How to write an academic essay with references

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How to write an academic essay with references

Communicating research effectively through academic papers is one of the most essential components of any academic journey. While many PhD students and early career researchers are aware of presenting their data in a technical manner, either in the form of protocols or SOPs, writing an academic paper is a completely different process, since it needs to be backed with citations and references. Many of you may often be bogged with the question of what is an academic reference in an essay and how exactly it differs from a citation in academic writing. Since these two terms are often used interchangeably in the context of academic writing, there is a lot of confusion regarding their usage. This article provides some insights on how to write an academic essay and how to use citations and references in academic writing.

Both citations as well as references essentially serve the same purpose – that is, to point a reader toward the original source of a particular piece of information mentioned in your academic text. A citation in an academic writing is an acknowledgement of the source of information, and is present within the main text. On the other hand, references in academic writing are presented as a list of sources toward the end of the text. While understanding how to write an academic essay with references, it is important to know that each in-text citation is necessarily linked to a source in the list of references.

Now that we have had a brief insight into the basic similarities and differences between citations and references, here are some simple pointers on how to write an academic essay with the appropriate use of citations and references.

  • Context and content-based usage of citations and references in academic writing

While it is essential to lead a reader toward the original source of the information, you need to maintain discretion and know whether that piece of information really warrants the usage of citations and/or references. For example, if you are stating facts it is not necessary to have it linked to a source in the list of references in academic writing. Conversely, even when you use a citation in academic writing, you need to refrain from copying the sentences directly from the original source in your text, as that will still be flagged as plagiarism. If you are combining information from two or more sources in the same paragraph, it is better to add all citations together at the end of that paragraph, rather than citing the source for each individual sentence – this will lend a non-cluttered look to your academic essay and help the reader gain all the necessary information with minimal distractions.

  • Usage of citations and references based upon journal style and requirements

Usually journals have their own style and format for using a citation in academic writing. You can cite a source using numbers, wherein each number corresponds to a particular source in the list of references in your text. Or, you can also cite using the first/last author of the source mentioned in the list of references. Similarly, the amount of information that needs to be mentioned for each source in the list of references also varies depending upon the requirement and style of the journal. Additionally, some journals have an upper limit for the total number of references that can be used while describing information the text. Therefore, one important thing to keep in mind while compiling references in academic writing is to check the journal style and requirements thoroughly. This will also ensure that the final formatting process of your academic essay becomes comparatively smoother.

  • Excessive number of citations and references in academic writing

If the information that you want to mention in your text is a part of two or more sources, it is usually not essential to add all the sources, as this will lead to cluttering and also add limitations to your usage of references, especially if your journal has an upper limit. You can choose one or two sources that could be most efficient in leading the reader toward the full information based upon how effectively the sources cover the information. You can also make the choice based upon the impact factor of the journal in which the original source is published. Citing information from a higher impact factor journal, provided it conveys the same information, could also help in elevating the quality of your academic paper to a certain extent.

We hope that the above pointers help you in improving your skills at academic writing and provide you with some clarity on how to write an academic essay with references and citations.

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