Three parts of an effective citation

In the past two blogs, I have discussed citations:

  • What comes first, the idea or the citation?
  • What are citations? and
  • Why do we use citations?

Today I would like to discuss the correct way to introduce a citation into your writing.

Incorporating citations, whether direct quotes, indirect quotes or paraphrases, can be difficult when you start.  You may not have read the kind of writing—academic, scientific—which routinely uses citations.  And you may not have been taught how to insert citations.

One good place to start is with an image of a hamburger in a bun.  The top part of the bun represents the the identity of your source, and if that person or document is not well known, the credentials of that source; the hamburger represents the quote or paraphrase of the quote; and the bottom part of the bun represents your reasons for citing that particular information in your research paper.

For example, suppose you are writing a paper on the meaning of democracy.  You want to quote Abraham Lincoln’s definition from his Gettysburg Address.  You could introduce your citation (the top part of the bun) by writing, “Abraham Lincoln defined democracy in his Gettysburg Address as. . .”  This introduction tells who said the original citation (Lincoln) and for what purpose (addressing an audience in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania).  If you quote someone who is not readily known to your readers, you need to identify that person or document being quoted.

The hamburger part of the image is Lincoln’s definition of democracy: “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”  You don’t need to quote a whole sentence—just the part which meets your needs.  You might need to rewrite your introductory information to make it work grammatically with your quote.

The bottom part of the bun is your understanding of the quote and why you consider it relevant.  A possible example is “This definition is deceptively simple yet eloquent.”

The finished quotation is “Abraham Lincoln defined democracy in his Gettysburg Address as ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people.’  This definition is deceptively simple yet eloquent.”

After reading this citation, the readers of your paper know who is being cited, that person’s actual words, and why you think those words are a good definition of democracy.

To recap:

To use a direct quotation, you must put it in context by identifying who made the direct quote and why it is relevant in the context you are using it.

The transition from your introductory information to the quotation must use correct grammar.

Sometimes words of the direct quote must be left out or changed slightly (for example, from singular to plural, from one verb tense to another, from one pronoun to another).

In my next blog, I will discuss common errors students make in including citations in their work.

One response to “Three parts of an effective citation

  1. Hey! Great article! I really liked your method with hamburger . So easy for students to explain


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