How to Incorporate Sources in Your Paper So That They Do Not Break the Flow

Jun 26, 2013
All of the major styles guides have slightly different rules and standards when it comes to documenting sources. Used for research and documentation in the humanities, the Modern Language Association (MLA) guidelines are generally considered the simplest and most straightforward. The MLA style guide is also the most versatile because it gives students, researchers, and professional writers the option of citing sources several different ways. Most of the other major styles manuals write their rules in stone. They do not allow users to pick and choose as they please, especially when they are citing sources.

What do we mean?

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), the American Psychological Association (APA), and the American Medical Association (AMA) are the three most popular style guides in North America, after the MLA. The first is used exclusively in the social sciences, the second in book publishing (both fiction and non-fiction), and the third in health, medicine, and biology subjects.

Why do they deal with documentation differently?

Generally speaking, there are three ways to cite sources in any paper, article, book, or dissertation. You can include the original source of your information in the text, at the bottom of the page (footnote), or at the end of the paper (endnote.) Some style guides, like the MLA, let writers use any of the aforementioned, but most do not.
The APA, for example, does not recommend the use of footnotes or endnotes because they can be costly for publishers to add. As a result, they endorse in-text citations whenever their style manual is used. It might not seem a big deal, but many readers can't stand it.

What's the problem?

Would you ever read a book where you had to stop every third sentence to read a parenthetical in-text citation? Of course not! Why not? Because it wouldn't have any rhythm or flow! No matter how well written the regular sentences might be the rest would seem broken up, choppy, uneven. Not to mention the fact that some in-text citations are quite long. When you have a book with several authors or editors, a citation can easily take up a line or two. And by the time some readers get through it, they actually lose their place.

Is there a solution?

For students and writers in the humanities it's easy-keep using the MLA style manual! But for other academics, citing sources in a subtle, natural way can be challenging. The trick is to do it in a way that does not break the flow and take the reader out of the action.

Get creative without breaking the rules

Even in the strictest of styles, there's more than one way to write an in-text citation. What you as the writer should be looking for is the least disruptive one. If you put the name of the author in the sentence, there is no need to include it inside the parenthesis.

Examples:

According to Howard (2013), "Students had trouble with the MLA style, but soon got a handle on it" (p. 228).

Or

Howard (2013), found that "students had trouble with the MLA style" (p.228); what implications does this have for a teacher in the humanities?
But if the name of the quote's author does not appear in the sentence, you will have to use the standard citation: She said, "Students often had trouble with the MLA style" (Howard, 2013), but she did not offer any explanation for her opinion.
The final example is clearly the clunkiest and most disruptive, which is why its use should be limited, if possible. Of course, when the author is not named, it must be included. Fortunately, there are a few tricks that will help you include these quotes in a less ham-handed way.

Wait for the pause...

Placing a parenthetical citation in the beginning or the middle of your sentence will inevitably disrupt it. The level of disruption can be limited if you simply place the citation at the end of a sentence. This might take some practice, since most inexperienced researchers aren't used to structuring sentences around citations, but it will seem like old hat in no time.

Common mistakes

As we've mentioned several times, in-text citations should be as inconspicuous as possible in order to make your paper more reader friendly. Writers who only consider facts and not readability often make the mistake of using a single style of in-text citation, rather than mixing it up a bit. The result is often a rough, unpolished work that is chock full of facts but has no style.
Plagiarism is also more likely to occur when students try to avoid citing sources for fear that they will disrupt the flow of their papers. More often than not, they do not actually copy a printed or online source word for word, but rather paraphrase it, which is also considered a form of plagiarism. To be safe, you must cite everything you borrow and present it in a subtle and appealing way. It isn't easy, but then writing never is!

Final thoughts

All of the major style guides require users to provide documentation for every quote, summary, or paraphrase that you include in your paper. In-text citations are acceptable under each style, as they let the reader know that the material was borrowed from other sources. Incorporating these references in the body of your work so that your readers only notice it if they want to takes practice.
The easiest way to add a citation is to do so in parenthesis, where you must include the author(s) name and the page number(s) of the book the quote was taken from. As effective as this option is, it also breaks the flow of your paper and makes it less readable. Therefore, it should be used sparingly.
The other options help shorten the direct references by introducing them in a subtler way. By using the author's name and then quoting what he/she said, you can avoid the long parenthetic eyesores that clog up sentences that contain traditional in-text citations.
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