Top Five Most Common Citation Mistakes


You’re writing a research paper or your dissertation, but you have no clue about how to cite your references. This blog will enlighten you as to the most common mistakes that we, as editors, come across every day. This way, you will know what not to do!

No academic paper or thesis can be without citations, as the reader needs to know the background to the research being presented and why it matters concerning similar research in the area. However, errors are prone to repeating themselves. Here, I present the top five most common citation mistakes.

Top Five Most Common Citation Mistakes

1. No consistency in reference styles

The writer starts the research paper using the numerical citation: Previous studies showed the same results [14,17,21]. However, on the next page, we see: Similar results were seen in other studies (Bank, 2011; Smith et al., 2000).

If no set style, such as APA or Harvard, is specified, then consistency is the key to citing.

2. No reference cited

As an editor, I often write “Please consider a reference here.” It is usually in response to a phrase such as: “Earlier studies showed…” These types of phrases need justification with the references for the studies.

3. No page number for direct quotes

If we use a direct quote, the page number for that quote is also added: Smith et al. (2000, p. xx). Some styles use “p” to indicate page, but others just add the number. Again, consistency is the key.

4. The reference is missing from the reference list or vice versa, it is in the list but is not cited.

This is very common, and the key is carefully checking the reference list or bibliography against the references in the text. Most examiners will spot-check for this.

5. Adding the same reference after every sentence in a paragraph.

This is unnecessary. If the paragraph refers to the same reference, then citing it after the first and last sentences is all that’s needed.

So the next time you write an academic paper or come to write your dissertation, remember to avoid these common mistakes. This will ensure that the reader (or examiner) concentrates on the content without becoming frustrated with bad citing.

Originally posted 5/5/2015 and happily updated 10/26/2017. Thanks for reading!

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