Category Archives: writing rules

What are citations? Why do we use them?

What are citations?

Citations have two parts.  One part is a direct quote taken from a text or online text.  The other part identifies the text in a particular way so your readers can find the original quote if they want to.

Why do we use citations?

Citations allow you, the writer, to show that experts agree with your thinking.  Your ideas are not yours alone; they are supported by respected experts.

Citations give credit to the expert sources you use.  Citations let your readers know where you found the experts who agree with you.  Citations allow your readers to trace back your sources which they might want to know more about.

Citations make your claims more believable.  By using citations, you are being up front with your readers, telling them exactly who your sources are.

Citations protect you against plagiarism.  If you quote or even paraphrase the ideas of others without identifying them, you can be accused of plagiarism, a serious offense in the academic world.

Who uses citations?

Beginning in middle school, students learn what citations are and how to use them, usually using sources that a teacher provides.  By high school, students are expected to write research papers in which they must identify sources they have searched for.  In college, graduate school and in postgraduate work, students and professionals use citations when they write scholarly papers, master’s degree theses and doctoral dissertations.

But you might think you aren’t going to college, so why do you need to learn citations.  First, you might change your mind about your career goals, so schools want you prepared.  Second, by knowing what citations are, and why they are used, you are better able to judge the credibility of what you read.  If a politician makes a claim, for example, you might wonder where his information comes from.  Or you might realize that a friend can’t tell you where his “facts” come from.  You will be more aware of fraudulent claims.

Examples of citations used in text

Here are some examples of citations I used in my master’s thesis, Do Teacher Comments on Homework Matter?  The first one paraphrases information without using a direct quotation, but the source is still given.

  • One of the earliest entries in 20th century literature regarding homework is a 1913 Ladies’ Home Journal cover feature calling on parents to abolish homework in the public schools. . . .The article quotes principal after anonymous principal who say that homework is a waste of time (Ladies’ Home Journal, 1913).

Here are two citations that use a direct quote:

  • Goldstein found that doing homework does contribute to educational achievement. “The data in most of the studies suggest that regularly assigned homework favors higher academic achievement, and a few of the best-designed experiments show this quite clearly” (Goldstein, 1960).
  • Cooper (1989). . . .writes that “homework probably involves the complex interaction of more influences than any other instructional device” (p. 87).

In the “References” section of my thesis, more complete information is given about each of the citations.  For example, the entry for Cooper reads “Cooper, H. (1989).  Synthesis of Research on Homework.  Educational Leadership, 47(3), 85-91.”

In the actual text part of a research paper, a short identification of the source is given.  In the References section (sometimes called Bibliography), a complete identification is given.  Both a short identification within the text and a complete identification in the References section are necessary for a complete citation.

11 rules to keep you, the author, invisible to your readers

Most fiction writers want readers to get so captivated while reading a story that they forget someone wrote it.  If invisibility is the effect you want, you might want to read these eleven rules of Elmore Leonard–author of 45 novels–from 20 years ago.*

Rule 1:  Don’t open a passage with a weather report.  People read novels to learn about people, not the weather.

Rule 2:  No prologues. Prologues usually contain backstory which can be added later as the story unfolds.

Rule 3:  Use “said”—nothing else—when a character speaks.  “Said” is almost invisible, but any other word—asserted, warned—distracts the reader from the action to the author.

Rule 4:  Don’t use adverbs to describe “said.”  Adverbs distract from the story action and remind the reader that an author wrote this story.

Rule 5:  Limit exclamations marks to almost zero.

Rule 6:  Don’t use “suddenly.”  If you say, for example, “Suddenly, he fell,” the reader knows something is about to happen before the story’s character does.

Rule 7:  Rarely use regional dialect.  That requires apostrophes and weird spellings.  Once you start, it’s hard to stop.  And hard to read.

Rule 8:  Keep descriptions of characters brief.  Let their dialog conjure images in the reader’s mind.

Rule 9:  Keep descriptions of places and things brief.  Descriptions of anything slow down or even stop the forward action of a story.

Rule 10:  Skip long paragraphs without dialog.  Readers do.

