Imagine that you’ve just arrived for a meeting about a group project. You and your classmate Chad are early, so you chat about the project.
“I think we should do our project about how small businesses can take advantage of green technology tax incentives,” you say.
“That’s a great idea,” says Chad.
The rest of your group members arrive, and you begin to brainstorm ideas for your project. Before you can share your idea, however, Chad speaks up.
“I’ve been thinking that we should do something about green technology tax incentives. Maybe we could write about the ways small businesses can benefit,” he says.
Everyone thinks it’s a great idea and compliments Chad on coming up with it.
If this happened to you, how would you feel? Probably, you would feel angry that Chad had taken your idea and passed it off as his own, even if he didn’t use your exact words. Would you feel differently if Chad had told the group that it was your idea? Probably, right?
Citing is basically giving credit. If your source is well-cited, you’ve told the audience whose ideas/words belong to whom and exactly where to go to find those words.
Think of citation as a way of saying thank you. Lots of scholars, like Jesse Stommel and Pete Rorabaugh, say that it’s easier to understand citation when you think of it as saying thank you to those who have given you great ideas. In a blog post, Stommel says no one has truly original ideas, but that we should practice “citation, generosity, connection, and collaboration” to work with sources ethically.  .
Why Cite Sources?
There are many good reasons to cite sources.
To Avoid Plagiarism & Maintain Academic Integrity
Misrepresenting your academic achievements by not giving credit to others indicates a lack of academic integrity. This is not only looked down upon by the scholarly community, but it is also punished. When you are a student this could mean a failing grade or even expulsion from the university.
To Acknowledge the Work of Others
One major purpose of citations is to simply provide credit where it is due. When you provide accurate citations, you are acknowledging both the hard work that has gone into producing research and the person(s) who performed that research.
To Provide Credibility to Your Work & to Place Your Work in Context
Providing accurate citations puts your work and ideas into an academic context. They tell your reader that you’ve done your research and know what others have said about your topic. Not only do citations provide context for your work but they also lend credibility and authority to your claims.
For example, if you’re researching and writing about sustainability and construction, you should cite experts in sustainability, construction, and sustainable construction in order to demonstrate that you are well-versed in the most common ideas in the fields. Although you can make a claim about sustainable construction after doing research only in that particular field, your claim will carry more weight if you can demonstrate that your claim can be supported by the research of experts in closely related fields as well.
Citing sources about sustainability and construction as well as sustainable construction demonstrates the diversity of views and approaches to the topic. Further, proper citation also demonstrates the ways in which research is social: no one researches in a vacuum—we all rely on the work of others to help us during the research process.
To Help Your Future Researching Self & Other Researchers Easily Locate Sources
Having accurate citations will help you as a researcher and writer keep track of the sources and information you find so that you can easily find the source again. Accurate citations may take some effort to produce, but they will save you time in the long run. So think of proper citation as a gift to your future researching self!
Ethical Citation Beyond Giving Credit
Citation is also a time to think about what kind of sources you value and who you cite. One way to ensure that you have a thorough view of the issue is to look intentionally for scholars from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Sometimes, when you’re busy, it’s easy to reach for the first few sources that pop up in the database. But if all of these scholars are of the same demographic, (for example, if they’re all white males between 45 and 60), you’re likely missing an important perspective. Being intentional about who you cite will help you do more thorough analysis.
Other Challenges in Citing Sources
Besides the clarifications and difficulties around citing that we have already considered, there are additional challenges that might make knowing when and how to cite difficult for you.
You Learned How to Write In A Different School System.
Citation practices are not universal. Different countries and cultures approach using sources in different ways. If you’re new to the Canadian school system, you might have learned a different way of citing. For example, some countries have a more communal approach to sources. Others see school as “not real life,” so you don’t need to cite sources in the same way that you would on the job.
Arley’s note: If you’re not sure if you have citation right, you can always show me a draft.
Not Really Understanding the Material You’re Using
If you are working in a new field or subject area, you might have difficulty understanding the information from other scholars, thus making it difficult to know how to paraphrase or summarize that work properly. It can be tempting to change just one or two words in a sentence, but this is still plagiarism.
Running Out of Time
When you are a student taking many classes, working and/or taking care of family members, it may be hard to devote the time needed to doing good scholarship and accurately representing the sources you have used. Research takes time. The sooner you can start and the more time you can devote to it, the better your work will be.
Shifting Cultural Expectations of Citation
Let’s be honest: citation was WAY easier before the Internet came along. Most citation systems were created before the Internet, which is how we end up with strange work-arounds like having to count the paragraph numbers of an online source. Because of new technologies that make finding, using and sharing information easier, many of our cultural expectations around how to do that are changing as well. For example, blog posts often “reference” other articles or works by simply linking to them. It makes it easy for the reader to see where the author’s ideas have come from and to view the source very quickly. In these more informal writings, blog authors do not have a list of citations (bibliographic entries). The links do the work for them. This is a great strategy for online digital mediums, but this method fails over time when links break and there are no hints (like an author, title and date) to know how else to find the reference, which might have moved.
This example of a cultural change of expectations in the non-academic world might make it seem that there has been a change in academic scholarship as well, or might make people new to academic scholarship even less familiar with citation. But in fact, the expectations around citing sources in academic research remain formal.
- https://hybridpedagogy.org/the-four-noble-virtues-of-digital-media-citation/ ↵