Sunday, December 13, 2015

using references and citations in academic writing

In a graduate-level academic program, you will find that many of the assignments and discussion prompts require you to write your opinion on a topic or to write about your personal experiences with something.  You might find you can easily write a response that has no references or citations because you are already an expert in your field.  BUT…(there is always a but)…an important outcome of graduate-level academic programs is to improve critical thinking skills.
What does that mean?  In academic writing (which is what we do in an academic program), you want to give evidence that your personal experience or opinion is grounded in research or a body of knowledge.  You do this by giving examples or finding something in the literature that supports your perspective (which in essence, is your argument – your point of view with support from other expert perspectives).

To give a very simplistic, completely fictitious example, consider this…I live in Kentucky and love to take my kayak on the small rivers near my home. This is a very personal statement that expresses my personal experience and has no support.  In academic writing, my statement has little merit at all.  Now, if I write the same idea this way… Like approximately 17,500 other people living in Kentucky who enjoy kayaking on small rivers (Smith, 2014), I love to take my kayak on small rivers near my home.  Now you can put my statement in context with something that has been studied and is grounded in research.

To give another example, I could write I really like Facebook, but Twitter is less appealing.  Now you know that I am a person who prefers Facebook over Twitter, but that’s all you know.  Compare that to this:  I really like Facebook, but Twitter is less appealing.  Smith (2014) studied adults more than 30 years old and concluded that many preferred Facebook because it was more intuitive to use and more of their friends used it as compared to Twitter.  Now you know my preference and you see that I have considered whether or not my preference is typical.  You also know that preference of social media sites has been studied by at least one researcher, and you could even look up my reference to read more on the topic.