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Capstone Multilingual Writing Tips: Blog

November 2019: Citing Sources in American Academic English

by Paul Lai on 2019-11-01T00:00:00-05:00 | 0 Comments


In American academic English, it is necessary to cite all ideas that come from other sources. This expectation may be different than what you are used to, depending on your cultural background. For example, some cultures have a more collectivist approach to writing. In these cultures, the writer may use ideas and quotations from seminal or historical sources without citation. Doing so would show that the writer is well read, and the writer would assume that the reader has the same background and has read the same sources. Naming the source for the reader, therefore, might be considered an insult to the reader’s intelligence. Furthermore, in these cultures, the way in which the writer is able to take and combine these previous sources into their own writing can demonstrate sophistication in the writing.

However, other cultures, such as the academic culture in the United States, have a more individualistic approach to writing. The ideas of other authors are seen as their intellectual property, and, therefore, they must be cited within the text. In this culture, citations show respect to the original author. They also show the reader that the writer is well researched and credible. If the sources are not cited, or are not cited properly, this is plagiarism. In the United States, where there is so much emphasis on the individual, plagiarism is a serious offense and, in some educational contexts, can result in serious consequences for the student writer.

There are two ways to cite material within the text: a direct quotation and a paraphrase. In a direct quotation, the original words of an author are copied and pasted verbatim into the new document and enclosed in quotation marks. In a paraphrase, the words and sentence structure are changed from the original source, but the ideas still come from the source, not the writer of the current text. Keep in mind that APA documentation style prefers paraphrases over direct quotations. Use direct quotations sparingly or not at all. Also keep in mind that both direct quotations and paraphrases must be cited using an in-text citation. Whenever in doubt, ask your faculty if the source must be cited, and err on the side of caution. In American academic English, it is better to cite too much than not enough.

Also see these resources for more information:


Revision Tip: Look back through the current draft of your capstone document and find ideas that have come from outside sources. Ensure that there is a citation added to each idea that comes from an outside source. If it is a paraphrase, be sure that the author and year is included. If it is a direct quotation, see if it could be revised into a paraphrase instead. If you choose to keep the direct quotation, be sure to add the author, year, and page number (or paragraph number in case there are no page numbers).

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