A citation is essentially a reference to a source of information -- a book, an article, a webpage, or any other resource, physical or virtual. As such, it is a kind of avatar -- a summary, descriptive stand-in for the object itself.
The purpose of a citation or reference is two-fold. In the first instance, it is an attribution or recognition of the contributions of another researcher, commentator, or author to the work at hand. In the second instance, it is a pathway or, perhaps, a signpost leading others to that contributory source.
The allied questions of “what to cite and when to cite it?” can be difficult to disentangle, even for experienced researchers. So, let’s rattle off some basic rules…
No citation is necessary for:
Citation is necessary for:
It seems apparent from this brief list that citation confusion is most likely to arise in regard to the use of “paraphrases” and “significant ideas.”
As a literary technique, paraphrase allows the writer to convey in their own words an important thought or idea first proposed by someone else, while maintaining their own narrative flow. Stylistically, paraphrase may help to avoid a cumbersome overdependence on direct quotation. And, for the nascent researcher in particular, paraphrase may also allow the writer to work through and internalize key concepts and ideas in greater depth.
Yet, the paraphrase is consciously intended to communicate the essential meaning of the original passage, and, thus, must reference that passage clearly. Introductory phrases, like “According to Hoyle…” or “As Smithson argues…” or “Drawing on Howard…,” followed by a brief parenthetical reference, can substantially reduce misunderstanding. For example…
As Eisenstein suggests, traditional print media is likely to persist alongside newer digital formats for the foreseeable future (2011, 240).
The same sort of caution holds true when discussing “significant ideas” and theories proffered by others but integral to a writer’s evolving argument. For example…
While Morris is often portrayed as little more than a romantic idealist, recent scholarship suggests that he conducted his worldly affairs with considerable business acumen (Harvey and Press, 1992).
It’s important to remember that citations demonstrate to the reader that a work is well-researched and that the evidence presented is reliable and authoritative. In this sense, the use of proper citation should be seen as a boon to the writer, rather than an albatros.