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Academic Coaching & Writing

VI. The Importance of Following Guidelines for Citing and Documenting Sources

Sep 29, 2013 by Dr Sally

In the last blog entry, you learned when and how to paraphrase and quote the work of others. In this blog, you will learn the importance of citing such work correctly and following the documentation style you need to use for the citations. Pay attention to any guidelines your department provides because, in all likelihood, you are expected to follow these guidelines.

If you recall from the first blog, the literature review helps to establish your authority on your topic. The citations you choose situate you within the existing academic conversation on your topic, and your audience will evaluate your sources to determine the credibility of your ideas. Ensure that your sources are current, reliable, and respected within your field. Do not leave out seminal writers simply because they do not support your argument. Instead, note the contributions and shortcomings of those who differ from you.

Do not underestimate the importance of using the proper citation and reference guidelines. Imagine how frustrated you would feel if your writing were returned to you for improper citations and your ideas were never considered because of this oversight on your part. Learning the citation system used in your discipline is a critical part of your academic training.

Guidelines for Citing Sources

You are required to give credit to the sources you use in conceptualizing and writing your literature review. Citing sources not only gives credit where it is due but also allows your reader to locate the sources you have consulted. In other words, your reader needs to be able to use the source information you provide to track down your sources if he or she wants to.

Guidelines for Choosing a Documentation Style

A documentation style is a standard approach to the citation of sources that you have consulted, abstracted, or quoted from. Different academic disciplines use different documentation styles. Therefore, it’s important that you understand the documentation style used in your discipline or institution and apply it consistently. If you are unsure, just ask. A great place to start is with your school’s librarian.

Choosing the appropriate documentation style depends on the requirements of your project, discipline, and department. Generally, if you are writing in a humanities discipline, you will use the MLA style, from the Modern Language Association. If you are writing in the behavioral or social sciences, you will use the APA style, from the American Psychological Association.

The documentation styles for citations and references have numerous differences. Look at these examples of an MLA and an APA reference for a journal article with multiple authors and see how many differences you can find:

MLA Example

Crum, Karen S., Whitney S. Sherman, and Steve Myron. “Best Practices of Successful Elementary School Leaders.” Journal of Educational Administration 48 (2010): 48-63. Web. 18 Aug. 2012.

APA Example

Crum, K. S., Sherman, W. H., & Myran, S. (2010). Best practices of successful elementary school leaders. Journal of Educational Administration, 48, 48–63. doi:10.1108/09578231011015412

You are expected to demonstrate your scholarship by using the appropriate sequence of information, punctuation, capitalization, use of italics, and other guidelines.

It is highly recommended that you obtain the most recent edition of the style manual that you are required to use. As you are learning the system used in your discipline, there are many online guides that can help you.

Online MLA Formatting and Style Guide

Online APA Style Guide

Overview of how to use the APA citation and reference system

This is the last blog entry in this literature review series. You are ready to begin your review. Think about it as a means for establishing the relevance and credibility of your research. Focus on analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating the works of others rather than summarizing their work. Experiment with the tools described in the third blog in this series to help you analyze and synthesize the work related to your topic. Determine the structure you will use for your review of the literature. Paraphrase the ideas of others unless there is a critical need to use their exact words. Finally, take the time to learn the rules of proper citation and referencing required in your discipline. If you use these practices, you are on your way to establishing the viability of your ideas and your credibility as a researcher.


  • Datuk Dr. Beatrice Baikan says:

    Jun 06, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    Thank you for this blog. It really helps me to evaluate students thesis and dissertation.

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