- Give credit to the original ideas of others through paper attribution and citation.
- Explain the rationale for citing information sources.
- Identify instances of plagiarism and copyright infringement, including with the use of images.
- Identify interested parties, such as scholars, organizations, governments, and industries, who might produce information about a topic and then determine how to access that information.
- Match information needs and search strategies to appropriate search tools.
- Manage searching processes and results effectively.
- Correctly cite an information source.
- Characterize common citation styles.
Why Cite Sources?
is something that we do almost every day, whether or not we’re aware of it. We may think of citation as a requirement for papers and assignments, which is one function of citation, but it has several purposes. In the sciences, what does it really mean to your sources and why bother?
The rationale for citing carefully is to:
- Provide the details of your research path for others to follow so that they can find the materials and read/learn/think for themselves
- Establish credit to your sources of information (definitions, other scholars’ concepts, statistics) and avoid plagiarism
- Show you have read widely and creatively as per the expectations of the discipline
- Demonstrate you have learned from the work of people who studied the topic before you
- Give voice to a diversity of authors
- Actively participate in the scholarly conversation. Go you!
Whenever we share a story or link on social media, we are citing—including information about the source—such as where it can be found online. Very simply, this information allows others to find the original source and identify where it came from. If someone is curious about the story you shared, they can read the original post and possibly follow links in that story (i.e. citations) which will lead to other discoveries. Citation helps us to find information. If you are reading a news article about a scientific study, check to see if the article provides a link to the scholarly journal article where the study was published. This link is a form of citation that will help lead you to the original information.
Copyright Infringement and Credit
An important function of citation is to identify the original creators of an information source and to give them credit. Legally and ethically, It is important to not give the direct or indirect impression that someone else’s work or ideas were written or created by you. When you hear the term plagiarism, it refers to this phenomenon. For example, some of the content in this chapter was created by people other than the listed authors, and to avoid plagiarism, we gave credit to the original authors through citation at the end of the chapter in the “Attributions” section. It is crucial to use proper citation to indicate where that source material or idea originated. If you use copyrighted work in your own creations without citation, it is a copyright infringement—a legal issue—in addition to the ethical issue of plagiarism.
Take this quiz from Turnitin to learn more about plagiarism and copyright infringement!
The Use of Images
Images are easily available for download, but when can you use images in your own works? For text, a brief quote can be used in your work, but images do not work this way. Using an image that is protected by copyright is similar to taking an entire article, adding a citation, and then putting your name on the work.
There are two main types of licenses that images (and text) can have:
Copyright is a legal term that refers to the person (or people) who own and distribute a piece of information. The copyright holder has rights to that material, and if others use the material without getting permission first, they may be in violation of copyright. This isn’t good (!) and can result in fines. What’s the most important thing you need to know about copyright? Simple: If something is copyrighted, you can’t use it without getting permission; this may involve paying for permission. For example, the author contacted the original creator of the images in the Biodiversity chapter to obtain permission, which the original creator gladly gave.
Creative Commons is a not-for-profit organization that collects all sorts of materials and makes them available to the public for free use. When a user creates a piece of content (writing, art, photography, or just about anything), they may choose to put a Creative Commons license on the material (this textbook, for example, has a Creative Commons license). The license explains how people share, remix, repurpose, or in other ways use the material. As a student, the Creative Commons has made a world of materials available to you. If you use any of the materials in your work, you should include the “Creative Commons” license in your source citation.
The Use of Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is continually advancing, and programs can now generate complex images and essays. Should they be used in article development? The use of AI clients without acknowledging said use is problematic. Without that acknowledgment, readers assume that the author, not the generator, created the content of the article. However, can AI be used if that acknowledgment is made? A few articles have already included generators, like ChatGPT, as co-authors, but is this okay? (see this article (doi.org/10.1371/journal.pdig.0000198) for an example) While students are expected to be the sole creators of their submitted assignments, and therefore, cannot ethically use generators without approval, scientific articles do not have that stipulation. Having a generator as a co-author is a current ethical controversy in the scientific community (Ansari, 2023; Stokel-Walker, 2023).
Moreover, the use of AI for finding sources is currently problematic. Some AI tools, such as ChatGPT 3.5, make up sources. For those tools that can find sources, it is still unclear how they select them, and this can cause issues. For example, bias can be amplified if an AI tool is only identifying sources most commonly cited- see the next section on citation networking to learn why this is a concern. See this MSU Library Guide and the video below to learn more about how AI impacts equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Scientific Conversation and Citation Network
Citation also serves to show a record of how other sources impacted the current source. Scientific research articles published in always provide a list of citations, which show where the ideas, techniques, and studies were built upon by the current research. This reference creates a sort of paper trail that helps other scientists better evaluate the new study and see how it fits with previous research. By providing a list of references, an author invites other scientists to see for themselves if the ideas the author cites are supported by evidence, if the assumptions he or she makes are justified, and if the techniques described by others have been properly implemented. In this way, citation functions as a record of a conversation: how other scientists’ work speaks to and informs new work.
