Referencing or citing plays a central role in writing and communicating research works.

Therefore, it is critically important to have a good understanding on when to cite and what sources can be used as reference materials.

Read more on the role of referencing in the following articles:

What is referencing in academic writing? – a different perspective

Roles of references in research papers: a broader assessment

When to cite?

When you have to cite for substantiating your writing is better understood when not to cite.

According to this source, you don’t need to cite or reference, when you are:

  • writing your own observations or experiment results, for example, a report on a field trip.
  • writing about your own experiences, for example, a reflective journal.
  • writing your own thoughts, comments or conclusions in an assignment.
  • evaluating or offering your own analysis.
  • using ‘common knowledge’ (facts that can be found in numerous places and are likely to be known by a lot of people) or folklore.
  • using generally accepted facts or information. This will vary in different disciplines of study.

How to decide whether something is common knowledge or general fact?

While writing research research report or assignment, among the items not requiring references, most confusing is to decide which knowledge/fact is common/general. A rule of thumb suggested by a leading university research writing support to make the decision is: if you did not have to look up information before writing it in your assignment, it does not need to be acknowledged. However, be cautious while using the rule as it might not be enough to label some facts as general or common.

For example, you are writing a research report on stem cells which will be presented to your fellow students for evaluation. Compared to your fellow students, somehow you know more about stem cells. So, the writing “Stem cells have the potential to revolutionise human health by impacting regenerative medicine” is a general fact for you. But for your fellow students, who don’t know much about stem cell and regenerative medicine, is not.

If you don’t cite the fact, they will wonder about its source or they need to trust you for friendship sake (which is not scientific). Therefore, in this case, you need to cite your writing so that your classmates have confidence in your writing and can check out the source for more.

Now consider, you are writing the report for readers and experts in the stem cells field. In this case, you don’t need to cite as this is a general fact in the field. Therefore, to decide whether a fact is general and common knowledge, you also need to consider the audience who will study your report and cite accordingly.

What to reference?

In your research writing assignment, you will use information and ideas available in different kind of sources. According to this, some sources are:

  • Journal articles
  • Books
  • Encyclopedias and dictionaries
  • Reports
  • Newspapers, magazines and advertisements
  • Website and social media
  • Computer programs and code
  • Data and published statistics by different organisations e.g., UN
  • Images, figures and photos
  • TV programs and movies
  • Songs and podcasts
  • Interviews, emails, conversations and other personal communications

Note that, all the sources don’t have the same trustworthiness. Among these, journal articles are most trustworthy as they are peer-review by the experts in the field for their authenticity.

Unlike other reference managers, nXr allows you to collect notes/images from numerous sources and view them side-by-side while writing.

nXr also allows direct citation based on notes/images and sharing them with readers to validate the authenticity of your research writing tasks.