable online resource is Charles Lipson’s book “Cite Right: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles – MLA, APA, Chicago, the Sciences, Professions, and More.” Published in 2008 by University of Chicago Press, this book is available electronically through Columbia Universityiess Libraries.

In addition, Anice Mills, undergraduate services librarian, in 205 Butler Library, can help you create bibliographies and cite sources using a variety of citation styles and software, and can also help you do ethical research with proper citations.

Evaluating the Credibility of Your Sources

Remember, your use of sources is a means of supporting the argument you make. This means that the sources you reference need to be credible and authoritative. How do you know that your sources are of value? Start by asking yourself the following questions. For further guidance, Anice Mills, undergraduate services librarian, in 205 Butler Library, can help you evaluate online sources for credibility.

Where was the source published?

  • Is it in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal (i.e. an article that is evaluated by other experts in the field) or published by a university press, professional society, or scientific publisher (all of which also operate peer-review processes)? These texts will have scholarly credibility.
  • Was the source published on-line? This is not necessarily bad, but it will depend on who published it, why it was published, and how you intend to use the material. For example, there are on-line journals that utilize peer-review thus providing greater credibility to the publication. But there are many articles published under the guise of scholarly work, by individuals claiming expertise but which are of highly questionable credibility. If you have doubts about an on-line source, you can discuss it with your instructor or TA and you can elect not to use it.

Who wrote it?

You can undertake brief on-line research into the author. Is the author affiliated with a university or another institution? What else has the author written? Citation databases will also tell you the number of times this source has been cited by other academics, giving you further insight into its credibility.

Is the piece timely and appropriate for its field?

In some disciplines, material can become outdated very swiftly. In others, texts can continue to be considered valuable for longer. You should search for additional texts on the topic to find related sources, sources in which this source is cited, and sources that cite this source in order to get a stronger picture of its intellectual relevance and value.

For whom is the source written?

Is the intended audience a scholarly one? If so, it should have a clear bibliography that you will also be able to consult for further sources.

Will you use the source as a primary or secondary text?

If the material does not measure up to expected standards of scholarly work, it may still be of use to you. But as a primary text – that is to say, a text that needs to be analyzed – rather than a secondary text – which is a text that might support your argument or provide a theoretical framework for your analysis, for example.

Library Resources for Undergraduates

The Columbia University Libraries offers a full range of resources and services to support all aspects of undergraduate study. Librarians can help you find the best print and electronic resources, and teach you how to use bibliographic software as well as other tools that will help you organize and manage information. To learn more, visit Undergraduate Library Services and the Undergraduate Library Guide to Getting Started.

There are also a variety of discipline- or field-specific libraries which will provide access to the literature and resources most relevant to your major. 

For additional help with any of your study needs, contact Anice Mills, undergraduate services librarian:


Recognizing that health and stress can have a significant impact upon your academic performance, Alice! Health Promotion offers Stressbusters, a group of student volunteers who help to promote positive stress coping strategies among Columbians. Teams of students deliver free neck and back rubs at events throughout the academic year, including regularly recurring events.

Study Skills and Work Habits

Some of the most important factors that protect you from intentionally or unintentionally committing an act of academic dishonesty are developing good study skills and establishing good work habits.

Study Skills

In order to do your best work, it is important that you become skilled in:

  • Listening
  • Concentrating
  • Note-taking
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Time management
  • Organization and planning

Good Study Habits

Similarly, there are simple actions you can take that help you to make the most of your studying. For example:

  • Identify your most productive times of the day – schedule study sessions at this time
  • Identify goals for each study session
  • Plan to study your hardest subjects first
  • Find a calm space for studying, away from distractions
  • Vary activities
  • Take regular breaks
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Before each study session, review notes
  • After class, review notes
  • Identify what you don’t understand and sources for clarification, such as attending office hours with the instructor or TA.
  • Plan your work well ahead of deadlines

Tutoring and Help Rooms

The CSA Tutoring Service offers free tutoring for all Columbia College and Columbia Engineering students in a range of introductory math and science courses. Qualified and trained peer tutors assist students with mastering their course content and maximizing their potential for academic achievement. When combined with regular attendance of classes and recitations, visits to professors' office hours, use of departmental Help Rooms and formation of peer study groups, tutoring serves as a proactive step for students to ensure academic success.

The Writing Center

The Writing Center, in 310 Philosophy, provides writing support to undergraduate and graduate students in the Columbia community. In one-on-one consultations and workshops, consultants offer feedback and strategies to help students improve at every stage of their writing, from brainstorming to final drafts. Questions? Email the Writing Center at