So I just finished my dissertation in Psychology – I designed a psychological experiment, tested it on volunteers, analysed and interpreted the data, and wrote 7,100 words about it. It was really hard, definitely the most difficult academic assignment I’ve ever done. If I had tried to do something like this in first year, I would have failed miserably. But I’ve had a lot of practice writing research essays for Psychology, and I don’t think it went to badly. I’m sharing some tips on what’s changed my writing for the better – in first and second year, I got middling C’s to low B’s, and now I usually get high B’s to A’s. I’m starting a short series of blogs focusing on different aspects of writing. Some of them will be pretty specific to the types of essays I write for Psychology and Linguistics (like this one) and some of them will be more general. Today, I’m talking about citation.
I used to get annoyed about having to cite so many papers for essays. If you haven’t thought this, you’ve definitely heard someone else say it: “what if it’s my idea? Why do I have to cite someone else?” But writing a research paper isn’t really about being creative and having good ideas. It’s about demonstrating your understanding of a topic, and improving the reader’s understanding and knowledge of that topic. Especially in university, it doesn’t cut it to just “know” something – you need to show that you have a firm grasp of the topic that you’re writing about, and the best way to understand a topic is to read about it. The best marks I’ve received are ones where I cited virtually every single point I made.
Cite as you write.
APA style essays require in-text citation. At first, citing everything in text kind of sucks, but you get a feel for it and it gets a lot easier. The most important thing is to cite as you go. It’s so difficult and tedious to slog through a dense paragraph of your own writing, trying to remember where you found whatever particular piece of information. As soon as you have a sentence down, reference the paper you got it from. It will take you more time at first, but after a while it becomes kind of automatic.
Make the search engine do the work.
When you’re citing papers, it’s important to know how to format citations correctly. For Psychology, everything is formatted according to APA guidelines. It really sucks to write up citations, with all the fiddly journal numbers and commas in the right place and such – and you don’t have to! I cannot stress this enough. For me, Google Scholar is easier to use and has more accurate search results than DiscoverEd, but both of them have this feature. They will produce citations for you.
For Google Scholar, click ‘cite’ under the paper you’re interested in. A series of formats will come up, like MLA and APA. Just highlight the text you want, copy it, and paste it into your document.
For DiscoverEd, it’s just a little more complicated. Click “View Online” or “Details” under the text. A box will come up with some information about where to find the text and such. In the top right hand corner, there’s a box called “Actions”. If you click on that, A drop-down menu will appear. Choose the “Citation” option, then choose your desired format, and copy and paste it into your document. Easy.
Functions like these will save you a lot of time, but it’s critical that you check every single citation and make sure that it’s correct. Sometimes papers will be under the wrong name or date. Watch out especially for edited books. Often the citation will have only the book or the article in it, not both. You may need to make a few adjustments, but it’s definitely easier than starting from scratch.
I don’t actually use DiscoverEd very much, so I’m not positive that it can’t do this, but I know that Google Scholar can do it: there’s a function that allows you to save articles to a library. Of course, you need a Google account to use it, but it’s incredibly useful. I have a pretty complex system of tags to divide papers according to assignment. I highly recommend it – you don’t have to go digging through vaguely relevant material to find studies you’ve already read. Just click “Save” below the article, which you can then find in “My Library”.
Google Scholar will also produce a list of related articles (just click “related articles”), and both Google Scholar and DiscoverEd will produce a list of articles that have cited the article you’re reading. Functions like these are really useful for researching a very focused topic.
That’s all for today – basically, citation is a drag but incredibly important, and there are things you can do to make the process easier for yourself. I hope this helps with your future assignments!