Posts tagged: research

Aug 14 2012

Writing Tips: Citing Sources

When you are writing anything – non-fiction or fiction – you may end up doing some research. It’s important to cite your sources in the finished product, though how you do so is dependent upon a few different criteria. The reason you need to do this is so that other people can check that what you wrote is true, and so that you don’t have to worry about charges of plagiarism (copying someone else’s work and saying that it’s yours).

Fiction vs Non-Fiction

When you’re writing fiction, the best way to cite your sources is to list the different resources you accessed during your research at the end of your story. If you primarily did your research through interviews or other interpersonal communication, you may wish to acknowledge those people who participated. Lists of references are not often found at the end of short stories, but they can sometimes be found at the end of novels that focus on a particular issue or disability, in which case the resources are often listed under a heading such as “For More Information on [Topic].”

It is far more important to cite your sources when you are writing non-fiction than when you are writing fiction. In addition, you need to make sure you do so in the correct format, or style.

Citation Styles

There are three different types of citations that you may need to use. All of them require the same information (i.e., author, book or article title, publication if an article, date of publication, publisher, page numbers), but the information is presented in different ways.

In-text citations typically consist of the last name of the author, the year of the publication, and the page number on which the information is found, and the article or book concludes with a bibliography that lists all of the resources referenced in the text of the work, as well as any references that were consulted but not directly quoted or referenced in the text.

Footnotes use a superscript (i.e., smaller font and raised above the line of the rest of the text) reference number and give the publication information and page number at the bottom of the page. Again, the article or book concludes with a bibliography that lists all of the resources referenced in the footnotes, as well as any references that were consulted but not directly quoted or referenced in the text.

End notes are similar to footnotes, but the publication information and page numbers are listed at the end of the article or book chapter instead of at the bottom of the page. There may or may not be a bibliography in this case; if there is, it may only include references that were consulted but not directly quoted or referenced in the text.

Which One to Use?

The best way to approach the question of which citation style to use is to find out which style guide is being used by the publication you wish to submit the finished piece to, or which style guide is most commonly used in the industry for which you are writing.

For example, most scientific papers use end notes; news articles follow the Associated Press Style Guide; many branches of the humanities (e.g., English) use the Chicago Style or the Modern Language Association (MLA) Style; and psychology, social work, and related industries typically use American Psychological Association (APA) Style. Each of these style guides is partial to a different type of citation, so it is important to ensure that you find out which one you should follow. There are web sites that explain the basics, and most libraries will have at least one copy of the most current guide in their collections, so you should not have to spend a lot of money to educate yourself on how to follow the correct style.

Remember: Keep track of your sources. When you’re taking notes, be sure to write down what you are reading and which page the information came from. When you write, keep track of where you use what information.

Jul 10 2012

Writing Tips: Research

No matter what you’re writing, you will probably need to do some research. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. You’re writing non-fiction. In non-fiction, the things you’re writing are supposed to be based on facts. This means that you can’t just write down a bunch of ideas about the topic without checking to see if your ideas have been disproven somehow. Even when you’re writing a personal essay, which is a type of creative non-fiction, you need to have some factual background to support the things you’re saying – even if that factual background is simply your own experience.
  2. What you’re writing may have a larger impact than you think. If you’re writing an article or a report, you need to ensure that the information you’re presenting is accurate. People often make life changes based on articles they read, and businesses make decisions based on the information in the reports written by their employees.
  3. You’re writing fiction about something you don’t have any personal experience with. Always check to make sure that what you’re writing about is accurate. If you have never owned a cat, interview a bunch of cat-owners to get an idea of what cats are really like. If your character wears glasses and you have 20/20 vision, talk to people who wear corrective lenses and learn what it’s like to have to wear glasses or contact lenses all the time. If your character is a weapons expert and the closest you’ve come is taking archery lessons at summer camp, you should probably research the weapons he or she is dealing with.
  4. You’re quoting someone in an article. Make sure you get the quote right. Make sure you understand what the person said. If you misrepresent what was said, or if you misquote the person, you could be in a lot of trouble when that person sees what you’ve written.

I edit a lot of non-fiction, and I often have to ask clarifying questions to make sure I understand what was written. Sometimes I have to ask the author if he or she is certain that the information is really true, because it goes against things I have read or experienced. If you’re working with an editor and you are asked things like that, don’t be offended – it’s the editor’s job to make sure your writing is accurate as well as clear and concise!

I also read a lot of fiction and watch a lot of movies. I find it difficult to stay “in” the story when something is glaringly wrong in the story. For example, in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares, one of the characters talks about her guinea pig living in an aquarium. I own three guinea pigs and am currently fostering two others, and I will happily go on at length about the many reasons why an aquarium is not an appropriate home for a guinea pig. ThisĀ could have been researched quickly and easily using the Internet and/or asking friends for more information. Instead, I (as a reader) was upset about the guinea pig in the book. So do your research, even if you think you know what you’re talking about.

Remember: Research takes time, but it is an important part of the writing process. Well-done research will result in an accurate presentation of the facts, which will inform your readers and keep them involved in the story.

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