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Academic Writing 5 – Citation skills

Welcome back to Academic Writing – the course with the tips and tools to get you on course for writing success. This time we're looking at how to refer to other people's work – sometimes called 'source material' – in your academic writing.

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Ready to reference?

Let's imagine you're writing an essay. You're doing well: you've already done all the research and decided how to structure your argument. But there's a problem. You need to reference other people's work in your essay – this is known as 'citation'. You're just not sure how to do it correctly. You know that you can't just copy it directly without acknowledging the source: that’s what we call 'plagiarism', and plagiarism can get you into serious trouble. So what should you do? Scroll down for our activities to get you referencing like a professional – starting by having a look at quoting!

How to quote correctly

Let's say you're writing an essay about the significance of fire in early human society. You want to refer to a book called 'Sapiens', by historian Yuval Noah Harari. You think he expresses a relevant point on page 13:

Original text
When humans domesticated fire, they gained control of an obedient and potentially limitless force. Unlike eagles, humans could choose when and where to ignite a flame, and they were able to exploit fire for any number of tasks.

Quoting from the original text
How could you include this in your text? The simplest way is to quote it directly – remember to copy the text word for word and use quotation marks ("...") to identify the beginning and end of the quote. You also need to include the author's surname, the publication date and the page number, like this:

Harari (2014, p.13) emphasises the significance of fire as a tool for humans, calling it an “obedient and potentially limitless force”.

When to use a quote
We choose to quote because the original text expresses something in a particularly original, colourful or memorable way. Perhaps you like the concise and unusual description of fire as being both "obedient" and "potentially limitless".

Formatting your quote
Getting the format right is important. You should always include the author's name, the year the material you're quoting was published and the page number (if there is one) Should you use single '…' or double "…" quotation marks? Do you use a comma or a colon before the quote? Check your institution's rules.

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Choose a quote

Short and long quotes
Our 5-word example quote is quite short: Harari (2014, p.13) emphasises the significance of fire as a tool for humans, calling it an "obedient and potentially limitless force". Now let's compare it with something longer:

"When humans domesticated fire, they gained control of an obedient and potentially limitless force." (Harari, 2014, p.13)

Citing right: Harari (2014) or (Harari, 2014)?
Notice how, in the short quote, we gave the date of the work's publication, and page number, in brackets (parentheses) after the author’s name. But in the second, longer quote, the author's name, date and page number were all inside the brackets. Can you work out why?

It’s because we used Harari's name within our own sentence with the short quote. What about page numbers? We include the page number when we quote directly – and when we paraphrase or summarise a specific idea. If, on the other hand, we're referring to the content or central idea of the book as a whole, we don't need to cite the page number.

To do

OK, let’s imagine you are writing a paper on climate change. Let’s look at this passage from page 8 of 'The Weather Makers' by Tim Flannery (2005):

One of the biggest obstacles to making a start on climate change is that it has become a cliché before it has even been understood. What we need now is good information and careful thinking, because in the years to come, this issue will dwarf all others combined. It will become the only issue.

Try the activity to choose the best quote.

Choose a quote

1 Questions

Choose the best quote to include in a reference from Flannery

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Next

Time to put your citation skills to the test – go to the next activity to find out more!