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How to Correctly Cite and Reference Your Research Work: Best Tips

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How to Correctly Cite and Reference your Research

Academic research demands serious citation and referencing as means of giving credit to original sources of knowledge. But it seems that as important as this part of writing papers is, it is also quite demanding.

Why is it so important to cite and reference sources in your work?

Academic writing, especially scientific papers have a lot to do with accuracy, and the very act of checking references for the sake of verifying information given serves as accuracy check. Citing makes you a better researcher because it improves your ability to give attention to details. Plus when you correctly cite your sources, you clear all doubts from your readers’ minds as regarding your point. A good bibliography portrays you as a well-informed researcher or scientist. In all, it serve to build your credibility as an academic writer.

There are different citation styles, I will discuss the three major ones in this article.

The APA (American Psychological Association)

MLA (Modern Language Association)

Chicago/Turabian style

Choosing the appropriate citation style

It is important to know how to choose the right citation style. How can you choose the appropriate citation style for your research?

Be informed about the formal or preferred style of your school: Different institutions have their preferred citation style, you don’t want to use a style that’s not approved, that can get your research rejected and you might need to do the whole referencing thing all over again, that’s a lot of stress.

Choose the suitable one for your field: different fields have their most suitable citation style. Knowing this can serve to guide your choice especially if you’ve not been restricted to any style in particular.

The APA style is used by Education, Psychology, and Sciences.

The MLA style is used by the Humanities.

The Chicago/Turabian style is used by Business, History, and the Fine Arts.


There are about four citation techniques, namely quoting, paraphrasing, summarising and citing a whole document.

Quoting: Quotations have to be identical to text in the source material. The quoted text is put in quotation marks and must be attributed to the author. If quoted text is less than 40 words, it should be included in the text of your write-up enclosed with quotation marks.

For example, Jackie (199x) discovered that ‘quoted text…’ (page 4)

If up to 40 or more words, the quoted text will be put as a block of text and the quotation mark omitted. It will look something like:

Miele (1993) discovered the following:

The “placebo effect”, which had been verified in previous studies, disappeared when behaviors were studied in this manner. Furthermore, the behaviours were never exhibited again, even when reel [sic] drugs were administered. Earlier studies (eg. Abdullah, 1984; Fox, 1979) were clearly premature in attributing the results to a placebo effect. (p. 276)

Paraphrasing:  To paraphrase is to express other researchers’ ideas in your own words. It may be shorter than the text in the original material. In this case, you must cite the original source. It is necessary to provide page numbers, this is to help the reader in locating related passages in the source material.

Summarising: this also involves putting the original ideas into your own words selecting only the main points. Summaries generally are shorter than texts in the source materials. It is important to cite original sources and could be helpful to put page numbers or chapter numbers, especially if this will assist your reader in navigating relevant passages within the long source material.

For example: As indicated in the seventh edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA, 2020), the principles guiding the ethics of scientific publication are intended to guarantee the veracity of scientific information and to guard other people’s intellectual property rights. Just as the expounded in the Publication Manual, the onus is on authors of research works as it is required of them to adjust the record if they discover errors in their publications; it is also required of them to give credit to others for their prior work when it is quoted or paraphrased (pp. 254-257).

Citing the whole document: This referencing technique is not often used, it is used when occasionally you need to give a general reference to the whole document.


This happens to be the most important part. You must know and follow the format stated in your chosen citation style.

For the three major citation styles, the formats are as follow:


Citation: It is necessary to put an in-text citation when you quote, paraphrase, summarise or refer to another source. And it is important to enter a corresponding reference in your reference list at the back page of your work.

For APA in-text citation style, author’s last name and year of publication is used. For example: (Shonga, 2004) Page numbers should be included when direct quotations are used, something like: (Shonga, 2004, p.10). When you’re referencing from websites and e-materials that may not have page numbers, you can use paragraph number. For example: (Shonga, 2004, para 3)

Example of a paragraph with in-text citation is given below:

These merits include: ease of sample preparation without the need for any pretreatments, the possibility of separating the sample measurement position by use of fiber optic probes, and the possibility of obtaining chemical and physical sample parameters from a single spectrum (Siddiqui et al., 2013).

For the reference list at the back, when using APA style, see an example below:

Siddiqui M. R., Zeid A. A. and Nafisur R. (2013). Analytical techniques in pharmaceutical analysis, Arabian Journal of Chemistry (1016)04-016.


MLA was developed by the Modern Language Association as a referencing style. There’s the in-text citation in the body of your write-up and the detailed list of ‘Works Cited’ at the end of the paper.

In-text citation: When using MLA style, use the first thing mentioned in the Works Cited section which is usually the author’s surname, also put page number(s) in parenthesis. For example (Joe 289).  In the instance that the author’s name appears in the body of your write-up, use only the applicable page number(s) in parenthesis. It should be something like, Joe reported that…is valid. (289). You should not put punctuation between the author’s name and the page number(s).

For the Works Cited section: omit any irrelevant element. The order is alphabetical and letter by letter. This implies that Sam comes before Smith. Ignore any diacritical marks or special characters like ‘@’

The order is as follows:

Author. Title of source. Title of container, other contributors, version, Number, Publication, date, Location.


Citations for this style come in two types:

1. Notes and bibliography: This is usually preferred by those working in the humanities (literature, history, and the arts). Sources are cited here as footnotes or endnotes. The sources are also listed in a separate bibliography.

2. Author-date:  This is more commonly used in the sciences and social sciences. When using this style, sources are briefly cited in the text, using parentheses – Author’s name and year of publication. It is important that for every citation, there’s a corresponding entry in the reference list where detailed bibliographic information is given.

It is advisable to choose the system used by others in your field of research, or the style required by your school or publisher.

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