Integrating sources that contain useful information into your scientific written work makes for a credible document, but it is very important to cite these sources correctly. Watch the video below, Citing Sources in Science Writing (UBC), to learn about integrating and citing sources in science writing.
In science writing, it is rare to use direct quotes; they can be long and sometimes very confusing for a reader. It is generally better to paraphrase or summarize than to use quotes.
This shows you have an understanding of the material, whereas using quotations of the work of others doesn’t often show that you understand - or are able to - synthesize what you’ve read and tailor it appropriately to what you are writing about.
In science, only use quotations if a piece of information is well-phrased or unique and cannot be simply rephrased to have the same effect. For example, don’t write: Cliff et al. (1989) reported that “A total of 591 great white sharks Carcharodon carcharias were caught between 1974 and 1988 in the gill nets which are maintained along the Natal coast to protect bathers from shark attack.” Instead, write something like: Nearly 600 great white sharks were caught in gill nets along the Natal coast between 1974 and 1988 (Cliff et al. 1989).
Because you must interpret a source when you paraphrase or summarize it, you must be very careful not to misrepresent the author in any way, which is easier 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.
Although it is sometimes important to use ‘strong’ descriptors such as argue, challenge, confess, attack etc. it is generally a good idea to use ‘neutral’ descriptors whenever possible, as these cannot be misinterpreted so 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.
Whether you are including a quote or a paraphrased sentence (see below for tips on paraphrasing) in your writing from someone else’s work, it must be cited. In science writing there are two general styles for citing references in text: expanded referencing or abbreviated referencing (see below). We generally cite information from journal articles more often than other sources in science writing because they typically contain the most up-to-date information, but the same formatting is used for books as well.
1) Expanded referencing (author-year): Includes the author’s last name and the year of publication for in-text citing, and an alphabetical list of references at the end of the article.
2) Abbreviated referencing (author-number): Includes a number in parentheses or superscript for in-text citing and a numerical list of references at the bottom of the article (i.e. the order in which they are found in the text).
These examples are designed to highlight how each style of citing can be used. Although there is sometimes flexibility when citing, remember to check with your instructor which style you should use. If he/she is happy for you to use either one, make sure you are always consistent in your formatting style (i.e. don’t mix the two styles in one piece of writing).
Tip: Not sure what to cite? Review Why Cite & What to Cite.
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