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Ways of citing the literature

Our research is built on the collective knowledge obtained from past studies. How to cite other people’s work? Below are three ways of citing published papers, and I’ve ranked them from the most recommended to the least recommended.

1. Add the in-text citation at the end of a statement, without author names in the statement itself. Here is an example:

Here the in-text citation is in a numbered format, and it can be easily changed to any format requested by journals.

No matter how you change the citation format, the statement itself is not affected, and by putting the citation at the end of the statement, it clearly tells the reader that this citation applies to this specific statement. This is the most preferred way of citing references.

2. State who did the previous study.

When you include the author’s name in the statement, it’s typical to follow the name by the publication year. However, if the journal uses a numbered format for citations, use the number instead of the year. This is also a very commonly used citation method, but many researchers consider this less professional than the first method. This method also makes the sentence unnecessarily longer than the one using the first method. Further, if a paragraph has sentence after sentence written this way, it disrupts the flow of information. The scientific information is interspersed with these author names. If you want to use this method, use it sparingly.

3. Make the reference number part of the statement.

Many of our editors frown on a sentence like this. They would rather see you use the second method. In some fields, such as in biomedical science, this way is used very very rare. The only example I can think of is in parenthesis after a statement like this: xxxxx (reviewed in [1]). However, in some engineering fields, this way of citing reference is allowed. Journals may have specific instructions on how to cite this way. For example, journals may ask you to not use the word “reference,” so you can just say “[1] shows…,” “An algorithm in [2] considers….,” etc. Even for fields that allow this method, we still recommend using the first method for most of the statements in your paper, because it is professional, concise, and easy to be reformatted.

A couple of tips for citing previous studies:

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