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Citing References in Scientific Research Papers

Compiled by Timothy T. Allen, revised 20001. This paper greatly expands upon a handout originally prepared by an unknown author for distribution to students in introductory earth science courses at Dartmouth College. The work is presented here without copyright, although acknowledgement is (of course) appreciated.


• Introduction
• When to Cite References in a Scientific Paper
• Details of Citing References
• Details of Formatting Reference Lists
• References Cited (in this document)


It is important to properly and appropriately cite references in scientific research papers in order to acknowledge your sources and give credit where credit is due. Science moves forward only by building upon the work of others. There are, however, other reasons for citing references in scientific research papers.
Citations to appropriate sources show that you’ve done your homework and are aware of the background and context into which your work fits, and they help lend validity to your arguments. Reference citations also provide avenues for interested readers to follow up on aspects of your work — they help weave the web of science. You may wish to include citations for sources that add relevant information to your own work, or that present alternate views.

When to Cite References in Scientific Research Papers

You should acknowledge a source any time (and every time) you use a fact or an idea that you obtained from that source. Thus, clearly, you need to cite sources for all direct quotations. But you also need to cite sources from which you paraphrase or summarize facts or ideas — whether you’ve put the fact or idea into your own words or not, you got the fact or idea from somebody else and you need to give them proper acknowledgement (even if an idea might be considered “common knowledge,” but you didn’t know it until you found it in a particular source).
Sources that need to be acknowledged are not limited to books and journal articles, but include internet sites, computer software, written and e-mail correspondence, even verbal conversations with other people (in person or by telephone). All different kinds of sources must be acknowledged. Furthermore, if you use figures, illustrations, or graphical material, either directly or in modified form, that you did not yourself create or design, you need to acknowledge the sources of those figures.

Details of Citing References in your Text

When you cite a reference in your text you should use one of the following three formats

(1) Mention the author by last name in the sentence and then give the year of the publication in parenthesis:
• According to Rodgers (1983), the Appalachian mountains were formed in three events.
• (2) Give the facts or ideas mentioned by the author and then attribute these facts or ideas by putting both his or her last name and the date in parenthesis

• The first of the three events occurred in the Ordovician, the second in the Devonian, and the third in the Carboniferous and Permian Periods (Rodgers 1983).
• (3) Quote the author exactly–be sure to put the quoted phrase between quotation marks–and then list the author’s name, the date, and the page number in parenthesis:
• “All the climaxes produced mountainous islands or highlands that shed vast amounts of debris westward to form clastic wedges or delta complexes on the continental margin.” (Rodgers 1983, p. 229).

You only need to include the page number in the citation if you are quoting directly, or if the source is very long and the specific fact or idea you are citing can only be found on a specific page. Direct quotations that are more than 4 lines long should be set off from the rest of your paper by use of narrower margins and single spaced lines.

If you have more than one source by the same author published in the same year, distinguish them both in the in-text citation and in the reference list, by appending the letters a, b, c… to the year, in the order in which the different references appear in your paper. (For example: Allen 1996a, 1996b.)
This handout is intended to help you become more comfortable with the uses of and distinctions among quotations, paraphrases, and summaries. This handout compares and contrasts the three terms, gives some pointers, and includes a short excerpt that you can use to practice these skills.

What are the differences among quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing?
These three ways of incorporating other writers’ work into your own writing differ according to the closeness of your writing to the source writing.

Quotations must be identical to the original, using a narrow segment of the source. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.

Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly.

Summarizing involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Once again, it is necessary to attribute summarized ideas to the original source. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material.

Why use quotations, paraphrases, and summaries?

Quotations, paraphrases, and summaries serve many purposes. You might use them to

• Provide support for claims or add credibility to your writing
• Refer to work that leads up to the work you are now doing
• Give examples of several points of view on a subject
• Call attention to a position that you wish to agree or disagree with
• Highlight a particularly striking phrase, sentence, or passage by quoting the original
• Distance yourself from the original by quoting it in order to cue readers that the words are not your own
• Expand the breadth or depth of your writing
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Writers frequently intertwine summaries, paraphrases, and quotations. As part of a summary of an article, a chapter, or a book, a writer might include paraphrases of various key points blended with quotations of striking or suggestive phrases as in the following example

In his famous and influential work The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud argues that dreams are the “royal road to the unconscious” (page #), expressing in coded imagery the dreamer’s unfulfilled wishes through a process known as the “dream-work” (page #). According to Freud, actual but unacceptable desires are censored internally and subjected to coding through layers of condensation and displacement before emerging in a kind of rebus puzzle in the dream itself (page #).

How to use quotations, paraphrases, and summaries

Practice summarizing the essay found here, using paraphrases and quotations as you go. It might be helpful to follow these steps

• Read the entire text, noting the key points and main ideas.
• Summarize in your own words what the single main idea of the essay is.
• Paraphrase important supporting points that come up in the essay.
• Consider any words, phrases, or brief passages that you believe should be quoted directly.

There are several ways to integrate quotations into your text. Often, a short quotation works well when integrated into a sentence. Longer quotations can stand alone. Remember that quoting should be done only sparingly; be sure that you have a good reason to include a direct quotation when you decide to do so. You’ll find guidelines for citing sources and punctuating citations at our documentation guide pages.

Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee. Summary


This handout is intended to help you become more comfortable with the uses of and distinctions among quotations, paraphrases, and summaries. This handout compares and contrasts the three terms, gives some pointers, and includes a short excerpt that you can use to practice these skills.
Paraphrasing is one way to use a text in your own writing without directly quoting source material. Anytime you are taking information from a source that is not your own, you need to specify where you got that information.

A paraphrase is…

• Your own rendition of essential information and ideas expressed by someone else, presented in a new form.
• One legitimate way (when accompanied by accurate documentation) to borrow from a source.
• A more detailed restatement than a summary, which focuses concisely on a single main idea.

Paraphrasing is a valuable skill because…

• It is better than quoting information from an undistinguished passage.

• It helps you control the temptation to quote too much.
• The mental process required for successful paraphrasing helps you to grasp the full meaning of the original.

6 Steps to Effective Paraphrasing

1. Reread the original passage until you understand its full meaning.

2. Set the original aside, and write your paraphrase on a note card.

3. Jot down a few words below your paraphrase to remind you later how you envision using this material. At the top of the note card, write a key word or phrase to indicate the subject of your paraphrase.

4. Check your rendition with the original to make sure that your version accurately expresses all the essential information in a new form.

5. Use quotation marks to identify any unique term or phraseology you have borrowed exactly from the source.

6. Record the source (including the page) on your note card so that you can credit it easily if you decide to incorporate the material into your paper.
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