Skip to main content

Using Evidence: Citation Frequency in Summaries

Basics of Citation Frequency in Summaries

The Writing Center recommends student cite sources in each sentence they use that source's information and ideas. Students often ask if they need to continue to cite their source in each sentence when they summarize just one source as well. The answer is often yes, you most likely need to cite throughout the paragraph, but the answer can also depend on context like the summary itself (and how you write it) as well as your faculty's guidance. 

Approaches to Citations in Summaries

To determine how to cite in a summary, remember the purpose of citing sources: clearly establishing where the information and ideas you include in your writing come from. This means giving credit to sources for their information and ideas, but also distinguishing which ideas are your own. Because of this, generally in summaries you’ll cite throughout the paragraph, rather than just at the beginning or end of the paragraph. Citing just once in a summary is often not enough to clearly show that you are summarizing only one source.

With that in mind, there are primarily three options for citing in a summary; you should choose an option that best aligns with your faculty’s preferences and your goals in that paragraph. Note, however, that these examples only apply to summaries of one source, not paragraphs where you are incorporating multiple sources in your paragraph (those paragraphs should follow APA's general citation rules). 

Using Narrative and Parenthetical Citations

One way to cite throughout a summary is to use both narrative and parenthetical citations. These two types of citations, when used together, ensure the reader knows you are summarizing from one source, but help you avoid repetition. Here is an example of this strategy:

Universities are continually looking at ways to better support international student populations, and so student support has become a focus for many researchers. Song and Petracchi (2015) studied international students in higher education, specifically focusing on how to best support international students in social work programs. International students often have difficulties due to a lack of financial, emotional, and social support (Song & Petracchi, 2015). Social work students have better outcomes when they were paired in a mentor–mentee relationship with a retired social worker (Song & Petracchi, 2015). Song and Petrachi’s survey results from 31 participants showed that the international social work students were overwhelmingly interested in participating in a mentor–mentee relationship, and thus such a program is recommended.

This paragraph balances narrative and parenthetical citations, creating an equal focus on the study’s ideas and the study’s authors while also creating some variety and flow in the paragraph. Additionally, in this paragraph it is clear throughout that each idea and sentence is coming from the source. Imagine a few of the citations were not there; without those citations, it might seem like those ideas were the writer’s own ideas or they could be ideas from any source. Finally, note that because this author used multiple narrative citations, she could also simplify those citations with APA’s citation publication year rule.

Using Periodic Citations and Reminder Phrases

Another approach you can take is to cite periodically throughout a summary, but also include reminder phrases that you are summarizing from the same source. Here is an example of this strategy:

Smith, Vargo, and Pollock Hoverter (2017) provided a literature review of current research on climate change and its impact on public health. The authors argued that research thus far shows that climate change will have, and is already having, an impact on human health. Thus, they show the importance of discussing and advocating for climate change policy within the medical and health policy fields. Specifically, Smith et al. used California as an example, showing how effective discussing climate change within the framework of public health can be in making significant policy changes. The main conclusion from this review is that similar approaches could be used throughout the United States (Smith et al., 2017).

The focus of this paragraph is on the study’s ideas, while still making it clear where those ideas come from. This approach can be helpful when your goal is to help the reader understand the main ideas of a study. Additionally, this paragraph flows quite well with little repetition. The use of contextual cues and reminder phrases like “the authors” and “they show” mean that citations can be kept to a minimum, increasing the flow from idea to idea. 

Using Citations Narratively in Each Sentence

One last strategy you can use when citing in summaries is to explicitly cite the source in each sentence using a narrative citation. Although this strategy may technically follow APA’s rules, it is not the preferred method because it is not as smooth as the strategies above and can result in repetition. Here is an example of this strategy:

Fossati (2017) studied the way local governments have stepped in to create universal health care policies in Indonesia. He did so by conducting a thorough literature review. In this literature review, Fossati found that local governments were well positioned to implement innovative health care solutions for their communities. Fossati went on to argue that local innovation can create inequity between different communities, but that it could also provide an impetus for change at a national level. Fossati recommended researchers look at Indonesia for lessons that other developing countries can also learn.

The focus of this paragraph is on the researcher, who is mentioned at the start of each sentence. You may want to use this approach if you want the reader to focus more on the researchers conducting the study rather than the study’s actual findings. However, the use of just narrative citations results in repetition, which means the paragraph is a little choppy and there is less focus on the ideas. Additionally, note that if you decide to use this strategy, APA’s citation publication year rule also applies.

Faculty Guidance

As you can see, how often you cite in a summary depends on context. However, the last piece to consider is your faculty's preference. That preference may be informed by the purpose of the assignment, what they are hoping you will learn, and what citing skills they want you to practice. So, if you are not sure how often to cite in a summary you are writing, be sure to ask your faculty which approach they would prefer you take.