When you are given an academic assignment that involves writing, you are often encouraged-- or required-- to use academic, scholarly (sometimes called peer-reviewed) articles and books.
Great. So why would you do that? And how do you explain why you used the sources you did?
Here are good reasons why and when to use scholarly articles and books as references and citations in your writing based on what scholars have said they do1. (For a stricter definition of the difference between "citations" and "references", see What is the Difference Between a Citation and a Reference?.)
A Personally Influential Article or Book you use as a reference because:
- This reference strongly influenced your thinking on the topic.
- This reference was a major source of the idea for your paper.
- This reference is crucial because it helps to justify your central argument.
- This reference reports an article that is similar to your own article.
- This reference reviews prior work in this area.
Classic uses of an Article or Book as a reference or citation because:
- This reference is a classic in the field of study.
- This reference is authored by a recognized authority in the field.
- This reference has generated much novel and successful research or scholarship.
- This reference is a concept marker - it represents a genre of studies, or a particular concept in the field.
- This is one of the earliest works in the field.
Negative references to articles and books because:
- This reference has deficiencies that contrast to the strengths of your paper.
- This reference illustrates a perspective or finding that contradicts a perspective or finding in your article.
- This reference reported findings not found in any other articles or books.
- This study used a method or theoretical perspective that you think is currently unusual or especially innovative.
- This reference bridges a gap between two subfields of a study.
- This reference helps reconcile contrasting viewpoints or findings in a field of study.
- This reference illustrates possible avenues for future research.
- This reference solves an important conceptual or practical problem in a field of study.
- More so than most, this reference advances our ability to address an important social or human problem.
Summary of uses2:
- Pay homage or honor pioneers in a field of study.
- Give credit for related work.
- Identify the methodology or equipment, etc. you used.
- Provide background reading.
- Correct the work of other published work.
- Criticise previous work done in a field of study.
- Substantiate (prove or give evidence for) claims you make.
- Authenticate data and classes of fact by citing where you got it.
- Identify original publications in which an idea or concept was discussed
- Identify the orginal publication describing a concept or term.
1 Adapted from Shadish, W.R. D. Tolliver, M.Gray and S. K. Sen Gupta. Author Judgements about Works They Cite: Three Studies from Psychology Journals. Social Studies of Science, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Aug., 1995), pp. 477-498
2 Adapted from Weinstock, M. Citation indexes. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, 5, 1971, 16-40.