Technical Writing 101: References and citations

September 23, 2011

If you are writing a scientific report, an academic paper, or a document where you make statements that you’ve acquired from somewhere else, you’ll most likely need to cite those references.

Why reference? You need to tell your readers where your evidence comes from so they can check for themselves and see if that evidence is valid and reliable for the point you are making. You also need to reference to make it quite clear which are your own ideas and which are borrowed from others. Statements of fact that are NOT common knowledge will likely need a reference.

Citations are the ‘hooks’ in the body of the document that are a shortcut to the full publication details in the References list; e.g. the citation (Johnstone and Storr 2005) is the hook to these full details: Johnstone, R.E. and Storr, G.M. 2005. Handbook of Western Australian Birds. Volume 2: Passerines (Blue-winged Pitta to Goldfinch). Western Australian Museum, Perth, Western Australia.

How you cite and reference a source, and how you format it, will depend on the style set by the school, university, company, organisation etc. The citation above is a variation on the Harvard author/date style.

[Based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues]

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