Academic Writing

Citing sources

Introduction

One of the most important aspects of academic writing is making use of the ideas of other people. This is important as you need to show that you have understood the materials that you have studied and that you can use their ideas and findings in your own way. In fact, this is an essential skill for every student. Spack (1988, p. 42) has pointed out that the most important skill a student can engage in is "the complex activity to write from other texts", which is "a major part of their academic experience." For this reason, any academic text you read or write will contain the voices of other writers as well as your own.

In your writing, however, the main voice should be your own and it should be clear what your point of view is in relation to the topic or essay question. The object of academic writing is for you to say something for yourself using the ideas of the subject, for you to present ideas you have learned in your own way. The emphasis should be on working with other people’s ideas, rather than reproducing their words. If your view is not clear, you will be told you have not answered the question or something similar. It is essential therefore that it must always be clear whose voice is speaking.

There are two main ways in which you can show your view (Tadros, 1993):

negatively
  • lack of mention of any other writer
positively
  • first person pronouns ("I")
  • comments and evaluations ("two major drawbacks", "of no great merit", " as X insightfully states", )

It will always be assumed that the words or ideas are your own if you do not say otherwise. When the words or ideas you are using are taken from another writer, you must make this clear. If you do not do this and use another person's words or ideas as if they were your own, this is Plagiarism and plagiarism is regarded as a very serious offence.

The ideas and people that you refer to need to be made explicit by a system of citation. The object of this is to supply the information needed to allow a user to find a source.

You need to acknowledge the source of an idea unless it is common knowledge in your subject area. It is difficult sometimes to know whether something is common knowledge in your subject or needs acknowledging. In general, if your lecturer, in lectures or handouts, do not acknowledge the source you can assume that it is common knowledge within your subject.

The object of academic writing is therefore for you to present your ideas in your own way. To help you do this, however, you will need to use the ideas of other people and when you do this, you need to say where the words and ideas are from.

There are several reasons for this (See Thompson, 1994, pp. 178-187 for more information).

  1. You need to show that you are aware of the major areas of thought in your specific subject. This allows you to show how your contribution fits in, by correcting previous research, filling gaps, adding support or extending current research or thinking.
  2. You need to support the points you are making by referring to other people's work. This will strengthen your argument. The main way to do this is to cite authors that agree with the points you are making. You can, however, cite authors who do not agree with your points, as long as you explain why they are wrong. Do not make a statement that will cause your reader to ask, "Who says?"
  3. If you are a student, you need to show that you have read and understood specific texts. You need to show that you have read around the subject, not just confined your reading to one textbook or lecture notes.
  4. You must not use another person's words or ideas as your own so you need to say where they are from.

You usually do this by reporting the works of others in your own words. You can either paraphrase if you want to keep the length the same, summarise if you want to make the text shorter or synthesise if you need to use information from several sources. Do not forget, though, that the central line of argument, the main voice, should be your own. This means that you will need to comment on or evaluate any other works that you use. If you do not do this, you will be accused of being too descriptive, of not being critical or analytical enough, or of not producing a clear argument.

There are many ways of refering to other writers - check with your department for specific information.

  • The most common system is called the Harvard system. There is no definitive version of the Harvard system and most universities have their own. But the one used here - the American Psychological Association style - is well known and often used, especially in social sciences and business (American Psychological Association, 1983, 1994, 1999, 2001, 2010).
  • If you are a humanities student, click here or see Gibaldi (2003) and Modern Languages Association (1998) for another version of the author-date system.
  • Many scientists use a numerical system, often called the Vancouver style or BS 1629. Click here, see International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (1991) or Citing Medicine: The NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers (2nd edition) for more information.
  • Another common system is that defined in the Chicago Manual of Style. In fact the Chicago Manual of Style presents two basic systems: (1) a numerical system and (2) an author-date system. Choosing between the two depends on your subject and institution. See here or University of Chicago Press (2010) or Chicago Manual of Style.

Citing - APA style

There are two ways in which you can refer to, or cite, another person's work: a) by reporting or b) by direct quotation.

a) Reporting

This simply means reporting the other writer's ideas into your own words. You can either paraphrase if you want to keep the length the same or summarise if you want to make the text shorter. See Reporting: Paraphrase & Summary for more information. There are two main ways (Swales, 1990, p. 148) of showing that you have used another writer's ideas:

integral

According to Peters (1983) evidence from first language acquisition indicates that lexical phrases are learnt first as unanalysed lexical chunks.
Evidence from first language acquisition indicating that lexical phrases are learnt first as unanalysed lexical chunks was given by Peters (1983).

OR non-integral

Evidence from first language acquisition (Peters, 1983) indicates that lexical phrases are learnt first as unanalysed lexical chunks.
Lexical phrases are learnt first as unanalysed lexical chunks (Peters, 1983).

depending on whether or not the name of the cited author occurs in the citing sentence or in parenthesis.

