Ah, yes, citing sources, the great bane of undergraduate students and the great headache of graduate students. When the stuff you write is based on other stuff, you need to cite. Most likely, your professor/department asks you to cite that stuff using the American Psychological Association (APA) citation style or the Modern Language Association (MLA) citation style. Your discipline may have its own citation style (e.g., American Political Science Association; American Anthropological Association). Whatever the style, it can be a headache for new and returning graduate students.
Why does citation give people so much trouble? I foresee two reasons why citation evokes such bad vibes.
- Citation reminds us of plagiarism. The academy drills the dangers of plagiarism, reminding all students (both graduate and undergrad) that committing it will result in expulsion, excommunication, bankruptcy, car breaking down, pets dying, etcetera to absurdum. In my experience, most instances of plagiarism are a result of a lack of understanding, not some evil motive to cheat.
- Citation manuals are long and boring. Though the APA and MLA manuals are extensive, as they should be, they're also a unique cure for insomnia. Their length and depth, unfortunately, make citing sources seem like a complicated process.
Reference Pages Are No Longer the Big Concern
During my undergraduate career, it was the dreaded reference page (APA) and the Works Cited page (MLA) that was difficult. Remembering where to put the commas, the periods, the order of authors, the editors, yada yada made it an absolute nightmare to type out in hand.
In-Text Citations Are The Problem!
Based on my experiences as a tutor, instructor, and presenter in higher education, in-text citations are by far the most common difficulty with citation. Let's banish this issue for APA (we'll do MLA later) right now. Ready?
There are only 4 general patterns for in-text citations in APA. You read that right. There are only four ways of citing.
These 4 patterns of citation can be broken down further: 2 types for paraphrasing and 2 types for directly quoting.
Let's take this hypothetical example: "Citation is extremely challenging for newer writers, particularly novice researchers, in the academy" - Billy Smith on page 14 in a 2010 publication.
When citing in APA, one needs a few things:
- The author's last name
- The year of publication
- Page number (when directly quoting).
So, when paraphrasing, only two possible means of citing are possible:
- Smith (2010) argues that citation can sometimes be difficult for budding writers.
- Citation can prove difficult for students new to the undergraduate and/or graduate education (Smith, 2010).
Take aways: The writer has two choices here: include the author in the sentence (paraphrase 1) or don't (paraphrase 2).
That's it for paraphrasing, but what about directly quoting? The same patterns apply with the addition of a page number:
- Smith (2010) argues, "citation is extremely challenging for newer writers" (p. 14).
- Though structure is typically the primary topic in writing pedagogy, "citation is extremely challenging for newer writers" (Smith, 2010, p. 14).
In sum, use this checklist to ensure you properly cite in-text:
- Do I have the author(s') last name(s)?
- Do I have the year of publication?
- Am I paraphrasing or directly quoting?
- If directly quoting, do I have a page number?
Question: What if a source has more than one author?
Answer: Add an ampersand when writing in parentheses: (Smith & Smith, 2010, p. 14)
Question: What if I'm citing multiple sources in a single sentence?
Answer: Use a semi-colon to separate the two citations: (Smith & Smith, 2010; Dale & Smith, 2010).
Reader Question: What are your difficulties with citation?