Credit Where Credit Is Due

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Most assignments that involve research also involve citation. Chances are, you’ve written papers that required a bibliography. This isn’t an empty exercise – this serves a very important purpose. Citation helps place your words and ideas in the continuum of academic thought – by writing, you are joining a conversation with other authors. Citing your sources makes clear who you are responding to. It also helps your own readers follow your train of thought, so they understand where and how you developed your ideas (that’s one reason why interviews or other intangibles are cited in-text but rarely in the reference list – no one who reads your paper would be able to double check something like an interview). And it upholds the tenants of intellectual honesty, ensuring that no one thinks you are passing off someone else’s work as your own. In a way, it also reflects on your seriousness as a scholar and writer.

There are several major styles for citation – if you’re taking a humanities class, you have probably encountered MLA style; and if you’re in a social sciences class, you’ve probably used APA style. These styles are about more than just the references lists at the end of your papers – they involve a whole philosophy of writing. Any type of style involves a lot of rules to standardize them, from margin and font size to running heads to actual content. But there’s often a lot of thought behind these rules, as well. For example, one area that the American Psychological Association was especially concerned with in the most recent edition is writing with respect for gender, race, age, disability status, and sexual orientation; and they have implemented measures for reducing the bias in language. That’s one reason why author names only include initials in APA citations – as much as possible, the intent is to obscure race and gender so that a reader has to engage with the ideas presented, rather than pre-judging the author based on some irrelevant criteria.

Still, this type of formality can be difficult to write with, if you’re not used to it. But there are lots of resources to help! We in the library and our colleagues in the Writing Center are glad to help you figure it out.  Then there are guides online, like the Online Writing Lab from Purdue University, which is the best source on the internet for MLA or APA style.  But even our research databases are built to help you. Most of them include an automatic citation generator that can give you an instant reference with the click of a button, like one of these:

These automatic citations can be an incredible time saver. But they can have errors – be sure to proofread them before copying them into your paper. The computer is very good at some things – italicizing the right things, putting periods and commas and parentheses in the right place.  But it isn’t always so good at recognizing proper nouns, so especially double-check its capitalization!

Learning how to cite is a vital part of the academic process. Citations make your work more substantial, and help build a place for you in the academic discourse!

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