Students have learned in multiple courses since high school about proper research techniques and citing sources. Here, you will find the answers to some basic questions about research and citing sources followed by an activity to perform for writing citations. Answering questions about providing citations also addresses questions related to information literacy. Specifically, how do you decide if a source is providing reliable and valuable information?
How do you decide on the quality of a source?
- The highest quality sources have an editorial board or are peer-reviewed in some way. This includes books and most articles from periodicals (magazines). Do not assume that all magazines, including online magazines, have a significant review process.
- Information from the internet likely to change, such as information on any wiki page or information provided by a “.com” site, may be useful but may not be high quality or reliable.
- Information from a “.com” or “.org” site may be biased and may be prone to change over time. The better the reputation of the owner of the site, the more reliable the information provided.
- Cannot assume that information from a “.edu” site is of high quality. The site may be from a single faculty member with no reviewer. It is more likely to be of higher quality if the site is sponsored by an educational department within an institution (such as a library or an institute).
- Cannot assume that content created by generative AI is reliable. Many examples of AI fabricating information have already been uncovered. To be sure that the content is correct, you will need to require citations and then verify each citation. This can be effective for narrow and well-defined queries. Ultimately, there will be situations for which your own research might take less time and lead to better results than that produced by generative AI.
Which citation style should you use?
The preferred style for scientific writing is the APA style.
Why provide citations?
- If you do not provide a citation where you should and you are found out, you may be accused of plagiarism which can lead to negative consequences such as diminished or destroyed reputation, failing grades, and dismissal.
- Citations add to the credibility of the information you are trying to communicate.
- Citations provide a path to more in depth information for your audience.
What information needs to be cited?
- Anything that is a direct quote.
- Any content that is paraphrased from a source.
- Any graphic image, including photographs, copied from a source.
- Any content created by a generative AI.
What information does not need to be cited?
- Commonly known information (i.e. Ohm’s Law).
- Graphic images designed for public use, such as images provided in the Clip Art Gallery by Microsoft.
What is your first and best resource for help?
The library provides primary support for research work. College libraries across the country provide a wide range of resources to help their students. Many of these sites are available without a login.
Library and college systems, including SUNY, are developing tools to support use of generative AI software such as ChatGPT. For example, the following site, ChatGPT & AI Tools – APA Style 7th Edition – Research Guides at University of Guelph-Humber (libguides.com), highlights the changing landscape and explicitly states that the guidance provided is interim as of May 2023.
- Sign in to myDCC.
- Navigate to the Ritz Library.
- Links of interest: Getting Citations from a Database, APA Guidance, Tutorials & Other Resources, Citation Generators
How should you collect bibliographic information?
As you are researching information, every time you find a source that you think might be useful, use a citation generator to generate the proper bibliographic information (highly recommended site: ). Also include an annotation; a short description of the source’s relevant contents. Annotations can be included as part of the References section thus providing what is called an “annotated bibliography”. Further detail is provided in a subsequent sub-section. See the examples provided here for generating citations using the KnightCite link. Figures 1 and 2 show what was entered in to the generator.
The entries in the KnightCite form shown in Figure 1 generated the following citation:
The entries in the KnightCite form shown in Figure 2 generated the following citation:
Note: All lines following the first line in a citation are indented. Use paragraph formatting and/or the formatting controls provided with the ruler in your text editor. Refrain from using TAB for standard indentation.
Hopefully, these examples help illuminate how to use the citation generator although confusion commonly occurs when citing web sites distinguishing between the web site’s title and the document title (see form above). The web site’s title is the name of the web site’s “owner” as opposed to the name of a particular page within the site. For example, if looking at a web page online about “Solar Energy Basics”, which is a page provided by the National Renewable Energy Lab, then “National Renewable Energy Lab” is the web site title and “Solar Energy Basics” is the document title.
Annotated references – what they are and when to use them
Annotating references is a useful research technique during the process of collecting sources. However, requiring annotated references may become more common with the expectation that people regularly pull their information from internet sources. Thus, I have started to require annotated bibliographies for ALL major reports submitted to me. Annotations include one to three sentences describing relevant, useful information about the source that (1) establish the credibility of the source and (2) describe how the source was utilized in the report. Annotated bibliographic entries for the sources cited above are provided here.
Arduino is a well-established company that provides microcontrollers. Hardware and software technical support and tutorials for many peripheral devices that can be attached to the microcontroller are available on their site. This page provides information about using the knock sensor to detect sound including a suggested sketch that was used to explain the sensor’s operation in the system presented.
Electronic Design is a magazine available in print as well as on the internet. This article provides a lightly technical explanation of the piezoelectric effect. A PDF file of the full article is available from this site. The source was used to explain the underlying theory for the knock sensor.
As mentioned above, annotated references are especially useful and important if citing a source whose veracity may be questioned in some way as is often the case for internet sources. A source of reference material is suspicious if it isn’t clear who is responsible for the content. But even if the author or authors are clearly stated and their expertise can be objectively verified, the material can still be questionable if there isn’t a paid editorial review board that assures the accuracy of the information provided in some regular and structured way. In such a case, you can use the annotation to establish the credibility of the source and/or to point out questionable standing while establishing the usefulness of the source for the purpose of the report.
