7 Rules of Referencing and Citation in Academic Writing

Last Updated on March 23, 2023 by Ralph Nyadzi

The general rules of referencing and citation include the need to stick to a consistent referencing style, accuracy in citations, using in-text citations, creating a reference list and relying on credible sources only. In this article, I will explain the general rules of referencing and citation so that you will learn how to write a reference for a research paper or other forms of academic writing.

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Remember that the specific rules of writing citations for one research paper may differ slightly from those of another.

But in very broad terms, the general rules of referencing and citation remain largely the same. And it is these general rules of referencing and citation that this post is about

Here are the highlights of this article on the rules of referencing and citation.

  • Definition of citation
  • Basic elements of a citation
  • When and when not to cite sources
  • Examples of major citation styles
  • General rules of referencing and citation

Are you ready to learn more about how to write your best citation? Then let’s get started.

Definition of Citation in Academic Writing

Citation in academic writing is a reference to sources that the author consulted in the course of their investigations for a research paper or essay.

For the sake of avoiding plagiarism and respecting the laws governing intellectual property rights, it is necessary for every researcher to reference and cite their published and unpublished sources of information. Indeed, citations contribute significantly to the intellectual integrity and reputation of scholars.

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Basic Elements of Citation

Here are the major elements of reference citing in academic writing be it a research paper, dissertation, essay, report or presentation in an academic setting.

  • Author
  • Title
  • Source/Venue Name
  • Editor
  • Volume and Edition
  • Date or Year of Publication
  • Page Numbers
  • City and Country
  • University for Theses
  • URL for Online Sources

When do you need to reference or cite your sources?

See below situations that call for proper referencing and citation in academic work.

  • Every time the author uses words, data or ideas that are not your own
  • When the author quotes the exact words of another writer or researcher
  • Each time the writer paraphrases other people’s ideas
  • When they refer to data from a different source
  • Every time the author reprints a long copyrighted text
  • Each time the researcher reprints a figure, table or diagram
  • Whenever they use images and other graphics (even if free) from the internet

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When you need not cite your sources

Writing in a research.com article on referencing and citation, Imed Bouchrika, PhD states that there are certain situations that do not require the researcher to cite any sources.

  • Facts that have become common knowledge
  • Generally accepted facts
  • Your original ideas or personal experiences

Examples of Citation Styles

Typically, a citation style may be differentiated by the way the text in the citation is formatted. Thus, we have parenthetical citations, numerical citations and note citations.

Depending on the discipline, purpose, audience or venue of a research paper, the author might have to use a citation style appropriate to the situation.

Here is a list of examples of the commonest citation styles in academic research cycles.

  • Harvard (Economics)
  • IEEE (IT and Engineering)
  • Chicago notes and bibliography (Humanities)
  • Bluebook, OSCOLA (Law)
  • AMA, NLM, Vancouver (Medicine)
  • APSA (Political Science)
  • APA (Psychology)
  • ACS (Sciences)
  • AAA, APA, ASA (Social Sciences)

I have explained further these examples of citation styles in a different article.

Referencing and Citation Rules

Here are some best practices for proper referencing and citation in an academic context.

1. Consistency with Citation Style

Use a consistent citation style.

It is best to choose a specific citation style (such as MLA, APA, or Chicago) and use it consistently throughout your research paper.

2. Accuracy

Do not forget to accurately cite your sources.

Make sure to include all necessary information (such as the author’s name, title of the work, and publication date) when citing sources.

3. In-text Citations

In-text citations allow you to acknowledge the sources you have used in the body of your paper.

Using in-text citations will add more credibility to your work.

4. A Reference List

Another general rule for referencing and citation is to create a reference list as part of the research paper.

At the end of your paper, create a list of all the sources you have cited.

This should include all the information necessary to find the source.

5. Avoidance of Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of using someone else’s work or ideas without proper attribution.

One way to avoid plagiarism is to properly cite all sources you use in your paper.

6. Use credible sources

Do not compromise the credibility of your information by referencing dubious sources.

Make sure to use reputable sources in your research. This includes peer-reviewed journals, highly respected websites and books from reputable publishers.

7. Double-Checking for Hidden Errors

Double-check your citations for accuracy before submitting your paper.

Final Thoughts

Now you know the general rules governing referencing and citation in academic writing. Remember that so long as you are in academia as a student or educator, you will need these guidelines for an essay or research paper at one time or the other.

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Whether you are interested in taking a certificate, degree or postgraduate professional specialization to advance your career, you will find on Coursera thousands of in-demand courses to choose from.

Finally, there is more to learn about English for academic purposes on this site. So don’t forget to dig a bit deeper for more.

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