Using Parenthetical Citations (aka In-Text Citations)

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When you write a research paper, using parenthetical citations, or in-text citations is necessary to show when you are using the thoughts, ideas, words or opinions of others. A research paper is a synthesis of your thoughts and ideas with information from sources. It connects your words and your voice with the words of others.

The difficult part of making this connection is in making your research paper flow in one distinct voice. Parenthetical citations allow you to incorporate the thoughts, words and ideas of others while still giving them credit and keeping the paper in your own voice. There are three ways in which you incorporate in-text citations:

  • Direct quotes
  • Paraphrases
  • Summaries

The discussion or argument you use to support your thesis statement is built upon the words and works of others. While the research you incorporate into your paper is important, it is equally important to give credit when necessary. This is the purpose of in-text citations. Similarly, parenthetical citations are used in a variety of situations; however, not every piece of information must be cited. Understanding why you use parenthetical citations and knowing when to use them are both vital to writing an effective and well-written research paper.

The purpose of parenthetical citations

Whether you are writing academically or professionally, plagiarizing is heavily frowned upon, and it discredits you and your work. Avoiding plagiarism, then, is partially accomplished through correctly using in-text citations. Incorporating research through direct quotations and indirect quotations (summaries and paraphrases) accomplishes several things:

  • It puts your research paper in the context of the field or subject around which it centers.
  • It gives credit to original authors
  • It lets your readers know when thoughts or ideas are not your own.
  • It gives readers a way to pursue an aspect that interests them further by referring to the list of resources to which the in-text citation refers

When to use parenthetical citations

While referencing your sources using parenthetical citations is necessary for any research paper, cite sources both wisely and carefully. Anything considered common knowledge is not necessary to cite. You must also consider your audience. If your writing is geared toward a group of experts, you likely do not need to cite as much information as you would for a general audience. For example, a group of biochemists knows and understands how ethanol is made, so you would not need to explain or cite the process.

On the same note, general knowledge does not require in-text citations. For example, you would not need to cite a sentence that stated the names of researchers who discovered a disease. If something is found in three or more sources, it is often considered general or common knowledge. However, use caution with statistics and figures, and cite them in most cases.

Since plagiarism carries such a negative stigma, cite anything you are unsure about, or ask for help from an instructor or writing center. It is better to cite something unnecessarily than to take credit for something that is not your own.

How to format parenthetical citations

How parenthetical citations are formatted depends on the official style guide required for your research paper. The most commonly used guides include MLA, APA, Chicago Manual of Style and ASA. Each guide requires the in-text citation to be set up in a particular way. Some citation styles incorporate author names and page numbers; others incorporate author names and publication dates. How you format parenthetical citations comes down to the required guide in particular fields and instructor or personal preferences.

However you decide to use parenthetical citations, stay consistent. If you are allowed to choose your format, use it consistently throughout your entire research paper. Most importantly, do not try to claim thoughts, ideas or words from your sources as your own. Instead, work on incorporating the right mix of direct and indirect quotations for synthesis between your thoughts and ideas and those you borrow from others.