An example of this would be the HyperPhysics site. When looking at “About HyperPhysics”, you will find this statement: “The intellectual property rights and the responsibility for accuracy reside wholly with the author, Dr. Rod Nave.” It is clear there is no paid editorial review board but there is good reason to trust the information. A sample annotated reference for this site might be:
HyperPhysics is an educational site written and updated by a professor at Georgia State University in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. The source has been selected as an endorsed tool for physics teachers by the National Science Teachers Association. It also won a Merlot Classic Award in 2005 and is reviewed by the Physical Science Information Gateway and PhysicsWorld. The information provided supported background theory discussion of filters.
Note how the annotation helps establish the veracity of information culled from this site. But annotation might be used to describe why a source is referenced even if credibility cannot be established. For example, there can be well-stated simple explanations of complex material on a site such as “How Stuff Works”. Although not considered a credible source of information for technical reports, it might be the best source for simple explanations and this could be stated in an annotation. Keep in mind that if references are provided, such as is commonly done on Wikipedia, all efforts should be made to use the primary source.
Creating a references section for a written report
The final page of a written report, before any appendix, is the References section. If you have collected the citations as recommended, then all that is left to do is put them either in alphabetical order or the order in which referred to from the body of the report. Selecting either the alphabetical listing of the sources or numerical listing of sources in the order cited depends on the standards of your field. Alphabetical listings are most common in the sciences, both social and physical. Numerical listing is common in engineering. Either way, the list with annotations provides all the content for the References section.
In the body of any report, wherever information is presented that is derived from a source, the source needs to be identified. The way that is done is by using a parenthetical citation. The parenthetical citation provides (1) the name of the source, (2) the year the source was published (n.d. if no date given), and, (3) when applicable, the page number within that source. The name of the source must be the name used in the References page. Here are some guidelines as to what to provide for the “name”:
- If there is one author, then that author’s last name is the “name” of the source.
- If there are multiple authors and there won’t be confusion with another source, then the first time the source is cited, list all authors’ last names using “and” between the second to last and last name as the “name” of the source. Subsequent times the source is cited, can use the first author’s last name followed by a comma and “et al.” as the “name” of the source.
- If there is no author as may often by the case for an internet source, then use the name of the web page as the “name”.
See the paragraph below to demonstrate how to use the bibliographic entries created above to provide parenthetical citations.
The program code used in the project was modified from the code provided for the Arduino knock sensor (Knock Sensor, n.d.). The knock sensor operates off the principle of piezoelectricity. The piezoelectric effect is a physical phenomenon observed when pressure is applied to certain crystals which results in electrical charge generated (Yang, 2016).
Providing citations in a presentation
In a presentation, include the bibliographic entry in small writing at the bottom of any slide that includes information requiring a citation. Also, provide a parenthetical citation at the location on the slide where the information is provided.
If the information cited is a graphic image, you may include the full citation in small writing just below the graphic image instead of using a parenthetical citation with the full citation at the bottom of the slide.
If you do a good job of providing the full citations on the slides, where they are needed, and possibly including annotations, then it may be unnecessary to include a “References” slide at the end of your presentation.
Parenthetical Citation and Reference List for AI-Generated Content
Guidance on how to provide an in-text parenthetical citation and what to include in the references list for content created by a generative AI program such as ChatGPT is not well established for this technology newly available to the public. However, writers need guidance now as they seek to use this new tool in the production of reports.
Proper citing of AI-generated content includes an in-text parenthetical citation, an entry for the reference list, and an annotation that explain the prompt questions used to generate the text.
- In-text parenthetical citation – (author of the AI model, year accessed)
- Example: OpenAI is the author of ChatGPT
- Entry for reference list – Author of the AI model. (year accessed). Name of the model. (date accessed version). Retrieved from [URL of the platform where the conversation took place].
- Example, ChatGPT is the AI model
- Annotation – Description of initial query provided to generative AI model and any modifications made to query to fine tune response included in the report.
Consider the example below, which was modified from that provided by the University of Guelph-Humber (Ontario, Canada) in May 2023. The link for University of Guelph-Humber’s library resource page on APA Style 7th Edition, and specifically, guidance for ChatGPT & AI Tools is: ChatGPT & AI Tools – APA Style 7th Edition – Research Guides at University of Guelph-Humber (libguides.com)
Text with In-text citation:
When prompted with “Is the left brain right brain divide real or a metaphor?” the ChatGPT-generated text indicated that although the two brain hemispheres are somewhat specialized, “the notation that people can be characterized as ‘left-brained’ or ‘right-brained’ is considered to be an oversimplification and a popular myth” (OpenAI, 2023).
OpenAI. (2023). ChatGPT. (May 12 version). Retrieved from https://chat.openai.com/chat.
Initial prompt to ChatGPT asked for a definition of left-brained and right-brained. That prompt resulted in a response that was too broad and was not focused on the direction for this report. The prompt was modified to “Is the left brain right brain divide real or a metaphor?” which led to content more in line with the report’s discussion of the topic.
Be advised – expect the rules to change on this. While what is provided here will likely be pretty close to the rules you will be expected to follow, make sure to confirm the exact rules for your situation with your instructor or employer.