Chapter 13: Works Cited

Scholarship is a Conversation

Watch Video 13.1 to learn more about the importance of citations and references.

Over time, as students and scholars write about a topic, the accumulation of writing becomes a scholarly conversation. With each writer, new insights and discoveries are documented over time, adding different perspectives and interpretations. In science, for example, the conversation has lead to improved technology and treatment for illness.

Referring to other essays, studies and reports and describing how they relate to your own work gives authority to your arguments. This is particularly important when people have different opinions about the topic you are addressing in your writing. Citing other researchers proves that you know what you are saying is relevant, since you’re placing your words in the context of the existing literature. If the topic you are writing about is subjective in nature, your reader knows you’ve consulted other research and your opinions are based on some consideration of the scholarly conversation on that topic.

Citations help to demonstrate that your work is really your work. Informing readers where you found information helps to distinguish between existing sources and your original thoughts. By revealing your sources, you are proving that your work can be trusted. This is super important!  Failing to cite can lead to a charge of plagiarism, which can result in a mark of zero on the assignment, or a failing grade in the course. Read the definition of plagiarism by Ryerson’s Academic Integrity Office.

Many readers (such as the person marking your assignment!) want to know whose work inspired your ideas. Many readers want to follow the trail of evidence you’ve used to support the points you’ve made. Citations give enough information to make it possible for others to locate and read the sources for themselves.

In addition to written words, your research may lead you to social media posts, personal correspondence such as email messages, films, maps, graphs, web pages, photographs, television news reports, lectures, and audio recordings.  Cite everything you use to learn about the topic and formulate your own arguments: the texts you read, the audio you hear, and the videos you watch. Keep track of all of the resources you use as you do research for your assignments.

From Pixabay.

Quote something when it’s memorable, the phrasing is evocative or a “classic”.   You might quote also for precision and accuracy, or when something is short.

Paraphrase to express the situation and ideas in your own words as they relate to your argument.

Summarize/synthesize to provide an overview of the ideas as they relate to your essay.  Ideas must also be attributed, even when you are not pointing to a specific paragraph or page.

Scenario: Imagine yourself spending months traveling and doing research in your field of expertise. Your blog serves as a travel journal where you upload photographs, itineraries and short essays about your field work, as you gather evidence for a book.

Soon after, you read an article in a newspaper about traveling that includes some of the exact sentences you wrote on your blog, with one of your photographs. There is no mention of your name. While it is satisfying to know someone thought so well of your work, you expect them to acknowledge that the phrasing and photography was originally your work.

In the music industry, using another artist’s words without giving them credit leads to a copyright infringement lawsuit. In an academic context, the charge of plagiarism can result in a mark of zero on the assignment, or a failing grade in the course.


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Write Here, Right Now: An Interactive Introduction to Academic Writing and Research Copyright © 2018 by Ryerson University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.