Having to cite your sources may seem like a boring step in the writing process. It’s often tempting to avoid the task till the eleventh hour and end up in a hopeless rush to prepare a mistake-riddled list of citations at the end.
Save yourself the stress with these handy citation tips that can take your research paper to the next level.
1. Follow Your Style Guide
A style guide is a set of standards for writing and formatting a document. You’ll need one when you take up writing a research paper. Make sure you know which style guide you should use for your paper. Different styles follow their unique set of rules for formatting, in-text citations, and how to list reference entries.
Some of the most commonly used style guides used by academics are MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association), and CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style).
2. …and Be Consistent With It
Your style guide is usually determined by an instructor or faculty members of your department. Sometimes you may have to roll with different styles for different classes.
Whichever style you follow, make sure it’s consistent throughout the project. Double-check your citations at the end of your essay to ensure any last-minute improvements that may be needed before you turn in your work.
3. Be Careful With Period Placements
It’s strange to think that one misplaced period (.) could wreak havoc on your research paper — but welcome to the world of academia! Pay careful attention to where you’re placing your full stops and make sure they’re in line with the citation style you’re using.
For the majority of style guides, like APA and MLA, the period is almost always placed outside and after the parentheses (brackets). You can remember this by reminding yourself the citation belongs inside the sentence that it is referencing.
|Example: Professors report that many students struggle with period placement when citing texts (11 Tips to Do Proper Citation for Your Research Paper, 2021).|
4. If Needed, Cite Yourself
Self-plagiarism is an actual thing and you may be guilty of it without even knowing what it means. It may seem strange, but if you’re borrowing an idea from a previous paper you wrote, without appropriate citation, you’re plagiarising yourself.
Say, you’ve been active in a research field for some time and your present work is an extension of previous studies. In such cases, you can reuse data from one of your previous papers. Just remember to cite yourself just as you would cite the work of others.
5. Understand When to Cite Resources
When writing an academic paper, you’re researching and presenting other people’s ideas to help discuss your own. You need to clearly show what idea belongs to whom.
Whether you’re taking a direct quote, paraphrasing, or even referring to a general thought, you need to indicate the original source. It’s almost always better to over-reference than under-reference — otherwise, you risk plagiarizing.
You don’t need to cite facts. World War I is widely accepted to have started in 1914, so you wouldn’t need to cite this — unless you found someone arguing differently, of course!
6. Use an Online Citation Generator Tool
An online citation generator helps you to produce fully-formatted citations after you enter information about your sources. If you find yourself struggling to remember different styles or are battling to make sense of a whole stack of sources, a citation tool can be a godsend.
With these, you insert the source details into set fields, set your referencing style, and poof! A perfectly generated, error-free reference list will appear.
7. Determine the Types of Sources
In order to come up with a top-notch paper, chances are you will be looking at different kinds of sources: books, films, journal articles, etcetera.
While determining the types of sources is easy if you’re handling them physically, many resources today are produced digitally and available online. This means you may be looking at a chapter of a book inside a PDF on a website — confusing!
Always refer to a formal guide for your referencing style to help you decide.
If you’re truly unsure, ask a librarian. They’ll often know the answer or where to find out.
8. Cite as You Write (and Don’t Leave it Until the End!)
Once you’ve gathered all your resources and started writing your paper, make sure you’re completing your citations while you write. It can be tempting to write the paper first and worry about adding and formatting citations at the end but don’t be tempted.
By the time you finish your paper you may be washed out, and writing a good bibliography requires you to be attentive to details. So start early, write like a pro, and cite as you go.
9. Map Your In-Text Citations Against Your Final Reference List
Every time you include information from an external source, you need two things: an in-text citation/footnote, and a reference list/bibliography entry. But it’s often easy to pop in your in-text reference and then forget the full reference at the end.
This common mistake is easily avoided. Once you think you’re done, go back and map your in-text references or footnotes to each corresponding entry at the end. This simple check can save you a lot of hassle!
10. Avoid Repeat Referencing of the Same Source Multiple Times
Sometimes you might find yourself citing a source for virtually every sentence. Sometimes it might be the same source and you’ll end up feeling very repetitive.
In most referencing styles, you can get around this issue by making it clear that upcoming sentences will refer to one source. Write a lead-in sentence that refers to this source, and make sure to make it clear where the source’s thoughts stop and your own thoughts begin.
|Example: Clark (2010) suggests increased penalties and driver education could combat the issue. However, one of the most striking issues in Clark’s argument is…|
11. Cite the Right Amount
Should a 1,000-word essay include 10 sources or 100? There is no magic number for how many citations you should include in your essay, and more isn’t always better. What counts is how your use of sources improves your essay.
However, if you’re feeling really lost, your professor may be able to give you a rough indication of how many sources they might expect you include.
Writing a well-researched and perfectly formatted paper takes time. However, if you’re thorough with your style guide, careful with your formatting, and use some handy tips to up your research game, you’ll get an A+ — for your citation list at least 😉