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Citation consists of the acknowledgment and documentation of reference sources that influence or relate to one's writing or communication. While there are a wide variety of citation styles for differing fields, the principle behind citation is the same: to provide a transparent display of one's source material.

In debate, the citation of evidence is crucial in providing credibility to one's assertions or claims. For instance, appropriate definitions, statistics, calculations, and research helps lend respect and weight to one's claims. However, citation does not only involve reference those that support your work, in debate, in school, or in other fields.

Proper citation also demonstrates one's awareness of the field he or she is working in. For instance, while one may come up with an argument on one's own and thus feel as though other similar arguments should not be cited or referred to, the very lack of citation or acknowledgment indicates a lack of awareness of the field and thus weakens the scholarly merit of one's work.

Avoid Plagiarism

Proper citation helps one to avoid plagiarism and lends greater value, respect, and reliability to one's own communication, whether it is a speech, a debate, a research paper, or even an informal discussion. In the MLA Handbook for Writers, Joseph Gibaldi warns: "Because research has the power to affect opinions and actions, responsible writers compose their work with great care. They specify when they refer to another authors ideas, facts, and words, whether they want to agree with, object to, or analyze the source. This kind of documentation not only recognizes the work writers do; it also tends to discourage the circulation of error, by inviting readers to determine for themselves whether a reference to another text presents a reasonable account of what that text says" (67).

Types of Reference Works

In print or electronic form, some common types of reference sources include the following:

  • Almanac: Annual publications that provide statistical data about a wide variety of subjects.
  • Dictionary: Alphabetically arranged, dictionaries are especially useful for quick referencing and for concise definitions about words and topics. Since confusion in communication may arise over different interpretations of key words, it is helpful to articulate your definition of a term or series of terms central to your work. Certain fields may have very particular definitions of key terms, so, along with a general dictionary, referencing a dictionary specific to one's field(s) of study is also advisable. One of the most respected and reliable general dictionaries for the English language is The Oxford English Dictionary.
  • Encyclopedia: Similar to dictionaries in terms of their alphabetic arrangement, encyclopedias are also easy-access references, although, compared to dictionaries, encyclopedic entries provide more than just basic definitions. Encyclopedic entries are longer and more detailed than dictionary definitions. As with dictionaries, there are both general knowledge encyclopedias (such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica) and there are specialized encyclopedias. Encyclopedia entries help introduce one to a topic, and often provide a list of additional resources that one can locate and study.
  • Statistical Sources: Provide quantitative information. These are especially useful for backing up claims, especially if they are timely (relevant to the period you are analyzing), transparent (indicate who, when, and how the research was done), and reliable (conducted by a respected researcher, firm, or group).

Evaluating Reference Sources

According to the sixth edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers, Joseph Gibaldi advises: "Not all sources are equally reliable or of equal quality. In reading and evaluating potential sources, you should not assume that something is truthful or trustworthy just because it appears in print or is on the Internet. Some material may be based on incorrect or outdated information or on poor logic, and the author's knowledge or view of the subject may be biased or too limited. Weigh what you read against your own knowledge and intelligence as well as against other treatments of the subject. Focus particularly on the authority, accuracy, and currency of the sources you use" (41).

Following Gibaldi's categories, one should be aware of the following key qualities when evaluating a reference source as reliable:

  • Authority: Is the journal, book, or website peer-reviewed? Who is the author(s)? Who are the editor(s)? In the MLA Handbook for Writers, Gibaldi explains: "In peer review, publishers seek the advice of expert readers, or referees, before considering a manuscript for publication" (42-42). Does the source come from a reputable (print or web) publisher or sponsor organization? Or, is it simply information from a self-publisher or a private blog? In general, some level of peer review or peer editing from a respectable institution helps add authority to a reference source. To assess quality websites, check out the source of the site, how field specific the publisher or organization is, and check to see how often their information is checked and updated.
  • Accuracy: Just as you should cite works, the works you cite should also cite its own relevant sources. Check to see if the (print or online) text you are researching has a "Works Cited" section, a Bibliography, and/or hypertextual links. Can you access the information the author(s) are citing? Do they come from reputable sources? If so, then you have a quality resource.
  • Currency: The publication date of a print or online text are important, as is how often they are updated. Definitions, statistics, and facts change, so, (while this is not always valid) in general, those reference sources that keep up-to-date tend to be regarded as more reliable than older, out-of-date ones.

