Identifying and Citing Sources

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Integrating and Citing Sources’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.

A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.

A Note on the Different Versions

All different versions have been used and refined following student and instructor feedback, and all of them focus on the same important concepts. We cycle different versions across different terms to minimize the potential that students enrolled in our course in concurrent terms will share answers (e.g. we do not use the same version in concurrent terms).

Please note that while the initial choice of which version to use is somewhat arbitrary, it is important to use the same version for the pre-, in- and post-class activities as a whole unit; this is because some of the questions appearing in the in-class lesson/workshop and/or post-class activities build on work completed in the pre-class activities (e.g. do not use pre-class version 1, and post-class version 2 together).

Identifying and Citing Sources: In-Class Activities, Instructor Guide

This guide complements the final worksheets (and PowerPoint), but please have a look at these so you know when you should display certain slides.

Activity 1 (work together, 5 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 10 min)

You should allow five minutes for students to complete Activity 1 before discussing the solutions with them for ~ 5 minutes.

Activity 2 (work together, 20 min + 5 min for instructor to discuss progress, total time elapsed = 35 min)

You should allow 20 minutes for students to complete Activity 2. You might want to walk around the classroom and talk to students, answering any questions they have. You could also encourage students to share any useful tips they discover for narrowing or broadening literature searches with their peers before moving on to the final activity.

Activity 3 (work alone and then together, 10 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 50 min)

You should allow 10 minutes (or however much time you have remaining) for students to complete Activity 3 before leading a brief wrap-up discussion. Note: There are useful example citations (in the correct format) on the final slide of the PowerPoint presentation that may be useful to display to help students as they work through this activity.

Identifying and Citing Sources: Pre-Class Activities

Introduction

Choosing suitable sources for any piece of scientific writing – especially a scholarly one, such as a lab report or essay – is extremely important. This is because these sources will help add relevant detail to your writing, provide more information for interested readers, and allow you to justify any arguments you make by providing evidence. The credibility of your writing will directly relate to the quality of the sources you cite, which is why it is so important that you are able to identify the different types before you cite them (primary, secondary and tertiary).

Primary Sources

Primary sources are primary because the information in them comes directly from the person/people responsible for it (i.e. it is ‘primary’ because nobody else has adapted the message intended by the original author(s)). For this reason, you don’t need to worry that the message has been misinterpreted by anyone else. This is one main reason why integrating primary sources in your writing is generally encouraged over other types.

Typically, in science, primary sources are journal articles that detail the results and interpretations of original scientific research. Because an article must be peer-reviewed before appearing in these journals, you have a fair sense that it is a high-quality contribution to scientific thinking in the topic it addresses; after all, if the information did not move theory forward in some way, or was poorly put together, it would be unlikely to make it past the eyes of reviewers and be accepted for publication in a journal. This is another main reason why using primary sources is generally advised.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are compiled solely from primary sources but the key difference is that the author(s) do not need to have conducted the research reported in these primary sources. For example, you could perform a literature search of all primary journal articles published in the past two years on the topic of tropical fish evolution, and then summarize the latest knowledge on this topic into one article. You would not have performed any of this research, but because it came from primary sources, your summary would be a secondary one.

These are known as review articles. Such articles are common in science journals, and are often a great way of reading the latest developments in a specific topic. However, you must remember that the author(s) of these secondary sources have summarized the primary material (and therefore interpreted it), which means you will be taking the accuracy of these summaries on trust if citing them.

Because it is a requirement that all the primary sources are cited and provided in the reference list of the secondary source, you can refer back to the original articles to ensure they have been accurately summarized. Using secondary sources in your writing is acceptable – so long as you take this important step.

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are compiled from the primary and secondary literature, and are often written in slightly less scientific terms to appeal to a non-specialist audience. For example, most textbooks use information from primary and secondary sources but don’t generally provide references to these sources, so it is not possible to check for the accuracy (or to consult these to add more specific detail to the points they make).

For this reason, it is generally unwise to use tertiary sources for scholarly writing, but they are often useful to help you gather basic information about certain topics. In addition, they are often useful for providing the level of information needed for written work targeted at non-specialist audiences (e.g. information sheets, blog posts, newspaper articles).

Grammar Squirrel Video Resource

For a quick recap, and for more tips on how to differentiate between the different types of sources, watch the Grammar Squirrel video here.

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (1 mark each, 5 marks total)

For each of the following questions, decide whether the type of source listed is a primary, secondary or tertiary source.

