When you’re writing a paper, referencing correctly is a must. You should have learned this somewhere along the way, but just in case it still confuses you, here is a minimal overview of what citations are and what citations do. Think of it as a 5-minute duct tape patch up. After all, citations are very likely a part of your grade. If you have learned this in the past and are making huge mistakes, ask your teacher or librarian. Consider this blog post a crash course, a refresher, and a general analysis that can save your skin when the only alternative is using the citations properly. As I write my blog for those of you who have a deadline looming, consider this as your last (minute) resort, however helpful I hope to be.
Do read How to Cite Sources & Not Steal Other People’s Research.
Different Styles and the General Idea
In short, citations prevent you from stealing someone else’s work and make sure you attribute all the ideas you’ve used to their respective owners. Not only is it a bad practice to pass someone else’s ideas off as your own, it’s a cardinal sin in academic writing. There are a few different styles of referencing. Whatever style you use depends on the following three things (in order):
- Teacher’s preference
- Academic field
- Your own preference
Even though all styles are different in how they appear on the page, the ideas are the same in every single one of them. After you use an idea that is not your own, you acknowledge that there is another author, and link that idea to the source you’ve used. When you’re summarizing a theory, using an example in the introduction, putting a quote in the conclusion, or referring to a book in your analysis section, you always have to use proper citations right after the idea or quote. It is very hard to overdo citations, so don’t hold back.
At the very end of your paper, you will provide a list of all the sources you’ve used. To make sure everything is included on this list, I recommended adding it right when you’ve used it. This prevents you from scanning your document later and most likely missing a source.
A Crash Course for now
I am going to demonstrate the style I’ve been using for years (APA) because it’s what I’ve grown comfortable with. Even if you’re supposed to use another style, using this will keep you out of plagiarism trouble and show that you understand the concept (again, a piece of advice for the readers among you who have looming deadlines). My long-term advice is to get yourself acquainted with the style which is most common in your field; you can always deviate a little from the strictest rules once you’re at a level where you can make judgment calls. Compare it to mastering an instrument: only if you understand the music, you can start to freestyle.
Here’s how it works: Once you’ve written a sentence with someone else’s idea, you acknowledge this (Author, 2014: 15), where the part within the parentheses stands for the author’s last name, the year of publication for the source you’ve used and the page number in that source, if applicable. When there are two authors, you name them both (Author and Writer, 2014: 15), and with more than two, you name the first and the fact that there are more (Author and others, 2014: 15). The amount of parentheses used in this very paragraph is quite typical for my own papers, so in some paragraphs, every sentence gets a citation.
In the Reference List at the end of your Paper, the Source would look something like this:
If the source is a book:
Author, F. N. (2014) ‘Title of the Publication’ City: Publisher
If the source is an article published in a journal:
Author, F. N. (2014) ‘Title of the Article’, in: Academic Journal , 10(2), 199-241.
If the source is a website:
Author, F. N. (2014), ‘Title of the Article or Page’, on: (website with http), visited on: date you visited the website
With the reference list, the same general principle applies: show that you’re trying to attribute others, and your mistakes are probably forgiven to a high degree (while you get acquainted with the more proper style of attributing that is expected of you). But not attributing at all is like trying to get away with murder.
Ways to catch up Speed
For a more comprehensive list of possible sources, check the Online Writing Lab’s list of basic rules (also a good place to start if you want to get really acquainted with APA and have a few hours to brush up).
For an overview of other styles used, a guide with the styles, and the field they’re commonly used in check this Oh My Essay page of the academic referencing resource.
Check out 8 Tips to Write a Marketing Research Paper.
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