7 Common Citation Mistakes You Should Avoid In Essays And Research Papers


Are you writing a research paper or dissertation without a proper grip on how to cite your sources? Well, you must consider yourself warned. Proper citationof sources is a pivotal aspect of scholarly writing, without which your write-up has little or no value. Yet, it is a less popular and the least mastered art in the academia and unsurprisingly, the Achilles heel of many researchers. Here are the most common mistakes students make with regard to references and citations:

1. No references where they are absolutely required

Some parts of your essay unequivocally call for references. For instance, when talking about a particular topic, you cannot simply make statements like "As some studies have shown..." or "Many earlier studies argue..." without clarifying who these "some" and "many" are.If you are using such phrases in your papers, be sure to justify them by giving the references of such studies.

2. Using ideas of others without citing

More often than not, students identify the importance of citing direct quotations but fail to citesummaries and paraphrases. Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing are three methods of incorporating another person's ideas into your write-up, and hence all three should be cited, based on the stylesheet you follow.

3. Mixing up citation styles

When citing primary and secondary sources, students are expected to follow a stylesheet, such as the MLA, APA, Chicago Manual, etc. Each of them hasits own set rules and formats for citing sources. If you are following a stylesheet, say the APA, ensure that your entire essay is in sync with the guidelines prescribed by the APA. Your in-text citations, footnotes or endnotes, reference list/works cited, and bibliography should follow the rules set forth in the APA style guide. In a piece of writing, you cannot use one stylesheet for in-text citations, another for bibliography.

4. Lack of correspondence between sources and reference list

The list of references or bibliography you provide at the end of your paper should contain every single source you cited in the main body of the text. Often, students make the mistake of omitting some references from the bibliography or they add more sources to it to make it look lengthy. Keep in mind that your examiners will pay close attention to whether your citations and bibliography correspond to each other.

5. Punctuation and format errors

Those who ask 'what is in a comma or period?' haven't understood the importance of citations yet. Punctuations and formats are of great importance when you cite sources directly in the text and develop your bibliography. Any errors in them may be considered a serious breach of citation guidelines, and your essay may be considered as falling short of citation requirements. Some examiners are extremely finicky about such matters, so keep your citations free of punctuation and format errors.

6. Incorrect use of et al

Typically, you use et al in in-text citations as a means to limit the use of space. For instance, if a book is co-authored by five authors, mentioning all the names can be space consuming. In such instances, you should use et al after the first author's name. However, it should be kept in kind that et al is used only if the number of authors exceeds two. An example is given below:

  • Mary John and Carl Guttenberg will be written as John and Guttenberg (2 authors)
  • Mary John, Carl Guttenberg, Raymond Williams, Ronald Stevenson and Sherryl Parker will be written as John et al (more than 2 authors)

7. No page number for direct quotes

Another common mistake students make while citing sources is to leave out page numbers, especially in direct quotations. If you are directly quoting from a source, the page number should be given in brackets. Itis in your best interests to record page numbers systematically, especially if you are dealing with large numbers of sources, lest you will be left with theunpleasant task of revisiting all your sources.

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