Value of Citation

Referenced research (from appropriate and reliable sources) adds to the value of your communication, whether it is an argument in debate, a paper, or in a Pro/Con article on this site. Proper research and citation helps one distinguish between simply being critical versus critical thinking, helps enhance the otherwise sound structure of an argument, and adds to the critical body of quality work, so others can, in turn, recognize and cite your work.

Overview of Source Types for Debatepedia Editors

  1. Reliable sources: Just as in Wikipedia, the threshold for inclusion on Debatepedia is not whether an assertion is "true", but whether it is attributable to a reliable source. Debatepedia uses the same criteria for reliability as Wikipedia: "Reliable sources are credible published materials with a reliable publication process; their authors are generally regarded as trustworthy, or are authoritative in relation to the subject at hand. How reliable a source is depends on context; what is reliable in one topic may not be in another. In general, the most reliable sources are books and journals published by universities, mainstream newspapers, and magazines and journals that are published by known publishing houses. What these have in common is process and approval between document creation and publication. As a rule of thumb, the more people engaged in checking facts, analyzing legal issues, and scrutinizing the writing, the more reliable the publication. Material that is self-published is generally not regarded as reliable, but see below for exceptions. Any unsourced material may be removed, and in biographies of living persons, unsourced or poorly sourced contentious material must be removed immediately."See Wikipedia's "Reliable sources" and Attribution pages.
    1. The reasons for having a Reliable Sources policy are (the same as Wikipedia):
      1. To provide assertions of "truth" with support.
      2. To help readers verify or assess the truth or reliability of certain facts or premises.
      3. To help editors pick out weaknesses of content. As Wikipedia points out, "If all the sources for a given statement or topic are of low reliability, this suggests to the reader that the content be treated with a degree of skepticism, and to the editor that the material may not be suitable for inclusion in Wikipedia."[1]
      4. To give appropriate credit to a source of an argument and avoid the appearance of plagiarism.
  2. Citing primary and secondary sources (preferably secondary):
    1. Citing primary sources Debatepedia is not different than Wikipedia in this regard. Wikipedia policy: "Edits that rely on primary sources should only make descriptive claims that can be checked by anyone without specialist knowledge. Primary sources are documents or people close to the situation you are writing about. An eyewitness account of a traffic accident, and the White House's summary of a president's speech are primary sources. Primary source material that has been published by a reliable source may be used for the purposes of attribution in Wikipedia, but only with care, because it's easy to misuse primary sources. The Bible cannot be used as a source for the claim that Jesus advocated eye removal (Matthew 18:9, Mark 9:47) for his followers, because theologians differ as to how these passages should be interpreted. Edits that rely on primary sources should only make descriptive claims that can be checked by anyone without specialist knowledge."[2]
    2. Citing secondary sources: Again, Debatepedia is no different than Wikipedia in this regard. "Wikipedia articles should rely on reliable, published secondary sources wherever possible. Secondary sources are documents or people that summarize, analyze and/or interpret other material, usually primary source material. These are academics, journalists, and other researchers, and the papers and books they produce. A journalist's description of a traffic accident he did not witness, or the analysis and commentary of a president's speech, are secondary sources. Wikipedia articles should rely on reliable, published secondary sources wherever possible. This means that we only publish the opinions of reliable authors, and not the opinions of Wikipedians who have read and interpreted primary source material for themselves."[3]
  3. Citing questionable or self-published sources (same as Wikipedia):
    1. Questionable sources: Debatepedia is no different than Wikipedia's policy in this regard: "A questionable source is one with no editorial oversight or fact-checking process or with a poor reputation for fact-checking. Such sources include websites and publications that express views that are widely acknowledged as fringe or extremist, are promotional in nature, or rely heavily on rumors and personal opinions. Questionable sources may only be used in articles about themselves."[4]
