Citations document for your readers where you obtained your material, provide a means of critiquing your study based on the sources you used, and create an opportunity to obtain information about prior studies of the research problem under investigation. The act of citing sources is also your best defense against allegations of plagiarism.
Citing the works of others is important because:
- Proper citation allows readers to locate the materials you used. Citations to sources helps readers expand their knowledge on a topic. One of the most effective strategies for locating authoritative, relevant sources about a topic is to review footnotes or references from known sources ["citation tracking"].
- Citing other people's words and ideas demonstrates that you have conducted a thorough review of the literature on your topic and, therefore, you are reporting your research from an informed and critically engaged perspective. The list of sources used increases your credibility as the author of the work.
- Other researcher's ideas can be used to reinforce your arguments. In many cases, another researcher's arguments can act as the primary context from which you can emphasize the significance of your study and to provide supporting evidence about how you addressed the "So What?" question.
- The ideas of other researchers can be used to explain reasons for alternative approaches. If you disagree with a researcher's ideas or you believe there is a gap in understanding the research problem, your citations can serve as sources from which to argue an alternative viewpoint or the need to pursue a different course of action.
- Just as the ideas of other researchers can bolster your arguments, they can also detract from your credibility if their research is challenged. Properly citing sources prevents your reputation from being tarnished if the facts or ideas of those cited are proven to be inaccurate or off-base. It prevents readers from concluding that you ignored or dismissed the findings of others, even if they are disputed.
- Ideas are considered intellectual property and there can be serious repercussions if you fail to cite where you got an idea from. In academe and the professional world, failure to cite other people's intellectual property ruins careers and reputations and can result in legal action. Citing sources as a student in college will help you get in the habit of acknowledging and properly citing the work of others.
Ballenger, Bruce P. The Curious Researcher: A Guide to Writing Research Papers. 7th edition. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2012; Citing Information. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Harvard Guide to Using Sources. Harvard College Writing Program. Harvard University; Newton, Philip. "Academic Integrity: A Quantitative Study of Confidence and Understanding in Students at the Start of Their Higher Education." Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 41 (2016): 482-497; Referencing More Effectively. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra; Using Sources. Yale College Writing Center. Yale University.
(Based on a USC Libguide)