Rule 11:  Don’t use proper diction if it sounds unnatural, or if it slows down the action.

*These rules are paraphrased from the July 16, 2001, edition of The New York Times, Section E, page 1.  I recommend you read Leonard’s original words.  They’re a hoot.

Rules Hemingway wrote by

Did you watch the new PBS documentary on Ernest Hemingway which premiered on Monday?  If so, you heard Hemingway say “the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing” came from the Kansas City Star stylebook. He reported for the Star 1917 to 1918.

Detective with a magnifying glass inspecting a newspaper.Here are some of those rules:

  • Use short sentences.
  • Use short first paragraphs.
  • Use vigorous English.  [Use active verbs.]
  • Be positive, not negative.
  • Never use old slang.  Slang, to be enjoyable, must be fresh.
  • Watch your sequence of tenses.  [Be consistent.]
  • Don’t split verbs.  [Put adverbs before a verb phrase.]
  • Be careful of the word “also.”  “Also” modifies the word it follows, not the word it precedes.
  • Be careful of the word “only.”  “He only had $10” means that he alone had $10.  “He had only $10” means $10 was all the cash he had.
  • Don’t split infinitives.
  • Avoid using adjectives, especially extravagant ones.
  • Use “none is,” not “none are.”
  • Animals should be referred to with the neuter gender unless the animal is a pet with a name.
  • Break into a long direct quote early in the quote to identify the speaker.
  • Avoid expressions from a foreign language.
  • Collective nouns take singular verbs.

Nine tips I’ve learned from teaching the writing parts of the SAT and ACT

  1. A rewritten phrase or clause with the word “being” in it is almost always wrong. Perplexed student writing
  2. Shorter versions of rewritten grammar are usually the correct answers.  If in doubt, choose the shortest or second shortest answer.
  3. Hard to spot run-on sentences often have a comma in the middle of the sentence followed by a subject pronoun.   The comma needs to be  a period, or a semicolon.  Or you need to put a coordinating conjunction after the comma.
  4. If you have one dash, you need two dashes unless the sentence ends where the second dash would be.
  5. In lists or series, the important words must be the same part of speech such as all nouns, all verbs, all infinitives, or all gerunds.
  6. “It’s” means it is. “Its” means something belongs to it.  Its’ is not a word.
  7. “They’re” means they are. “Their” means something belongs to them.  “There” means over there or that something exists.  All three begin with “the.”  Thier is not a word.
  8. Commas come before coordinating conjunctions, not after unless what follows the conjunction is nonessential information.
  9. Third person singular verbs (the kind you use with “he,” “she,” or “it” as the subject) in the present tense end in an “s.”

Write using positives to avoid confusion

Read the following sentence.

“But my neighbor refuted the idea that she could not disregard the least amount of dust.”

Did you need to read that more than once to figure out what it means?  The sentence contains several negative words which take more work to decipher than positive words.

student thinking about what to writeSentences like this one are common.  “A stay of execution has been denied.”  (Two negatives)  “That is not an insignificant barrier to success.”  (Two negatives, or three if you think of “barrier” as a negative)  “If seldom eaten, a candy bar is not injurious to our health.” (Three negatives)

As students, we are taught that a double negative equals a positive.  We are aware of “not,” “never,” and “no” as negatives.  But many other words with negative connotations can confuse listeners and readers.  Some are

Ain’t, although, any, avoid, barely, but, deny, doubt, few, hardly,  however, ignore, instead, least, little, neither, nobody, none, nothing, nowhere, rarely, refute, scarcely, seldom, and though.

Thousands of other negatives can be formed by adding the prefixes “dis-,” “‘il-,” “im-,” “in-,” “ir-,” and “un-” to words, as in disregard, illegal, immoderate, inverse, irrefutable and unlikely.

Adding to the confusion, in some languages and in some dialects of English, double negatives are acceptable to add emphasis.  But not in standard English.

So, if you want your readers to understand you at the first read, write using positives, not negatives.

By the way, that first sentence means that my neighbor said he or she could ignore a small amount of dust.