Tools for Source Identification: The Choice is Yours
“Standing on the shoulders of giants.” According to Sir Isaac Newton, that’s what we’re doing when we use accumulated knowledge to support our own claims. Whether writing a dissertation, doctoral study, or project study, we owe it to our sources and to our readers to identify any and all ideas gleaned from other writers. Identification takes the form of a citation; it is a matter of ethics (legally and morally) and the evolution of ideas.
In APA style writing, there two styles for citing a source: We can include the author and year of publication in the narrative (in-text citation) or we can insert the author and year within parentheses (parenthetical citation). One is not better than the other. It’s about emphasis.
So, when to use the author in an in-text citation and when to use it in a parenthetical citation? Usually, an author’s ideas are more important than the author herself. Thus, a parenthetical citation is called for. By keeping the ideas in the foreground and the citation in the background, clarity and sentence flow are improved; the narrative becomes easier to read and the argument easier to follow. Still, careful writing is needed to avoid the passive voice.
On the other hand, when the author herself is important—say, we're discussing theories or using the author as the source for a paragraph or series of sentences—an in-text citation is called for. This style also promotes clarity because the syntax is simpler: “Johnson (2016) wrote….” Still, careful writing is needed to avoid a misperception that the author is the focus of the sentence.
In practice, the number of parenthetical citations should far exceed the number of in-text citations. Similarly, the number of paragraphs with both in-text and parenthetical citations should be few. To ensure this balance, it helps to concentrate on what is being said (the ideas) rather than who said it (the author).
Tim McIndoo is a Senior Dissertation Editor in the Walden Writing Center. He came to Walden University in 2007 with over 30 years of editorial experience, including work as translator and photographer. He lives in Minneapolis with four cats.
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