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Citation Methods

Make it easy for your reader to find your references


The Need for Proper Citation

Proper citation of the works of other people tells the reader where ideas you are using are using from other sources can be crosschecked.

Where sources of ideas are not cited, the reader can reasonably assume you are claiming credit for these ideas yourself. The reader may well know from their own experience that these ideas are from elsewhere, in which case you will have been found out.

Appropriately attributing ideas to the originator is a courtesy and ensures that the credit rests where it is due. Claiming credit for the work of others is stupid, because the reader may well know that this is not your work. Indeed, the reader may well be the originator of the ideas themselves.

Methods of Citation

The purpose of citation is to help the reader locate the original source, so the method of citing and providing references has to be clear, and there are several conventions to be observed in referencing.

Any written article must contain pointers in the main text to tell the reader where an idea comes from. Usually, steps are taken to minimise the detail of the reference in the main body of the text so an abbreviated version is planted — like a ‘flag’ — in the text. For example, the cited author’s name and the year of their publication. A full list of the citations should be provided (usually at the end) with full details of the reference that will enable the reader to locate the original source. The full reference is, in effect, an instruction for locating that source.

In order to be confident that sufficient information is provided to the reader. It is useful to adopt a conventionial and consistent method for citation. Publishers of journal articles, books and reports usually require their authors to adhere to specific referencing guidelines to ensure that bibliographies will be effective. Likewise, academic institutions and other organisations may have a required style referencing.

Failure to Cite Properly

Failure to cite properly gives rise to problems for a reader wanting to locate a document. This can be due to the author not providing sufficient information for locating the specific item referred to. It can be due to error in providing detail in a reference, for example the wrong year, a misspelled name or a wrong volume number. This means your reader can become frustrated, and this can dent your reputation for not showing due care in the preparation of your document.

You can see more about bibliographic databases in an appendix to our free downloadable PDF – Writing Great Reports. If you haven't already accessed this, just enter your email in the box on the right hand side of this web page and follow the instructions.

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