You believe in what you write, but do your readers?
Many moons ago in journalism school, I remember my news-loving professors drilling the importance of going beyond locating, reading and studying sources. We were instructed to also cite them within our articles to back-up our statements.
This idea holds true for any type of non-fiction writing, really. The more you reinforce your ideas with information from experts and well-established entities, the more credible your text becomes.
Citing your sources also:
- allows readers to click through and read more details about the topic, leaving them feeling educated and more thoroughly informed
- gives the original person or organization credit for their findings or research so you’re not questions about plagiarism
- shows that you took the time to investigate the topic and share established, reliable facts
So, let’s dig in. To add credibility to your writing, determine which statements need to be sourced, where to find the best information and how to present it in your article.
Deciding What Needs to be Sourced
If you’re stating a fact, statistics, theories or quotes you need to give credit to the original source of that information.
For example, if you’re writing about symptoms of a health condition, sourcing a credentialed doctor or article from a peer-reviewed medical journal is viewed as more trustworthy than not including a source or citing a teenager’s lifestyle blog.
Opinion pieces don’t require sources, however, I find that it’s interesting to share some background to let the reader know where your ideas originated from or what influenced your thinking.
For example, I might mention a book I’ve read or podcast episode I listened to that inspired my thoughts, so my readers can also explore that source if they are interested in learning more about the topic.
Bottom line: When in doubt, include a source.
Locating a Sound Source
When you seek information, be diligent about where the information is coming from. Generally, people who have been educated in the topic or have long-term experience are best.
Sure, your dog-owning neighbor might be able to share some tips with you about how to care for a dog’s teeth, but calling a veterinarian for information is better. Why? A veterinarian has completed years of schooling to learn about animals. People turn to him daily for health advice and he likely pursues ongoing training and reads about current advancements in his field. Animal care is his life’s work, not a hobby.
You can also use well-established institutions such as universities, industry-focused associations and government agencies to back up your claims and find interesting statistics.
The SUNY Empire State College Online Writing Center shares a list of ways to gather information, from using periodicals and newspapers to Internet resources, and how to take notes.
Avoiding Plagiarism of Ideas and Words
If you pass off direct words, quotes or ideas as your own that you’ve read or heard elsewhere, you’re committing plagiarism, according to The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This is a serious offense that can lead to legal repercussions and losing your staff or contract-based writing position.
To avoid plagiarism, always cite your sources. Depending on the type of writing you do, this might be in-text via hyperlinks, with the use of footnotes or a bibliography.
Of course, things that are common knowledge or generally logical don’t need to be cited. If you’re sharing a homemade pasta sauce recipe that you’ve created and state that adding red pepper flakes will make the sauce spicier, you don’t have to find a source that correlates peppers with hot flavors. That’s general knowledge.
Do you have additional questions about using sources in your writing? Feel free to comment below!