Using citations and quotes - Citing, referencing and avoiding plagiarism

Success in Academic Writing - Trevor Day 2018

Using citations and quotes
Citing, referencing and avoiding plagiarism

Sources of information take many forms. They include documents, images, television or radio programmes, patent documents and statistics in databases. In Section 4.3 we defined ’primary literary sources’ as publications in which facts or ideas are first communicated, and ’secondary literary sources’, such as review articles and most books, as communications that report on, summarise or review other primary sources. In fact, the distinction between the two is not that clear-cut. Primary sources, such as articles in research journals, normally contain a substantial literature review component, which is reporting on other primary literature. And some review articles can contain new

ideas and formulations, which could be regarded as a primary source of ideas.

As considered in Section 4.3, what is considered a primary or secondary source of literature does vary by discipline. For example, in history, a primary source can be a source material created by a person close in time or proximity reporting on an event, such as the diary of a World War II German soldier in a British prisoner of war camp. The book World at War, which accompanied the 26-part BBC television documentary series that screened in 1973-74, would be a secondary source. However, if a student were studying documentary narrative styles in the 1970s, the book and the television programmes could themselves be primary sources.

Returning to the more general definitions of primary and secondary literature sources, where possible, it is preferable to use primary sources for your writing, but in your first year or two at university it is likely that you will be referring to textbooks and review articles and less often consulting the primary sources to which they refer. If you cannot find a particular primary source, but are relying on an interpretation of what it says, which you have found in a secondary source, then you can cite the primary source but you should not list it in your references (see Tip below).

Secondary referencing

Where possible, it is preferable to find a primary source rather than rely on an interpretation of what it says as found in a secondary source. If you wish to cite a primary source, but you have not read it, you can refer to it through the secondary source: for example, ’Harland and Gross (2010, p. 12) agree with the views of Black (2009, cited in Harland and Gross, 2010, p. 12) that ...’. Harland and Gross (2010) would be included in the reference list, but Black (2009), the unread primary source, would not.

Agree, disagree or qualify

The way you use sources in your argument is essentially by agreeing with the source you cite, disagreeing with it, or qualifying the facts or ideas of the source in some way. In fact, showing the extent with which you agree or disagree with a source can be a complex and subtle matter. Here are simple examples for each approach.


Smith (2015) argues convincingly for ...

Often, your agreement with a source is simply given by writing about it as though it were fact:

Hitchcock (2013), Jones (2014) and Smith (2015) have determined the compound’s properties.

Patel (2014) established...


Harcourt’s (2015) conclusion is not warranted by the data presented because ...


Melbourne ’s (2016)findings apply in most cases, however, ...

Choose your verbs carefully

You can write in such a way as to reveal the extent of your agreement with, or confidence in, a source you are citing. Using verb forms such as ’appears’, ’seems’, ’claims’ or ’suggests’ indicates to the reader that you are being tentative about any statements being made based on those sources. Using ’shows’, ’reveals’ or ’finds’ suggest to the reader that you are more confident about what is being reported. By choosing your verbs carefully, you can give just the right amount of ’weight’ to your statements.

When to cite?

The extent to which you cite sources is likely to change (usually increase) as you work your way through your degree programme. Be guided by your assessor, but a good policy is to cite the source of all facts, ideas and opinions that relate to your argument, unless they are ’common knowledge’.

Common knowledge is information that a person living in your country at a similar educational level to yours is likely to know as a matter of course. That William Shakespeare was an English playwright, that Ludwig van Beethoven was a classical composer, and that the National Health Service provides many forms of free medical help at the point of need are examples of common knowledge for many people in the UK.

Disciplinary common knowledge is that which a person is likely to know having studied to a similar level in your discipline and in your country. Disciplinary common knowledge, if you were a chemistry student, would include the facts and principles you learnt before you joined university, or that were established soon after joining, such as the organisation of the periodic table, names of common elements and compounds, principles of ionic and covalent bonding, and so on. If you were an archaeologist, common knowledge might include the traditional methods for investigating an archaeological site. Other examples of disciplinary common knowledge include: for business studies students, the distinction between leadership and management; in chemical engineering, the distinction between laminar and turbulent flow; in film studies, the definition of a protagonist; in sociology, that many aspects of human behaviour are socially constructed.

There are occasions when terms that are frequently used within a discipline, and can be regarded as common knowledge, may nevertheless need to be defined and a citation used. For example, there is no single universally agreed definition for ’climate change’, and if you were writing an essay about global warming you might wish to give a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) definition or one from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with an appropriate citation. This ’going back to basics’ to carefully define terms that have become taken for granted can be a sign of rigorous academic practice. In writing academically it is important to define terms with reference to authoritative sources, particularly if those terms are controversial or have become misused or misinterpreted by others.

