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Citation Help

Footnotes, references, bibliographies, avoiding plagiarism & more.

1) It's required...

The conventions of academia – not to mention the assignment sheet for your paper – require that you cite your sources, so, from the get-go, it’s important to realize that no amount of grumbling to the contrary is going to alleviate you of this responsibility. Furthermore, that same responsibility will persist throughout your academic career and into many areas of your professional lives going forward, so it's important to embrace the practice and get a handle on it now.

2) It looks good...

By providing citations for ideas and concepts, figures and statistics, paraphrases and quotations, you demonstrate the considerable work that you’ve put into writing a strong and well-researched paper. It takes time and critical attention to select relevant supporting materials, and you want to be sure that you’re given credit for that effort. Crediting the work of others, happily, provides visual and tangible evidence of your own hard work as a researcher.

3) It provides credibility...

Citing dubious or unsound sources can undermine otherwise reasonable claims.Thoughtful and convincing arguments require trustworthy and authentic evidence to support them. By citing your sources, you reassure the reader that your evidence – and, by extension, your argument – is valid and reliable.

4) It's compelling...

Citations add authority and gravitas to your work by linking your evidence, arguments, and conclusions to well-regarded sources. Drawing on the work of significant figures in the discipline carries considerable rhetorical weight and clout. It also helps to demonstrate that you’ve investigated the problem thoroughly enough to understand who some of the key figures are in the discussion and that you've developed some understanding of the research tradition that backgrounds that discussion.

5) It puts you in the room...

As you advance in your academic and professional careers, you’ll want to be in on the right conversations. By reading, thinking about, and commenting upon sound and cogent sources, you demonstrate that you’ve entered into the discussion and that you’ve become an active participant in the investigation of a specific problem or issue. After all, you’re now immersed in the same resources that other key players are themselves utilizing.

6) It lights the way for others...

When you cite a work, you’re not just highlighting material that you’ve found useful as evidence or as a way of thinking about a problem. When you cite a work, you’re also creating a blaze that others can follow as they pursue the same sorts of problems and issues. In this way, citations offer a means of expanding that learned conversation across time and space to include those that have come before and those that will come afterwards.

7) It gives credit, where credit is due...

As we’ve seen, there are lots of good reasons to provide citations, and almost all of those, in one way or another, have the added benefit of enhancing your own work. But, perhaps, the most important reason to cite the work of others is simply because it’s the right thing to do. Other folks deserve to have their hard work recognized, just as you do, and that citation acknowledges both their contributions to the field and your own commitment to scholarly integrity and ethics. So, in a way, this, too, enhances your own work.

Bottom Line -- Communication

In their most fundamental form, citations are simply communication tools, allowing you to explain to others in a concise and standardized way what you used to develop your ideas, where you found your resources, and how others can find and use them, too.

Need more convincing, or, maybe, just some help and guidance? Check out these very useful resources.