If you want to refer to a particular part of the source:

According to Peters (1983, p. 56) evidence from first language acquisition indicates that lexical phrases are learnt first as unanalysed lexical chunks.

(At end of writing)

References
Peters, A (1983). The units of language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

b) Direct Quotation

Occasionally you may want to quote another author's words exactly. For example:

Hillocks (1982) similarly reviews dozens of research findings. He writes, "The available research suggests that teaching by written comment on compositions is generally ineffective" (p. 267).

(At end of your text)

References
Hillocks, G. (1982). The interaction of instruction, teacher comment, and revision in teaching the composing process. Research in the Teaching of English, 16, 261-278.

If you do so, keep the quotation as brief as possible and quote only when it is necessary. You must always have a good reason for using a quote - and feeling unable to paraphrase or summarise is never a good reason. The idea of an essay is for you to say something for yourself using the ideas of the subject; you present ideas you have learned in your own way. The emphasis should be on working with other people’s ideas, not reproducing their words. Your paper should be a synthesis of information from sources, expressed in your own words, not a collection of quotations. Any quote you use should not do your job for you, but should add something to the point you are making. The quote should support your point, by quoting evidence or giving examples or illustrating, or add the weight of an authority. It should not repeat information or disagree with your point.

Please note, though, that some subjects, for example chemistry, hardly ever use direct quotation (Robinson, Stoller, Costanza-Robinson & Jones, 2008, p. 545). Check with your department.

Reasons for using quotations:

  1. quote if you use another person's words: you must not use another person's words as your own;
  2. you need to support your points, quoting is one way to do this;
  3. quote if the language used in the quotation says what you want to say particularly well.

Reasons for not using quotations:

  1. do not quote if the information is well-known in your subject area;
  2. do not use a quotation that disagrees with your argument unless you can prove it is wrong;
  3. do not quote if you cannot understand the meaning of the original source;
  4. do not quote if you are not able to paraphrase the original;
  5. do not use quotations to make your points for you; use them to support your points.

If you decide to use a quotation, you must be very careful to make it clear that the words or ideas that you are using are taken from another writer.

This can be done in several ways, either integral or non-integral:

Widdowson (1979, p. 5) states that "there is a good deal of argument in favour of extending the concept of competence to cover the ability to use language to communicative effect."
According to Widdowson (1979),"there is a good deal of argument in favour of extending the concept of competence to cover the ability to use language to communicative effect" (p. 5).
According to Widdowson, "there is a good deal of argument in favour of extending the concept of competence to cover the ability to use language to communicative effect" (1979, p. 5).
According to one researcher, "there is a good deal of argument in favour of extending the concept of competence to cover the ability to use language to communicative effect" (Widdowson, 1979, p. 5).

(In all cases at end of your text)

References
Widdowson, H. G. (1979). Explorations in applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

When you are using a direct quotation of a single phrase or sentence, quotation marks should be used around the words, which must be quoted exactly as they are in the original. However, note the following:

  1. You may wish to omit some of the author’s original words that are not relevant to your writing. In this case, use three dots (...) to indicate where you have omitted words. If you omit any of the author’s original words, make sure you do not change the meaning.
He stated, "The ‘placebo effect,’ ... disappeared when behaviours were studied in this manner" (Smith, 1982, p. 276), but he did not clarify which behaviours were studied.
  1. If you need to insert material (additions or explanations) into a quotation, use brackets, ([...]).
Smith (1982) found that "the placebo effect, which had been verified in previous studies, disappeared when [his own and others’] behaviours were studied in this manner" (p. 276).
  1. If the material quoted already contains a quotation, use single quotation marks for the original quotation (‘...’).
He stated, "The ‘placebo effect,’ ... disappeared when behaviours were studied in this manner" (Smith, 1982, p. 276), but he did not clarify which behaviours were studied.
  1. If the direct quotation is long - more than two or three lines, it should be indented as a separate paragraph with no quotation marks.
According to Smith (1982, p. 276):
The "placebo effect," which had been verified in previous studies, disappeared when behaviours were studied in this manner. Furthermore, the behaviours were never exhibited again, even when real drugs were administered. Earlier studies were clearly premature in attributing the results to the placebo effect.

(In all cases at end of your text)

References
Smith, G. (1982). The placebo effect. Psychology Today, 18, 273-278.

Secondary sources

In all cases, if you have not actually read the work you are referring to, you should give the reference for the secondary source - what you have read. In the text, you should then use the following method:

According to Jones (as cited in Smith, 1982, p. 276), the ....

(At end of your text)

References
Smith. G. (1982). The placebo effect. Psychology Today, 18, 273-278.

Multiple sources

When you are citing two or more works by different authors within the same parentheses, list them in alphabetical order by the first author's surname. Separate the citations with semicolons.

A number of studies (Jones, 1989;  Peters & Smith, 1976; Smith, 2005; Young, 1963) found that …

refs