Citation & References

Scholarly aspects of citations and references


Defining citations and references

  • Citations embedded in main text.
  • References appended at the end.
  • Citations are pointers to references.
  • References provide enough details to pinpoint the source, to judge the quality of the source, and to obtain the document if required.

A cryptic notation:

Nature 171:737

Why use citations?

  •  To give the sources of data, facts, opinions, etc.
  • To point to additional information
  • To show that ‘you have done your homework (Include both recent as well as classic references).
  • To enable readers to verify your assertions.
  • “Using other people’s research or ideas without giving them due credit is plagiarism. Don’t be a thief-save your grade, use BibMe and give credit to those who deserve it!”
  • It is ethical to give authors and artists credit for their work.
  • By establishing provenance, you strengthen your own work.
  • It helps an interested reader delve deeper. It’s good karma!

Good practice in referencing

  • Cite only if you have read it first-hand.
  • Put ‘copy-pasted’ text in quotes and cite the source.
  • If you use your words, retain the original meaning.
  • Do not include assertions that you cannot trace.
  • Give full reference.
  • Include at least a few most recent references.
  • Ensure a good chronological spread of references.
  • Limit Self-citations (Only if relevant, cite it)
  • Include at least a few references to papers published in the target journal.

A non-existent paper cited 400 times

Van der Geer J, Hanraad J A J, and Lupton RA. 2000. The art of writing a scientific article. Journal of Science Communications 163(2):51-59

  • Nearly 400 articles cited this paper; many more citations in Google Scholar.
  • Created to illustrate a journal’s desired reference format.

Refer white-papers/the-mystery-of-the-phantom-reference

Cite the original source,

India’s slum population in 2017 is estimated at 104 million, or approximately 9% of the total projected national population of 1.28 billion      

The above content is cited in some article as “Times of India,20 Aug. 2013”.

But, Original source

    Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation.2010.  Report of the [Pronab  Sen] Committee on Slum Statistics/Census,p.32.  New Delhi: MOHUPA.74 pp.

  • Citation not required for Common knowledge, found in many sources

Cite, but exclude from references

  • Personal communications: letters, emails, text messages, etc.
  • Unpublished data.
  • Documents not accessible to public
  • Note Cite papers accepted but not yet published as ‘forthcoming’; supply
  • available details in references.

A misleading chain of citations

The content from original source is misleaded by not citing original source or by not retaining original information. Following shows an example of this scenario.

  • Example

K Sune Larsson published the following paper in 1995.

Larsson K. 1995. The dissemination of false data through inadequate citation. Journal of Internal Medicine 238:445-450

Larsson wrote in his paper as,

 When unfounded statements are repeated frequently, they tend to be accepted without question: the difficulties in correcting such ‘accepted facts’ are well recognized. The myth from the 1930s that spinach is a rich source of iron was due to misleading information in the original publication: a mal positioned decimal point gavea10-fold overestimate of iron content [29].

Larson cited 29th reference in this paper to make his statement stronger.

Reference 29. Hamblin TJ. Fake! Br Med J 1981:283:1671-4.

  • Somebody wanting to mention the misconception about spinach may write as follows: The myth that spinach is a good source of iron was born in the 1930s, due to a misplaced decimal that put the concentration at ten times the real value (Larsson 1995, p.448).

Or, better still, as

The myth that spinach is a good source of iron was born in the 1930s, due to a misplaced decimal that put the concentration at ten times the real value (Hamblin 1981, cited in Larsson 1995).

  • But this is what Hamblin wrote:

             German chemists reinvestigating the iron content of spinach had shown in the 1930s that the original workers had put the decimal point in the wrong place and made a tenfold overestimate of its value. Spinach is no better for you than cabbage, Brussels sprouts, or broccoli.

  • Mike Sutton, a British criminologist, asked Hamblin directly

Unable to find answers to any of my four questions, I sent a personal email to Hamblin, telling him about my fact checking mission and asking if he could possibly provide the original sources of the SPIDES that he mentioned in his 1981 article.

Hamblin replied by email almost immediately. He wrote that he has been asked for this before and that he honestly cannot remember. He said that back in 1981 he had been asked to write a humorous piece by the then editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) for its Christmas edition and that he had been asked not to provide references. This is rather an odd account since Hamblin’s (1981) article does in fact contain 13 references to sources, none of which, however, cite the source of the decimal error or 1930’s Germans in the SPIDES. Hamblin rounded off his email with the assurance that he was sure that he had not made it up.

Careless citations make myths stronger

  • Hawthorne effect: people’s behaviour changes when they are aware that they are being observed or are part of a study.

Gustav Wickström and Tom Bendix advanced numerous alternative explanations for Hawthorne effect.

The Hawthorne effect, they concluded, is “ambiguous and disputable” and it is “questionable whether the term has a function any longer in the evaluation of results from intervention research”.

  • Letrud and Hernes retrieved 196 papers that cited this critique;

155 of them mis-cited Wickström and Bendix as having affirmed rather than questioned Hawthorne effect.

  • Mis-citations occur because citing authors either do not actually read or,if they do, misunderstand what they read.

Convenient rephrasing

  • Katherine Frost Bruner (1942): A sin more heinous than an incomplete reference is an inaccurate reference; the former will be caught by the editor whereas the latter will stand in print as an annoyance to future investigators and a monument to the writer’s carelessness.
  • Twenty-two years later, in 1974, a direct quote from Bruner’s article appeared in the second edition of the APA manual (p. 60):

Authors are responsible for all information in a reference. Editors cannot complete an incomplete reference, and an inaccurate reference “will stand in print as an annoyance to future investigators and a monument to the writer’s carelessness.” (Bruner, 1942, p. 68)

Placing in-text citations within a sentence

  • Insert citations to fit them comfortably with the flow of your writing.
  • Where the author’s name does not occur naturally, put the in-text citation into brackets.
  • If you paraphrase something, insert citation at the end of the sentence.

   Examples for placing citation in different places in text.

  • Start: Kraushaar and Novak (2010) explored connections between laptop usage and course achievement.
  • Middle: Information on shelf life (Scuderi et al. 2010) is limited.
  •  End: Students score higher when they take notes (Titsworth & Kiewra, 2004).

Citations are not inventories; do not merely list them

• A common fault is to present citations merely by listing them: avoid the structure ‘Authors + verb + results, as in

Summary structure: Smith et al. (2010) argued A, B, and C. Later, Wong et al. (2012) demonstrated D and E. Then, Jones et al. (2015) showed F.

• Use the analytical approach, as in

Analytical structure: Understandings of A have changed alongside improvements in testing.

When [method 1] dominated, A was thought to have qualities Band C (Smith et al., 2010).

As [method 2] refined our ability to see [quality of A], we began to see more D, E (Wong et al., 2012), and F (Jones et al., 2015).

  • Reproducing citations clearly is very important.

Refer Source for more details: Henville A. 2020. Literature reviews that work: techniques for coherent, analytical lit reviews.

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