    2. Self published: Debatepedia is no different than Wikipedia's policy here: "A self-published source is material that has been published by the author, or whose publisher is a vanity press, a web-hosting service, or other organization that provides little or no editorial oversight. Personal websites and messages either on USENET or on Internet bulletin boards are considered self-published. With self-published sources, no one stands between the author and publication; the material may not be subject to any form of fact-checking, legal scrutiny, or peer review. Anyone can create a website or pay to have a book published and then claim to be an expert in a certain field; visiting a stranger's personal website is often the online equivalent of reading an unattributed flyer on a lamp post. For that reason, self-published material is largely not acceptable."[5]
  4. Citation protocol for quotes and for paraphrasing authored arguments: When directly quoting or paraphrasing a particular author, organization, or group, editors should provide the important information about the source of that particular argument. The basic protocol is to provide, with variations depending on the circumstances:
    1. the argument's author
    2. the author's title
    3. the name of the article or essay or book in which the argument was made.
    4. sometimes the name of the medium in which that piece was published (journal, newspaper, - if it's a book, this is not necessary).
    5. and the short-hand date of the publishing of this piece and argument (month/day/year).
    6. For a url, simply cut the url (the domain name "address" that appears at the top of browswers) from a utilized source website, and paste it at the end of the sentence with the factoid or other cited materials. You can highlight that url and press the hyperlink icon in the MediaWiki tool bar or you can just place a single bracket on each site of the url.
  5. Standard example of a direct quote: Argument that the fears of regional chaos following an early US exit from Iraq are similarly erroneous to those that followed the US exit from Vietnam:Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus of, "Would Defeat in Iraqi be So Bad?", Time, 10/15/06 - "I can’t help transporting myself back more than 30 years to that day in Vietnam when I felt certain the dominoes would fall throughout Asia and destroy America’s strategic position there and elsewhere....While the Ford and Carter administrations worked hard to cushion the falling dominoes, the Asian dominoes moved quickly to save themselves by buttressing our power."
    1. Exceptions, flexible protocol, and providing the crucial information: There are many exceptions to these rules and guidelines that make it important that we have a flexible Citation Protocol. The focus remains providing the crucial information to the deliberator.
      1. In some common instances, an argument is made not by an author, but by an institution or by a magazine such as the Economist. In this instance, you could just provide the institution, the article, and the date.
      2. Sometimes a basic news article is reporting that a certain argument has been made by a certain source. In this instance, it might be ideal to just provide NYTimes, "Article", date.
      3. Primary, and original sources are ideal: It is best to quote and cite directly from the source that made an argument, rather than quoting a source that claims that some other source makes a certain argument.
      4. Sourcing and linking, dynamically: Generally, is is most important that editors source and link dynamically in ways that are most important and useful to the reader and thinker. Below are some important guidelines for this.
        1. There are many cases in which an editor should link to, say, a Wikipedia article that outlines who a certain person is that is making an argument, to perhaps the essay in which that quote was taken, and perhaps to a source that then used that quote to make an argument. The following is an interesting example:
          1. Contention that the death of any person is a loss for humankind, that every man is connected in this way, and, by extension, that any instance of capital punishment unjustly diminishes all mankind: John Donne (1572-1631), a Jacobean poet and preacher, "Meditation XVII: No man is an island...", 1624 - "All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." - "Death Penalty Quotes" website

"Works Cited"

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Sixth Edition. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2003.

Links to Common Citation Styles (Wikipedia)

Other About pages:

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