Mentioning, summarising, paraphrasing or quoting

In weaving sources into your account, there are four main approaches to doing so, which operate at different levels of brevity and of correspondence to the original. When mentioning, you make brief reference to a source by pointing out a characteristic of that source. For example:

Several authors have reviewed this model in terms of application in the secondary school classroom (Bissell, 2015; Dyson, 2016; Procter, 2017).

In summarising, you reduce a large volume of material to a much smaller volume, which captures the salient points that relate to your argument. At one extreme, you might be summarising a book, a book chapter or a journal article, and at the other extreme, you might be summarising a section from a chapter, a page or two of text from a journal article, or even just a paragraph or two.

The ability to summarise is highly valued by academics, because in doing so you have to take a large volume of material and adapt it to your own purposes. You have to be selective, and make critical choices. Summarising is also a way of demonstrating to an assessor your grasp of a wide range of sources. Rather than summarising being a process you do as part of an essay, report or other assignment, sometimes summarising a text is set as an assignment in itself, for you to practise and develop the craft.

The abstract of a journal paper (often somewhere between 100 and 300 words long) is a summary of the article’s 1,500-5,000 words of main text. Examining the abstracts of journal articles - and noting their strengths and weaknesses as balanced, informative summaries of the whole document - is a valuable exercise. A well-written abstract of a research article, for example, usually contains the following elements in appropriate balance: background/context, aim, method, results and conclusion. If one or more of these elements dominate, the abstract might be poorly balanced.


An abstract is a summary

In the hypothetical student’s abstract below, identify those parts that relate to the background/context, aim, method, results and conclusion of the report. The sentences have been numbered to make this process easier.

(a)Which sentence(s) of the abstract relate(s) to:






(b)Do you consider this abstract to be balanced?

(1) Approaches to e-learning range from instructional (one-way) to collaborative and contested (two­way). (2) The existing literature is quite mixed as to the efficacy of the different approaches, with strong and distinct preferences between individuals in some studies. (3) The experience of students completing a life sciences e-learning module was investigated to reveal the extent to which different e-learning approaches were favoured by students. (4) A questionnaire census of all students (n = 85) was carried out immediately after students completed the module, with a stratified sample of students ( n = 10) being interviewed within a week.. (5) Analysis of questionnaire returns and interview themes reveals a complex pattern, with sizeable percentages of students favouring all approaches, but with strong preferences among a few students (n = 14). (6) The findings largely agree with the reviewed literature. (131 words)

Check your answers at the end of the chapter.

The key to summarising well from source texts, as in so many other aspects of composing, is to have

read the source(s) to meet your purpose, annotated the source text and/or taken notes appropriately, and considered what you are seeking to achieve. Once you know this, and how many words you are aiming to write, you can begin to plan your summary before drafting it. If you are summarising a page or less in a few lines you may be able to move swiftly to writing your draft without having to plan.

Paraphrasing involves restating what the author of a source is saying, but in your own words. Paraphrasing results in text that is closer to the length of the original than in summarising. Paraphrasing, with accompanying citation, shows that you have understood the source text, interpreted its meaning correctly in the context of your argument, and then captured the essence of that meaning in your own words. This is a high-level academic skill. As you paraphrase the words of others, you are integrating this contribution into your argument, critically evaluating it, and perhaps comparing and contrasting it with the work of others.

Here is an extract from Day and Tosey’s (2011, p. 525) journal article about goal setting:

Mental rehearsal has long been a key element employed by successful Olympic teams (Suin 1997). The benefits of mental rehearsal extend beyond physical skill and performance per se, but include qualities such as strengthening commitment, confidence and concentration, and enhancing the ability to control one’s emotional state beneficially (Hale 1998; Hale et al. 2005). Such attributes clearly have relevance to learning in the classroom and elsewhere, not just applied to performance in sport.

And here is what a student might write in an assignment about students’ goal setting in the classroom, paraphrasing the paragraph from Day and Tosey:

Day and Tosey (2011) draw comparison with the mental rehearsal athletes use to improve their performance in sport, and the mental rehearsal that students might employ in learning in the classroom to prepare for examinations. They argue that using mental rehearsal to develop better concentration, commitment and confidence, along with an improved ability to control emotional state, can apply to both the sports field and the exam room.

The fourth approach is using quotations (quoting). It is permissible to quote, word for word, from a source, but in most disciplines, this should be done sparingly. Relying too much on quotations reduces your ability to formulate your own argument and will not convince your assessor that you have understood the sources you are quoting. In most disciplines, quotes are likely to make up less than 5% of any assignment. Literary, language and historical disciplines (where close analysis of text is common) are among the few where extensive quoting is permissible.

