Students and scientific writing – part II

Where did we end part I? Yes – with problem #3 on how to build a story and how to write an introduction, and that everything I am telling here has already been told a million times and can easily be found on the world-wide web! But anyway let’s have a look at

Problem #4 – how to cite published work
Citations are necessary and are a reference to other people’s work. By citing other articles one acknowledges what has been done and achieved earlier, in terms of thinking and other types of hard work. By citing other people we can also increase their H-index, which is an important measure for judging how successful a scientist is.
Of course I will not need a reference to say that the sky is blue or that the grass is green, that cows produce milk or that Swiss cheese tastes good, or that sediments consist of clay and gyttja, and that the former points to mineral input and the latter to lake organic productivity. But I need a reference if I state in my (scientific) article that method XY, which I am using, follows method XY developed by someone else (I have to cite the someone); if I argue that higher lake organic productivity could be related to higher nutrient supply, warmer air temperatures or increased human activity; if I describe how the Asian monsoon has evolved over time and who has contributed to a better understanding of past changes in monsoon intensity; and when I compare my work to the work of others to place it in a wider context.
I know that this may sound confusing, and it is also quite confusing to separate specific knowledge from general knowledge. Maybe a simple recipe is that as soon as you have read something and make use of the thoughts/arguments/results of this specific author in your manuscript, you will need to cite the author.
Each science journal has its specific guidelines on how citations should be formatted, both in the text and in the reference list. Check it out, because it will make life much easier for you to do everything right from the start. Also make sure to use a program to manage your references. You would not want to sit there, after having finished your manuscript (finally!), and go manually through each reference in the text and compare it with your reference list. In the end nothing will match and you will have more references in the text than in the reference list or the opposite!

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