Category Archives: Writing

Quick Notes About Citations and References in APA Style

I often see a similar set of issues related to proper citation… some of them are quite understandable, while others perplex me in their consistency. When I cite myself, below, it’s not ego; it’s to demonstrate how I would typically expect to see a citation or reference appear. And the references are fictional.

In-text Citations

  • Every in-text idea that isn’t yours must be cited. Failure to do so is theft of intellectual property, typically known as plagiarism.
  • Every in-text idea that’s taken directly from source material must be “wrapped in quotation marks and cited” (Doane, 2023).
  • If a quotation comes from a paged document (PDF, book, etc.), then “the quoted in-text citation should include a page number” (Doane, 2023 p.45).
  • In APA style, the punctuation for the sentence being cited goes AFTER the citation (Doane, 2023).
    • not punctuated like this. (Doane, 2023).
  • The label used in the in-text citation (Doane, 2023) must match the beginning of the alphabetized entry in the References section.
    • Doane, W. E. J. (2023). How to Cite to Ensure a Chain of Evidence to Support Your Claims. Penguin Press. (nb: this is fictional) 
  • Every in-text citation must lead directly to an entry in your References section.

Your References Section

  • Every entry in your References section must match an in-text citation.
  • The References section must be arranged in alphabetical order by first author’s last name (or source, if no author).
  • Multiple references from the same author in the same year may need an added letter designation: (Doane, 2023a) for example, with the letter also added to the reference entries to help your reader disambiguate.
    • Doane, W. E. J. (2023a). How to Cite to Ensure a Chain of Evidence to Support Your Claims. Penguin Press. (nb: this is fictional) 
    • Doane, W. E. J. (2023b). More Tips on How to Cite. Saratoga Press. (nb: this is fictional) 
  • Institutional authors should be spelled out (unless it’s a very common abbreviation: IBM, NASA, etc.).
  • Never list institutional authors as if they were first and last names:
    • BAD: “Machines, I.B.”
    • GOOD: “IBM” or “International Business Machines”
  • Check how to cite an organization as the author in your citation manager of choice.

Your Sources

Purpose and Reasoning

  • The purpose of citing is to draw a map for your reader from the material in the body of your document, to a reference, to the original source.
    • If you claim that the U.S. National Debt is only $31 dollars, then I need to know where you got that information, so that I can fact check you and point out that you left off “trillion”. (See
  • Your job as a writer is to make it as easy as possible for your reader to believe and be persuaded by your writing.
  • As such, accurate attribution and guiding your reader to the source material you rely upon for your claims is vital to the writing process.

As an analogy to Web technology, the concept of citations are the pre-electronic version of web links: the text in the body of your document links to a reference which in turn links to a source document. Each step in that chain of evidence needs to be immediately apparent and easy to follow.

Writing Beyond the Academy 1.23.15 ~ Larry McEnerney (University of Chicago Writing Program)

We’re called to think about writing better, not about following the rules of writing. Your writing must be valuable. It is when it helps readers to change what they think about the world.

Academic writing too often is not valuable. Instead, academic writing is only ever considered by those who have motivations other than seeking to change their own minds.

Learn to Love Writing

You will be asked to write. Think about your writing process carefully and be open to new ideas about how to approach it.

Writing is, at a minimum, a two-step process: you write, you edit. Writing and editing are distinct steps. Don’t try to edit your writing as you write your first draft; you’ll trip over your own creativity. Get your ideas down, then edit. Then get more ideas down and edit them.

Ideally, you would repeat the writing-editing process several dozen times to further refine your prose. After you’ve written and edited your work, you’ll need to share your draft with others, who will edit it and rewrite portions of it. Set your ego aside. Focus on improving the writing and, through that experience, your default writing style.

This takes time.

Continue reading Learn to Love Writing

Writing Research Well

Newcomers to writing nonfiction research—often new PhD students—may find the research process and the formal structure of research documents daunting. Here are a few resources both on research writing and on the writing craft itself that I found useful when I was starting to hone my skill. And, yes, writing is a skill; you can improve your writing through practice.

Above all, seek out and be open to feedback. Anyone who is willing to offer honest feedback on your writing to help you improve it is valuable.

The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, et al

A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate Turabian, et al

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

The Professor is In by Karen Kelsky

Avoid Strunk and White. It’s an interesting historical read, but much of the advice is either incorrect or outdated, by modern standards.

What you don’t know about Microsoft Word will hurt you

Microsoft Word is more than a blank sheet of paper; it’s sophisticated software that can help to apply consistent, professional, and attractive formatting to your documents. But if you don’t learn a few key features, Word will be cruel to you and you won’t understand why. Honestly, Word may still be cruel to you… it’s that kind of software.

I’ll focus here on professional and academic writing, rather than on desktop publishing or flyers. Continue reading What you don’t know about Microsoft Word will hurt you

Why cite your sources when writing?

All citation styles have a common purpose: to document the history of ideas. Each formal style—American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago—uses a different approach to achieve that goal driven by the history and focus of the scholarly community that produced the citation style. Chicago’s Notes and Bibliography (NB) style aims to keep in-text citations to a minimum for readability, for example, while APA style is focused on proper attribution of ideas to people in the main text itself.

Failure to follow some citation style in your writing will lead to accusations of theft of ideas—known as plagiarism—a very serious offense in communities where reputations and careers are built on the strength and originality of your ideas. Plagiarizing can prevent you from receiving an academic degree, lead to already awarded degrees being revoked, book deals being canceled, books being pulled from stores, and job loss, especially if your having been offered the job was based on a degree you received that is revoked.

Continue reading Why cite your sources when writing?

Storytelling, which I take to mean teaching

This 70-minute lecture by Charlie KaufmanEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich— on screenwriting applies equally well, I think, to being an educator. Consider the following excerpt, but replace screenplay with learning— for the student perspective— or even teaching!

A screenplay is an exploration. It’s about the thing you don’t know. To step into the abyss. It necessarily starts somewhere, anywhere, there is a starting point, but the rest is undetermined, it is a secret, even from you. There’s no template for a screenplay, or there shouldn’t be. There are at least as many screenplay possibilities as there are people who write them. We’ve been conned into thinking there is a pre-established form.

While I sometimes found it difficult to distinguish quotations from his original thoughts, I found both to be engaging and inspiring.

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“Don’t be ‘a writer’. Be writing.” ~ William Faulkner

Education researchers have shown that the most powerful way we learn is by trying to articulate what we know, believe, and feel (Connally, 1989). The creative process of transforming what is inside our heads into a form that can be shared with others is difficult but absolutely necessary for meaningful learning to take place. How many times have you passively listened to someone (ME!) talking about a topic thinking to yourself how boring it was or how obvious or how random, but when you later tried to explain it to someone, you found it nearly impossible to do so?
Continue reading “Don’t be ‘a writer’. Be writing.” ~ William Faulkner

Commenting on Student Writing

We often find ourselves commenting on students’ writing and acting as editors rather than critical readers: we indicate line-level edits, such as missing commas and poor word choices– as if fixing the mechanical errors would make the paper acceptable. In reality, most student papers we see are first drafts, often written the night before the assignment is due and unedited by anyone, including the author. (See my post concerning the design of assignments, coming soon.)

Continue reading Commenting on Student Writing