When it comes to writing in academia, few practices are as essential and all-encompassing as citation. That familiar tangle of in-text references, footnotes, and bibliographies is sure to delight (or trigger) any researcher, whether an undergraduate student or a tenured professor.
However, while nearly every academic knows the format for citing their sources throughout their text, there isn’t any formal consensus as to when in the writing process this citation should take place. Should you write out your citations as soon as you need them, or focus on the text and create bibliography references later on?
In this article, we make the case for citing as you write, discuss why you should integrate citation and referencing into your writing process, and introduce tools and methods you can use to make it easier to write footnotes or create a bibliography!
Why should you cite as you write?
Citation is a key aspect of the research process. It gives credit where credit is due and allows readers to visit and validate the original research that forms the basis of your argument. That’s why you should be careful never to miss a reference when writing your paper!
Citing as you write, rather than after you finish your paper, helps you avoid a variety of mistakes with citation:
- It helps prevent you from outright forgetting to cite something after you reference it.
- Even if you don’t forget to cite something, it ensures that you attribute it to the correct source while it’s fresh in your mind.
- You won’t mix up your original research with cited material if you cite something immediately after you use it in your paper.
Additionally, citing while you write can help you keep your paper organized, as you’re already generating a sequential list of the sources you used throughout the writing process. You won’t need to go through the tedious process of reading over your whole paper again to create a bibliography, potentially making a mess of things.
What are the best ways to cite as you write?
There are many practices and tools available to researchers that can help them stay on track with citations as they write. You’ve probably heard of free “cite this for me” websites which you can use to create bibliography or footnote citations, but using these can take up a lot of time if you try to do it while you’re in the middle of writing.
Here are some better ways to cite as you write:
1. Immediately write your in-text citations as you use them.
This is the simplest technique, as all you need is a working knowledge of your chosen style’s in-text citation format. We go over the different citation formats in our comprehensive article on citing and referencing sources, which covers everything from referencing websites to how to cite a lecture.
By plugging in your in-text citations the moment you use a source, you’re already keeping a record of which parts of your paper use external sources—ensuring that you’ll never forget where something you said came from. You also avoid having to scour your paper for references to create a bibliography after you’ve written it, when it isn’t fresh in your mind anymore.
2. Use your word processing software’s reference manager.
Unless you’re writing your paper in (heaven forbid) a plain text editor like Notepad, your choice of word processor will probably have a basic reference manager. With this feature, you can select a citation style, add a list of sources, then automatically generate in-text citations, and even create a bibliography.
They also help you create bibliography citations that use the appropriate format. For example, if you don’t know how to cite a lecture, you just need to select the appropriate source type and fill in the details.
Most of the time, these features are very basic, supporting only a small set of citation styles or lacking advanced organization tools. That said, they’re often better than manually creating your citations!
3. Use a citation manager.
You can save a lot of time by using a dedicated citation manager that integrates with your writing software. These support vastly more citation styles and can even import additional styles as necessary. They also let you sort your references into different collections for use in future papers.
4. Write with a purpose-built research writing, editing, and publishing platform.
While a citation manager is great, you’re still using third-party software that integrates with additional word processing software, which in turn might not be designed specifically for research writing. With a platform like Flowcite that’s actually geared towards research writing, you’re able to seamlessly integrate citation into your writing.
With Flowcite, the research, writing and citation processes become seamless:
- You can start by searching for sources from within Flowcite’s connected databases, saving relevant sources and selected passages into separate project folders.
- You can also use Flowcite’s browser extension to save references that you find outside the platform.
- You can add citations as you write in the web editor or through the Microsoft Word plugin.
- Create a bibliography automatically as you write, and you can change the citation style at any time.
Flowcite even links to public research databases, allowing you to automatically generate the correct citations for just about any resource that can be found on the web. You won’t need to manually input details like author, URL, or date of publication—it’s almost like searching for your source and just telling the software, “cite this for me!”
Leave the minutiae to your tools, so you can focus on the writing and research.
Citing as you write will prevent a lot of mistakes and save plenty of time. However, you might find it even more rewarding to do away with manual citations entirely and let your tools do the work for you.
Flowcite brings together your reference management tools, writing software, and everything else you need—all under one roof. You’ll spend less time on the tedium of managing your references and citing your sources, and more time on what matters: finishing that paper!
Flowcite Research Management 3.0 provides you with a complete suite of research, writing, editing, and publishing tools. Sign up to start writing smarter today.
Content Marketing Strategist
Brittany is a Content Marketing Strategist at Flowcite, and an outstanding academic writing expert. She holds a first-class Honours degree in Literae Humaniores from the University of Oxford and has been certified in Digital Marketing Analytics by the MIT Sloan School of Management.