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Citation Guide

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Citations Demonstrate What You're Learning During Assignments

So we already mentioned that it's important to cite correctly...because as we go through our classes, we learn all sorts of facts and theories and knowledge we just wouldn't learn any other way (than from others).  And we mentioned the general reasons why it was important to do it correctly, for ethical and legal reasons.

Now the next question is... when you cite, do you do it just because you figure you have to have something cited in there, that's sort of related to your topic? Or do you pick sources that really...

  • ...support your argument (in an argument or controversial topic paper?
  • ...show that you have some proven facts to support something that you mentioned as having happened?
  • ...back up specific things that you mentioned about your topic? (And yes, of course a good photo, chart or illustration can support your statements, too.)

An example would be if you were to claim that Shakespeare was the greatest playwright in history, as part of a literature class term paper. You wouldn't be the only person to ever have made that claim, so you can be pretty confident that you can find a reasonable number of Shakespeare scholars who have written material that would help you back up your statement. You'd probably break the claim down into several examples of why he's been called the greatest playwright, and then have one or more sources, cited, to back up each part of your argument. That is a better way to go about it - looking through relevant articles, book chapters, other sources, finding the facts and interpretation of those facts, then citing them, such that anyone reading it will (hopefully) nod and say, "Yeah, that's a good, solid point...makes sense."

And if you're working an an assignment where the 'authority' you draw knowledge from is not necessarily that of your typical scholar / researcher...the above still applies.  An example might be you interviewing an Indigenous Elder from a local tribe, as part of an assignment about Indigenous ideas about sustainability. You can absolutely cite 'personal communications' if the information you gained was during verbal conversation, though this is a case where you will not need a matching reference, since the information cannot be retrieved by a reader. (Obviously, you would have more than just 'personal communication' types of sources in your finished assignment.)

That's where we'll leave this particular topic for now. Whether what you've found is a good enough source that backs up or proves a point you made in an assignment  will ultimately be between you and your instructor - unless your professor also likes to have you peer-review each other's assignments.