Q1: A journalistic article in the local newspaper about the threat of earthquakes that cites original research and includes summaries and case studies from a variety of other sources.
Q2: A M.Sc. thesis written by a student that details how he developed and tested a new, sensitive early-warning system for measuring earthquakes.
Q3: A chapter in a history textbook, which lists details of all the major earthquakes that have occurred over the past 500 years.
Q4: A conference review document written by an organizer that details key messages delivered by 15 different speakers about their own, earthquake-related research, and which includes a reference list.
Q5: A technical, detailed blog post written by one of the speakers, about his recently conducted experiments and results, which includes a reference list.

Question 6 (5 marks)

To help you think a bit more about why it matters whether you use primary, secondary, or tertiary sources, try to fill in the following gaps by choosing the most suitable word from the options available:

When communicating science, it is never/occasionally/usually/always acceptable to use tertiary sources to provide evidence to support what you are saying. Primary sources are always/typically/sometimes the best option for finding the most accurate/relevant/interesting information about original research; however, secondary sources – particularly review articles that summarize many primary research articles in a certain topic – are good places to find relevant/technical/old references to primary papers. These secondary sources are often accurate, but you should scan the references list and read the original articles that have been cited to be sure; after all, it is very important not to misquote/misrepresent someone else’s work.

Question 7 (2 marks)

Think about and name one scientific topic that interests you. This could be something broad, such as ‘sexual selection’ or something very specific, such as ‘sexual selection in the Black Grouse (a species of bird)’.

The ideal topics are those that are neither too broad nor too narrow; if they are too broad, it can be hard to find relevant information in primary sources, but if they are too specific, there are not so many primary sources out there for you to find. To gain both marks for this question, you must choose a topic that fits somewhere in between.

Question 8 (2 marks)

You must now find at least two primary sources that could help you add content to a piece of writing about this topic. You should bring these (and any others you find) to the in-class lesson/workshop, where you will begin writing a short piece about your chosen topic that correctly cites information from these sources.

Use Google Scholar to find two primary sources that contain information that would be useful for you to include in a piece of writing about your chosen topic.

List these two sources by including the name of the article, the journal it appears in, the name(s) of the author(s), and the year that it was published. If you can, also include the hyperlinks to these two articles.

Note: You will learn a lot more about how to search for relevant sources, about other search tools that are useful, and about how to cite these sources appropriately, in the in-class lesson/workshop.

Avoiding Plagiarism by Crediting Sources in Written Work

There are three main types of plagiarism, and it is very important that you are aware of these and avoid them. All three types (unintentional, blatant and self) relate closely to how you credit the sources you have used to add content to your work.

Whereas you might unintentionally plagiarize someone else’s work by failing to cite such work correctly, you can blatantly plagiarize the same work by passing it off as your own; be mindful that it is just as serious to copy your friend’s homework as it is to copy someone else’s published ideas without crediting them as the source of that information. Finally, you can plagiarize yourself by copying work completed for one assignment and handing it in to form part or all of another; you should always check with an instructor, but make sure if you duplicate written work that you credit the fact it has appeared/been handed in at a previous time.

These three types of plagiarism can be committed as a student or as a research scientist. For example, a scientist who has published work in the scientific literature would be committing self-plagiarism by submitting a journal article that copies text from a formerly published article, just as a student would commit the same type of plagiarism by duplicating text from a former assignment.

One of the toughest things to understand is exactly when and what you need to cite in your writing. After all, when you read journal articles, you will realize that not every single sentence includes a citation with a reference to a specific source. Table 1 below provides a quick checklist to help you decide which information requires a citation.

Table 1: How to decide what you must cite in your science writing

What you NEED to cite What you DO NOT NEED to cite
  • Ideas, concepts, opinions, etc. of others
    • Direct quotes, summaries, paraphrases
  • Common knowledge
    • General (Shakespeare wrote Hamlet)
    • Field-specific (a double bond is stronger than a single bond)
  • Facts used as evidence
    • Findings, conclusions, theories
  • Facts that are easily verifiable, and for which no controversy exists (Penicillin was discovered in 1928)
  • Distinctive or authoritative ideas

Question 9 (6 marks)

List three different pieces of information from your primary sources (at least one from each) that might be useful to include in your piece of writing about the topic (3 marks). Then, justify whether or not you would need to credit the source that these came from to avoid plagiarism (3 marks). Make sure you include at least one piece of information that you would not need to be cited, to show that you are able to discern the difference between these types of information.

