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How to cite sources

In any of your written work for my classes, you need to document the sources from which you draw information. You do this so that a reader can follow up on your evidence and arguments. In academic research, scholars who want to find what other people have written about a topic usually “do a bibliography crawl.” They find a recent source who says something they want to know more about, and then find the sources on which that argument is based. This way they find other complementing or contrasting ideas and information on their topic. Citing sources is thus how we as authors contribute to the larger collective project of advancing knowledge.

In scholarly writing, you mainly refer to a source when you want to describe someone else's original idea or argument, or to bring in new information, to help you make your own point. There are many kinds of commonplace ideas and facts which do not need to be supported with a source. Usually anything that can be found by consulting a standard reference work like an encyclopedia does not need to supported with a source, e.g. The capital of Australia is Canberra, or even the date of Australian federation is January 1, 1901. These do not need to supported with a source because they are not disputed. The population of the world, though, should be supported because, in fact, precise estimates vary, and there are different ways to calculate an estimate based on different kinds of evidence. In other words, people are doing research to discover this fact, and it will matter to readers how this new fact was reported to you. Likewise, when you raise other people's new theses, theories, ideas and newly discovered information, you need to cite the source where you learned about it.

In your assignments for my classes, you normally do this by citing the source parenthetically in the text. There are two main kinds of in-text citations:

  • immediately after a direct quotation, in which case you provide the surname of the author of the quotation, the year of publication, and the page number;
  • at the end of a sentence which paraphrases or refers in passing to an original idea or new fact of another author, in which case you only need to provide the author and year of publication. (If the information you are citing is not a major concern of the whole book or article, then cite the page number on which it is found.)

The idea is to give as much guidance to readers as needed, but also be concise as possible, which is difficult to balance and usually requires a lot of practice. Discuss this with your tutors or me for more information.

If you cite your sources in the text, then you need to provide a list of the sources, so that people can find them. These are placed at the end of the text. This list has to provide readers all the information they will need to find the sources. We use a particular style so that we present the information in a structured way that makes it easy to use. Every item should always have an author, the date of publication and a title at an absolute minimum. Each item in the list starts with the author's surname or family name, followed by their given name and any initials. Since you are using the author's name as a key to the source, you have to organize the reference list alphabetically.

Several different styles have developed for citing sources and for describing each full reference to these works. Different disciplines often have a convention of using one publisher's style. Recently, the American Anthropological Association has decided that its journals would use the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition (“Publishing Style Guide” 2015; see “Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition” 2017). The choice of style is not really that important. The most important thing is to use one system of documenting your sources thoroughly and consistently. It's probably more important, and much more advantageous, to learn to use a bibliography manager, because then your computer can worry about what style you use and you can get on to collecting new sources and thinking about what they tell you.


“Publishing Style Guide.” 2015. American Anthropological Association. 2015. https://www.americananthro.org/StayInformed/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2044.

“The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition.” 2017. The Chicago Manual of Style Online. 2017. https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org.

the_quest/citing_sources.txt · Last modified: 2021/06/29 02:27 by