The importance of citations and references


If you are interested or forced to deal with aspects related to the world of research, either through the Final Degree Project (TFG) of your career, the TFM of your master’s degree, or your PhD thesis; I’m sure the subject of quotations and references sounds like you … and surely what comes to your mind when you talk about them is not good at all.

If I have guessed right. Welcome to the club of which 95% of the researchers or pre-researchers of the world are part. Although some tricks or apps like Zotero can help you, managing appointments and bibliographic references of our projects is a boring and important task. For that reason, I think it’s worth it today that we talk a little about this:

What are appointments? Is an appointment the same as a reference?

When we use the term “appointment”, we are usually referring to a literal phrase, more or less long, that we include in our article, thesis, TFM, etc; with the purpose of illustrating an idea, theory or concept with the exact words of another author.

This is usually done when you want to give a canonical definition or a very important author about a particular concept, or when we do not find a way to say something if it is not using the words of another author who has already said it before us . It is then a phrase or literal paragraph, and it is very important to reference it correctly because if we do not, this is plagiarism; and plagiarism is a crime.

What’s the difference between a quote and a reference, then? Well, a reference is the reference to the work or works of one or more authors on a specific topic. That reference can accompany an appointment (as we just explained) or be in the middle of the explanation we are giving with our words on the subject in question.

The reference, which is easy to find in the text (the format is usually “Rodríguez, (2013)” or “(Rodríguez, 2013)) tells us then that another author or authors have spoken before us about what we are telling in that point of our work.

What differentiates a list of references from a bibliography list?

The references, once we have finished our text, should appear in full format at the end of our document so that any person can locate the works in case he considers it appropriate. Thus, if we have quoted three books by Isabel Rodríguez in our work (among others), they should appear at the end of it, more or less like this:

  • Rodríguez, I. (2012). Learning to Cite. Almería: Siglo XXIII.
  • Rodríguez, I. (2014). We continue to learn to quote. Almería: Siglo XXIII.
  • Rodríguez, I. (2017). How to make an appointment? Barcelona: Paidós.

The specific style and format to make our list of references is variable depending on the branch of knowledge in which we work, and according to the format where we will deliver (only among scientific journals there are several, such as APA, Chicago Style, Harvard, MLA. ..), but in general, they will all ask you to put the last name and the year in the body; and order them in order of appearance in the document or alphabetically in the list of references.

Regarding the list of bibliography, as I understand it, it is a list of books, articles and other sources related to the theme of our TFM, TFG, thesis … but we have not necessarily had to cite in our work. Its function is therefore more complementary or to broaden concepts. Therefore, the bibliography is not mandatory to put it, but the list of references yes, since they will allow us to go to the original sources of those ideas that are not ours, but that we have borrowed.

What are they for and what is their purpose?

As we are seeing, citations and references have different functions, all of them equally valid and useful: They serve to illustrate our work, to give it more rigor (that is why it is not only us who defend an idea, but there are more people who said it before), so that interested people can consult ideas at a higher level of development in other more extensive or specialized documents, among others.

The importance of using them

For all the above, use references and make a final list of them is not important, it is essential. Unless we are writing an essay or an opinion piece, where everything we say is going to be our own, we must resort to the use of references every time we affirm something we have read or have previously known through other documents.

If you ever doubt about whether you should use an appointment, think about what you are explaining what you have read before (literally, or not) or it has happened to you. If the correct option is the first … you must use quotes.

Making a list of appointments can be very tedious and boring, but if you do not, you will be exposed to legal problems if someone realizes it, even if you have not done so with an express intention to copy or plagiarize. And if you do not believe me, remember what happened to the rector of the Rey Juan Carlos University not long ago.

At the beginning of this post you have a link to Zotero and another post on this blog with some tricks to make more enjoyable (within what fits) the use of references. And if you know more tricks or need more information, leave it here in the comments below!

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