In-Class Activities – Reminder

Remember to bring:

a) The two (or more) primary sources that you found about your chosen topic
b) A laptop or tablet to work with, as you will be doing more literature searches in the in-class activities.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Version 1 Solutions

Identifying and Citing Sources: In-Class Activities

Activity 1 (work together, 5 minutes)

To refresh your memory about some of the concepts that were covered in the pre-class activities, find a partner (or work in a group of three to ensure nobody is alone) and discuss with them:

  1. What it is that makes a source primary, secondary, or tertiary? That is, how do you differentiate between them?
  2. Why does it matter whether you use each type of source to provide evidence/support?
  3. What sort of information within these sources needs to be cited to avoid plagiarism?

Note that your instructor will briefly discuss these points with you before you all move on as a class to the next section.

Finding Appropriate Sources in the Scientific Literature

In the pre-class activities, you used Google Scholar to find at least two primary sources that were relevant to the science topic you are going to write a short piece about in these in-class activities (and in the post-class activities to come).

Google Scholar is not the only useful search engine that can be used to find useful references, however. Today, we will use Web of Science to develop your searching skills further.

There are two general categories of tips for making your literature search more effective; these will either narrow your search or they will broaden it. Whether you wish to employ either strategy will depend on what you are searching for.

Broadening Your Search

  1. Use the Boolean operator ‘OR’ to include words with similar meaning in your search (e.g. Canine OR Dog OR Husky OR Malamute)
  2. Use truncated words and an asterisk (*) to discover material with variations around the same basic word (e.g. ‘Alask*’ finds literature focusing on ‘Alaska’, and ‘Alaskan’)
  3. Search for the scientific species name as well as the common name (e.g. Gray Whale OR Eschrichtius robustus).

Narrowing Your Search

  1. Use the Boolean operator ‘AND’ to only return results containing both search terms (e.g. Earthquake AND Volcano AND Lava)
  2. Use the Boolean operator ‘NOT’ to remove certain results you are not interested in (e.g. Earthquake NOT Tremor)
  3. Use phrased search terms “” to only include results that have these terms next to one another (e.g. “Global Climate Change”)
  4. Use a filter to focus on the dates of publication you are interested in (e.g. Tick ‘Since 2012’ or enter a custom range such as ‘2012 – 2013’)

Narrowing and Broadening Your Search: One Last Tip

  • Snowball a paper that contained useful references by reading those cited within it (and listed in its references section at the end); many of these will also be very useful for you too!

Activity 2 (20 minutes, work together)

Make sure you are working so that at least one of your pair/group has a laptop/tablet with which you can both access the Internet and Web of Science.

Spend 10 minutes each searching for more primary sources that will provide relevant information on the science topic you chose to write about. Try to experiment with the tips above to narrow and/or broaden your searches, but make sure you find (and save, if possible) at least two more useful primary sources each.

Note that your instructor will lead a very brief discussion before you move on to see whether you learned any other strategies, just by experimenting.

Integrating Sources via Citations

Proper referencing includes two parts: in-text citations and a complete reference list of sources from which these arose (this should come at the end of your piece of writing).

In-text citations show your reader(s) that certain pieces of the specific information you have used to strengthen your paper came from the work of others. The list of references

at the end of your paper then gives the exact references you used, which allows your reader(s) to easily find and refer back to them.

Citation Formatting

In science writing, expanded referencing is the most universally used style for citing references. It includes:

  1. The author/authors’ last name/names and the year of publication in the body of the writing
  2. An alphabetical list of all these references at the end of the article, which contains more complete information (the title of the paper, the journal it was published in, the issue number of this journal, and the specific page numbers)

General Rules for In-Text Citations

Some journals use subtly different formats for their in-text citations, so you should always check to make sure you are using the correct format required (whether you are writing an article for a specific journal, or completing an essay at university). However, we will focus on the most commonly used format, which follows the two key rules below.

  1. If there are one or two authors, cite both surnames (and the date of publication)
  2. If there are more than two authors, only write the first name followed by et al.

Examples

  • Blue, left-handed widgets are actually wodgets (Smith, 1993).
  • Bloggs et al. (1995) noted that…
  • Smith and Jones (1997) wrote that…

General Rules for Reference Lists

As with the format of in-text citations, subtle differences will exist from journal to journal, and from university to university. We will focus again on the most commonly used format, which follows the basic rules below.

  1. Place at the end of your piece of writing
  2. Compile in alphabetical order
  3. There are numerous different styles, but the most common one uses the format: All Surnames and Initials, (Publication Year). Title. Journal, Issue: Pages.

e.g. Smith, T, Shineton, JL, (1993). Widgets and wodgets. Journal of Computing, 37: 6–15.

Activity 3 (work alone and then together, 10 minutes)

Begin thinking about how you might use some of the sources you have found about the science topic you are going to write about. To gain practice in citing them correctly, try to write one sentence for each source so that you attribute a piece of information to each one (use the examples above to help you).