Because the bibliography at the end of a scientific article provides a list of relevant works, it is often used by scientists to find citations for their own articles. That is, while developing a research study and writing an article, a scientist finds a related article to cite and then scans the article’s bibliography to find additional articles. The scientist may also search for articles that have since cited that original article. This is referred to as “citation chaining;” see the one-minute video below for a visual representation of this process.
Using a “citation chain,” as shown in the above video, does help in fast-tracking the search for cited information, but it also causes a predicament. Whichever articles were not identified by the original author will continue to be left out of the “citation network.” Therefore, the most commonly cited articles may not necessarily be the “best.” It might be that they are written by others that the original authors knew or they were the easiest to locate given their journals of publication or keywords. This is especially concerning for “historical” articles, as women, people of color, and people of other marginalized groups were purposely not cited. Therefore, articles that are deemed “historical” may not represent the diverse voices of the scientific community. The video below describes the implications of citation networking in more detail. See this article (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701130) for an example of what scientific networking via citations can look like (note that I, the textbook author, was a colleague of the authors of the article and knew of this article because of that connection; I did not search for articles and happen upon this one).
For closed captioning or to view the full transcript of the above video, click on the “YouTube” link in the video (or click here) and view the video on YouTube.
Note that a network built through citations also happens in social media. A friend likes a post, you see that your friend liked it so you read it. You also like it, and then your friends see the post, and so on. Posts with the most “likes,” similar to the most commonly cited scientific articles, are the most popular but not necessarily the “best” or most reliable.
There are many ways to find both popular and scholarly sources, including Google and Google Scholar. You also have the option of beginning your search through your school’s Library website (e.g., MSU Libraries). There are two main advantages to using the Libraries’ search as your starting point, especially for scholarly or journal articles. The Libraries’ search can make it easier to narrow and sort your searches by type of article or subject. You will also have automatic access to articles to which the library subscribes. Often when you are using Google or Google Scholar, you may be asked to pay or log in to view the whole article (full-text). If you start at a school library’s page, you typically just need to enter your school ID and password to get access.
Given the implications of citation networking described in the previous section, create a citation diversity statement before beginning your search. Which identities would you like to cite more and why? As you search for articles and other information sources to cite, keep track of how many authors come from these communities. Once you complete your research, consider if you feel that you were successful in your goals, or, if you were not, what were the impediments that you faced? What do your search strategies and findings tell you about citations? MSU Libraries developed a guide for finding articles by diverse scientists.
For each source that you use, you will want to keep track of certain types of bibliographic information to include in your citations, including the authors, the year it was published, the title of the work, and the publisher (and/or the URL). The order of the bibliographic elements is prescribed by the citation style, which is a convention for the sequence of information and punctuation used. People write for different purposes and different audiences. Citation styles reflect these differences by specifying:
- How to structure the elements (such as date and title) within a citation and
- All of the details that should be included in the bibliography, which goes at the end of your essay with the header “References,” “Works Cited,” or “Bibliography,” depending on the citation style.
Citation styles force researchers to standardize the content and format of their citations and references. When the title and date are always found in the same place in every citation, research is a bit easier because the information is presented in a consistent way. Whether you are citing print books or YouTube videos, this protocol of scholarly conversation is an efficient way to discuss and share sources.
|Style||Organization||Fields where used||Features|
|AP||Associated Press||Print journalism, public relations||Quotations and paraphrases are integrated using signal words but without citations or reference list|
|APA||American Psychological Association||Academics, business, education research, social sciences, some engineering||In-text citations with publication date focus (Author, year); reference list alphabetical by authors’ surnames|
|Chicago (CMOS) or Turabian||University of Chicago Press||Humanities, sciences, social sciences||2 systems: (i) notes and bibliography (footnotes /endnotes with superscript numbers); and (ii) author-date (in-text citations similar to APA)|
|CSE||Council of Science Editors||natural science, mathematics, physical science||3 systems: name-year (like APA); citation-sequence (like IEEE with superscript numbers); and citation-name (citations and reference list alpha by authors’ surnames with superscript numbers)|
|IEEE||Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers||Technical fields such as computer science and some engineering,||In-text citations with bracketed numbers referencing bibliography entries; numeric reference list in order sources appear in text|
|MLA||Modern Language Association||Humanities, especially language and literature||Author-page in-text citations; works cited list alphabetical by authors’ surnames|
A list of common citation styles and their corresponding organizations, fields of use, and highlighted features. Note that the links in the above table provide examples of how to cite various sources, such as journal articles, book chapters, and videos. What is missing, however, is how to cite Indigenous oral sources, whose knowledge has often been passed verbally and critically evaluated from generation to generation for hundreds of years. See MacLeod (2021) in the references at the bottom of this chapter for more information and templates.
