Students make several kinds of errors when using citations in their research papers.
One error is thinking that only direct quotations need to be cited. Not so. Direct quotations, paraphrases and summaries all need to be cited.
- A direct quote is a reproduction of the precise words of a speaker or document. Shorter direct quotes of a phrase or a sentence are preferred to longer direct quotes of several sentences. Direct quotes are used when the original words are iconic (Lincoln’s “of the people, by the people, and for the people”) and when the original words have a stronger impact than a paraphrase (Churchill’s “We shall never surrender.”)
- A paraphrase is a “translation” of a direct quote into synonyms using different sentence structure from the original direct quotation. A paraphrase “translates” only a small portion of a speaker’s words or of a document. Paraphrases are used to make difficult ideas easier to understand or to simplify long, complex thoughts. Many teachers today prefer paraphrasing to quoting directly.
- A summary is a straightforward repetition of the main ideas of a speaker or document. A summary presents longer amounts of information than a paraphrase and usually follows the same idea order as the original.
Direct quotations, paraphrases and summaries all need to be cited. If the original source of material you are using in your essay or research paper is not you, you need to give that source credit. Not to do so is plagiarism, which I will discuss in a future blog.
Another error—the most common error—is to use improper punctuation in your essay or research paper. In the United States, three commonly used documentation “styles” of citing information are the MLA, the APA, and the Chicago Manual (sometimes known as the Turabian). If you are not familiar with “styles,” ask your teacher to explain the one you need to use. You can find information online as well. The MLA style is used in English courses and in other language courses. The APA style is used in the social sciences. The Chicago style is used in history, social sciences and humanities courses.
Whole books are written on each of these styles, so I will not attempt to explain them here. But let me take one example so you know what I am talking about. Suppose you quote the author of a book in the text of your paper. How do you show that citation? For the MLA style, immediately after the quotation, you key an introductory parentheses, the author’s surname, the page number from which the quote came, an ending parentheses, and a period to end the sentence (Smith 368). For the APA style, after the quotation you key an introductory parentheses, the author’s surname, a comma, then the year the quotation was made, an ending parentheses, and a period if you are ending a sentence (Smith, 2007). For the Chicago style, a numeral 1 is placed after the quote, and a footnote is written in a footnotes section of the paper to identify complete information about the quote’s source.
You may think, you gotta be kidding! No. As you go through middle grades, high school and certainly college, you need to become familiar with various styles and to use them correctly. Fortunately, online sources exist where you can input your source’s information and the website will order and punctuate the information correctly. Swipe, copy, and paste into your paper.