In general, there are five situations where using a quotation is appropriate:

1Where a source author has expressed a point so well that you can’t (or don’t think you can) improve on it. Such quotes are likely to be short. For example:

According to Hartley (2008, p. 3), the language commonly used in the text of scientific journal articles is ’precise, impersonal and objective. It typically uses the third person, the passive tense, complex terminology, and various footnoting and referencing systems. ’

2Where you are referring to an authoritative definition. For example:

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007, Section 1.1) climate change refers to ’a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g. using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. It refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity. ’

3Where a passage of source text is highly technical, difficult or dense, and requires it to be shown in

its original form for the reader to comprehend its significance within the context of your analysis.

4Where you are disagreeing with a source or making an unusual claim about it. To convince the reader that doing so is valid, you may need to quote the source sufficiently to reveal the original context and meaning and that you have not misinterpreted it.

5At the beginning of an essay, or a chapter in a dissertation, to capture the sense of what the essay or chapter is about, perhaps in a provocative or amusing manner.

Rules for quoting

If you have chosen to include a quotation, make sure it performs one of the five functions above. Do not simply insert it as ’padding’ or to impress your assessor or to save you having to paraphrase what the source said.

Here are seven rules for quoting:

1Quote just enough source text to do the job.

2Quote word for word, even if the original contains unusual spelling, punctuation or grammar. There are two ways of modifying the text slightly, as we will see below.

3If the quotation is short, it can be woven into a sentence and enclosed in quotation marks, like so:

Armadillo and Koala (2010, p. 46) claim that ’without close attention to the starting conditions, the end point will always be in doubt

If a quotation is more than four lines of prose, it is normally indented from normal text. For example:

According to Day et al. ’s (2010) investigation of undergraduate dissertation writing on a Civil Engineering programme, the course was:

... rich in learning and assessed assignments, including individual and group work,, which encouraged several types of discourse for different purposes and audiences. However, there were missed opportunities for providing timely developmental feedback and to scaffold learning experiences to develop students’ abilities and confidence in writing, (p. 20)

4Use verbs carefully to introduce the quotation with just the right amount of emphasis.

5When using a quotation, its accompanying citation should refer to page number(s) so that the reader can go straight to the exact location of the quotation in the source material. If the quoted material is on a webpage, you may wish to cite the section name or number so that the quote can be readily located.

6Rarely, you might wish to omit words from a quote that would distract the reader and weaken the power of the quotation for the purpose you have in mind. This is done using an ellipsis (...) to show where words have been cut. The original:

Tiger and Mongoose (2015, p. 97) argue that failing to acknowledge a client’s distress at the outset of a counselling session, and so avoiding what is “on the surface” for the client, is not only disrespectful but is likely to undermine the value of the session. ’


Tiger and Mongoose (2015, p. 97) argue that ’failing to acknowledge a client’s distress at the outset of a counselling session ... is not only disrespectful but is likely to undermine the value of the session. ’

7Very occasionally, the original sentence or phrase might need to be modified in order to make sense in its new context (for example, the subject of the sentence may not be clear in the original). Any new text is normally placed in square brackets to add to or replace what was in the original text.

For example, the original:

It was apparent that ’with the Trade Union backing them, they were not impressed by the management ’s attempts at persuasion’ (Lion and Hyena, 2014, p. 12).


It was apparent that ’with the Trade Union backing them, [the employees] were not impressed by the management ’s attempts at persuasion’ (Lion and Hyena, 2014, p. 12).

Three principles for using sources

Harvey (2008, pp. 18-19) recommends three principles for drawing upon sources in your written arguments. The first is to do so in as concise a manner as possible, so as to leave room for your own argument and voice to shine through. The second is to ensure you distinguish between what is attributable to your sources and what is attributable to you. This can be achieved by citing early on when you are drawing upon the material of others, rather than leaving the reader guessing. If you are drawing substantially on the work of a source, cite the source at the beginning, and then remind the reader, either through further citation or by mentioning the source author in the text, that you are still referring to that source. The third principle is to ensure, for example by appropriate choice of verbs, how each source contributes to your argument.

Citing and referencing electronic sources

More and more information is becoming available online as source material, some of which is of high academic quality but much of which is raw material of popular interest available to be analysed and commented on. It is becoming necessary for some students to learn how to cite and reference all kinds of electronic information: websites, webpages, blogs, listservs, discussion groups, tweets, podcasts and YouTube videos, for example. The Purdue Online Writing Lab ( gives guidance on citing electronic documents in APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Languages Association) styles. Do not assume that an online reference is shorter than the reference entry for a paper document. Often, it is not.