Why is it Important to Include Citations and References in Academic Writing?

    When you do any kind of research or academic writing, it’s critical to look at the work of those who came before you. But you can’t just read the work of others and casually incorporate it into your own writing. You need to clearly show where you obtained your information, and credit others for their ideas. Citations and references indicate where the ideas and facts in your academic writing came from, and are a critical part of writing a good academic paper. What are citations? Why are they so important to high quality academic writing? Let’s take a look.

    Citations and References: The Basics

    What are citations in writing? Citations are simply a way of showing where you got the information or ideas you have included in your paper. Any time you include someone else’s idea, data, or information in your paper, you should provide a reference, or citation, explaining where you obtained this information. Note that the words citation and reference can be used interchangeably and mean the same thing.

    What kind of information needs a research citation? Any time you reference quotations, opinions, theories, predictions, statistics or data, or case studies from another author, you need to include a citation. This includes experimental data, specialized research methods, tables or graphs, images, or anything else you derive from another source that is not your own original, unpublished work. Common knowledge, on the other hand, does not require a citation.  If you state that the Earth is round, Moon Jae-in is a former South Korean president, or Mumbai is the capital city of Maharashtra, you don’t need to provide a reference.

    Why Are Research Citations So Important?

    Why should you include research citations in your writing? There are several reasons. The first is to avoid plagiarism, or stealing someone else’s work. Plagiarism is not limited to directly copying someone’s words. Paraphrasing someone else’s ideas, data, or work without providing a citation is also a form of plagiarism.  Just like you wouldn’t steal a car, you shouldn’t steal someone else’s ideas.

    But plagiarism isn’t the only reason that you should make sure you properly cite your sources in your paper. Citing sources makes you a better writer, for starters. If you carefully note your sources by including clear and precise information, it will be more difficult to write vague statements or make unclear arguments. Since you need to search for quality sources, citation makes you a better researcher. It also helps avoid the passive voice, which is important in English writing for both clarity and brevity. Writing phrases like “some say” or “others have argued” leave your reader wondering if you got this idea from a published academic article or your aunt’s Facebook post. Proper citation lets readers know exactly where you obtained your information.

    Citation enhances your credibility for the same reason. If readers can understand where your information comes from, they will find it easier to decide whether your academic work makes sense. Other people can follow your thinking and may cite you as they build on your work. They can verify the facts of what you have argued and engage with the substance of your work. If you fail to properly cite your sources and include thorough references, readers may attack your work for being poorly researched without even considering the actual merits of your arguments.

    How Can I Learn to Properly Cite My Sources?

    Many writers find themselves struggling with proper research citation. This is because different journals and fields require different citation methods, and the differences between each method, while not major, are important. Many students and early career academics find themselves frustrated trying to figure out whether to use footnotes or endnotes, in-text citations, and how to format the bibliography section of their paper. Citation styles even dictate punctuation and how to render words in foreign languages, which can be quite overwhelming. How can you cite a book or podcast? Can I cite an abstract? What information needs to be included?

    All research citations include some basic information, such as:

    • author name(s)
    • titles of books, articles, and journals
    • date of publication
    • page numbers
    • volume and issue numbers (for journal articles)

    Can I Find Help to Cite My Sources?

    Thankfully, a number of services exist to assist writers with citation and references. Professional academic editing services are a great way to have someone else do the majority of the hard work of citations for you. Professional editors will format your citations according to your designated style guideline or the instructions of your target journal, and cross-reference your text to highlight any citations you may have missed. If professional editing is out of your budget, there are some reference or writing tools that can help with editing citations as well. Finally, if you want to get your published paper cited by more people, there are services for that too! They could convert your paper into a graphical or video abstract, a jargon-free lay abstract, or other media-friendly formats, to help you boost the reach and impact of your work.