Remember that it is very unusual to quote one of your sources directly in a piece of science writing. Instead, try to paraphrase the original information provided and simply include the citation to confirm which author this idea belongs to.

Note that your instructor will be on hand to help you here, and to answer any questions you have about paraphrasing and citing your sources.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: In-Class Activities Solutions

Identifying and Citing Sources: Post-Class Activities

These post-class activities are designed to complement the pre-class and in-class activities and further develop the skills you learned when completing them; your main task, which encompasses the majority of the activities in this post-class set, is to compose a short piece of properly cited writing that focuses on the science topic you initially chose.

Before you put that together, read the information about choosing appropriate words to introduce sources that you cite. You should then complete Question 1, which will give you some practice in applying these concepts.

Choosing Descriptive Words to Introduce Citations

Because you must interpret a source when you paraphrase it, you must be very careful not to misrepresent the author in any way, which can be easier to do than you might think.

For example, writing that Reilly (2010) ‘found’ that more than one cup of morning coffee slows response rates in people, is not the same thing as writing that Reilly (2010) ‘argued’ that more than one cup of morning coffee slows response rates in people. Finding something after conducting an experiment suggests the result was objective, whereas arguing something suggests the opposite.

Although it is sometimes important to use strong descriptors such as argue, challenge, confess, attack etc. when they appropriately describe the stance being taken, it is generally a good idea to use neutral descriptors whenever possible, as these cannot be misinterpreted as easily.

For example, writing that Reilly (2010) ‘wrote’ that more than one cup of morning coffee slows response rates in people cannot be misinterpreted, and therefore removes any concern that you might have about paraphrasing his/her work.

Question 1 (4 marks)

Read the following excerpt from a primary source (written by Jonathan Nolan, and published in 2009) and then rank the descriptive words used by people that paraphrased and cited this material; rank these words from best to worst.

In our controlled experiments, we saw that 92% of newborn rats showed a preference for bedding that smelled of their mother rather than of another unrelated female rat when offered the choice.

Nolan (2009)…

A: found that newborn rats choose bedding that smells like their mother.
B: intimated that newborn rats choose bedding that smells like their mother.
C: proved that newborn rats choose bedding that smells like their mother.
D: showed that newborn rats choose bedding that smells like their mother.

Citation Formatting

This information is also found in the in-class materials, but is included here in case you missed that lesson/workshop. You will need to follow these hints to answer Question 6.

In science writing, there are two general styles for citing references in text: expanded referencing or abbreviated referencing. The first of these is the most universally used, and we are going to focus solely on that one, which includes:

  1. The author’s last name and the year of publication in the body of the writing
  2. An alphabetical list of all these references at the end of the article, which contains more complete information (the title of the paper, the journal it was published in, the issue of this journal, and the page numbers)

Rules for In-Text Citations

  • If there are one or two authors, cite both surnames (and the date of publication)
  • If there are more than two authors, only write the first name followed by et al.

Examples

  • Blue, left-handed widgets are actually wodgets (Smith, 1993).
  • Bloggs et al. (1995) found that …
  • Smith and Jones (1997) wrote that…

Rules for Reference Lists

  • Place at the end
  • List sources in alphabetical order
  • There are numerous different styles, but the most common one uses the format: All Surnames, Initials, (Publication Year). Title. Journal, Issue: Pages.

e.g. Smith, T (1993). Widgets and wodgets. Journal of Computing, 37: 6-15.

Question 2 (12 marks total)

Compose a short piece of writing about the science topic you initially chose in the pre-class activities, and about which you found additional primary sources in the in-class lesson/workshop. This piece of writing does not need to be long (200 words is fine) but it should be written as though you are providing information about the topic to an audience that would not know much about it.

To attain high marks, try to make sure you:

  1. Include information from at least four primary sources, and cite these properly by using in-text citations (4 marks)
  2. Use appropriate descriptive words when referring to these sources (4 marks)
  3. Produce a correctly formatted reference list that provides full information about these sources at the end of your piece of writing (4 marks)

Question 3 (4 marks)

Recall from the pre-class activities that you do not need to cite certain types of information to avoid plagiarism. Provide two examples of information in your writing for which you have not provided an in-text citation, and then justify why you have not provided a citation for this paraphrased information.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Version 1 Solutions

Identifying and Citing Sources In-Class PowerPoint

Timing Guide

Pre-Class Activities

In-Class Activities

Post-Class Activities


The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for suggested solutions password protected page for: Pre-class activity, Post-class activity, and In-class activity solutions