In science, the most common sources are scholarly journal articles written by scientists (see the “Information Communication” chapter for details on the types of media). The next section contains an example of a scholarly journal article with the pieces of information that you need to create the citation listed and highlighted. The example comes from Marcyk and Moll’s Information Literacy Badges.
Scholarly Journal Article
To cite a scholarly journal article, you’ll need to collect the following pieces of information:
- Date when the article was published
- Title of the article
- Title of the journal
- Volume and issue number
- Page numbers where the article appears
- DOI (alphanumeric code) or URL (website address) of the article
These pieces of information are highlighted in the following image, and the completed APA-style citation is listed beneath the image.
Completed APA Style Citation:
Fritt-Rasmussen, J., Wegeberg, S., & Gustavson, K. (2015). Review on burn residues from in situ burning of oil spills in relation to arctic waters. Water, Air and Soil Pollution, 226(329), n.p. https://doi-org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/10.1007/s11270-015-2593-1
For the following citation, match the different parts to their descriptor.
Colla, S. R., & Packer, L. (2008). Evidence for decline in eastern North American bumblebees (hymenoptera: Apidae), with special focus on bombus affinis cresson. Biodiversity and Conservation, 17(6), 1379-1391. doi:10.1007/s10531-008-9340-5
For more practice with citations, you can go through the Information Literacy Badges‘ self-guided lesson.
In addition to creating a reference list, citations are also provided within the text itself. This is so that readers know which information comes from which sources. Even if only one source is used, in-text citations are still necessary as they help decipher which ideas belong to you and which come from an outside source.
There are two main ways to create a citation within the text:
- Include the authors’ last names and publication year in parentheses after the text that is being cited, but before the punctuation mark at the end of the sentence. Here are a few examples
- one author: (Bierema, 2021)
- two authors: (Bierema & Miller, 2021)
- three or more authors: (Bierema et al., 2021)
- Include the author’s name within the sentence, followed by parentheticals that include the information source’s publication year. Examples:
- Johnson (2023) investigated…
- In a recent investigation, Johnson (2023) found that…
Most often, the first option is used. This places emphasis on the content rather than the author. It also often makes it easier to read. However, it is occasionally fitting to highlight who developed, investigated, or theorized the content being cited, and in these cases, the person or people are identified in the text itself. When is it appropriate to highlight specific scientists? According to Guzmán and Amrute (2019), in their article “How to Cite Like a Badass Tech Feminist Scholar of Color,” using a scientist’s name in the text itself is a way to let them “shine.”
Writing an essay begins with gathering evidence — reading, looking for themes and patterns, following leads to other texts, and taking notes. As you read the work of other scholars and think about your approach to the topic, make it a habit to keep track of where you found the ideas and themes that spark your interest. Always note the author, date, and title in your notes to ensure you can find that source again. Keeping careful track also reduces errors in your final bibliography, which is a key part of your essay. Details are important. Citations include names of people, titles, dates, and volume numbers. Formatting styles including punctuation.
These details are easy to keep track of when you use a citation manager. Citation managers (a.k.a. reference managers) are software programs that allow you to save and organize your citations, and quickly create bibliographies for your assignments. Using a digital tool will save you so much time when referring back to your sources and writing your paper and preparing your bibliography.
Ansari, T. (2023 January 13). ChatGPT makes literary debut, it’s now a published author. Analytics India Magazine PVT LTD & AIM Media House.
Guzmán, R. L., & Amrute, S. (2019 August 22), How to cite like a badass tech feminist scholar of color. Data & Society.
MacLeod, L. (2021). More than personal communication: Templates for citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers. KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.18357/kula.135.
Marcyk, E. & Moll, E. Citation as conversation. Information Literacy Badges. https://informationliteracybadges.org/
Stokel-Walker, C. (2023 January 18). ChatGPT listed as author on research papers: Many scientists disapprove. Nature News.
This chapter is a modified derivative of the following articles:
The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
Understanding Science. 2020. University of California Museum of Paleontology. 11 June 2020 <http://www.understandingscience.org>.
Write Here, Right Now: An Interactive Introduction to Academic Writing and Research by Ryerson University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Table 1 is from (Mindful Technical Writing: An Introduction to the Fundamentals (Chapter: Selecting a Style Guide) by Atkinson & Corbitt 2021 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA.
A special thank you to Jodi Coalter, Life Sciences Librarian at Michigan State University, for her feedback and expertise regarding citation justice.
In science publishing, a reference to another published scientific work that provides the information necessary to locate that work. Through citations, the scientific community expects its members to give credit to the ideas, techniques, and studies of other scientists that influenced or informed a particular investigation.
In science publishing, to give credit to the previous work of other scientists — usually through a list of references, or citations, at the end of a scientific article. Through citations, the scientific community expects its members to give credit to the ideas, techniques, and studies of other scientists that influenced or informed a particular investigation.
A scholarly source that contains articles written by scientists publishing their work. It is a detailed record of specific research, and it's been authored by the scientists who did the work.