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Getting the references right: citing books as a source of information

Getting the references right: citing books as a source of information

The most commonly cited sources in research papers are other papers, published in journals. However, especially in the humanities, books come a close second. Even in the sciences, books are often cited as  sources of information on standard procedures and techniques, particularly in the materials and methods section of a paper. This post describes how to present all the relevant details of a book when it is listed as part of the list of references that appears at the end of a typical research paper.

The names of authors, the year of publication, and the title of the paper and of the journal in which it is published are some of the elements of a reference to a paper published in a journal. Such references will also have the volume number of the journal and the first and the last pages of the paper being cited.

With books, some elements are common and some are different. The names of authors and the year of publication, for example, are common. On the other hand, each book is a separate entity and does not carry a volume number. The elements necessary to cite a book as a reference also include the publisher, the place of publication, and the edition (so long as it is other than the first edition). If no edition is mentioned, it is assumed that it is the first edition. A typical reference, therefore, takes the following form:

Klein G. 1998. Sources of power: how people make decisions. Cambridge, Massachusetts: the MIT Press. pp. 214-15

Although the exact form may vary in minor details, note the following points:

  1. The title of the book is in italics, and the subtitle is separated from the main title with a semicolon.
  2. The place of publication is given before the publisher and the two are separated with a colon.
  3. The page numbers of the part or chapter that contains the  information you have used. 

However, the format may differ depending on the field you belong to. For example, in the social sciences, it is customary to give the author’s name in full (Gary in the above example, instead of shortening it to G). Therefore, it is very important to find out which referencing style your target journal follows and adhere to that. This is generally mentioned in the journal's instructions for authors. In addition, it would be a good idea to go through the reference list of some of the articles published in previous issues of your target journal and follow the referencing style they use.

For further reading on writing a presentable and impactful paper, read these related articles:

Handling abbreviations of journal names in references

Using "et al." in research papers for in-text references

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This content belongs to the Manuscript Writing Stage

Translate your research into a publication-worthy manuscript by understanding the nuances of academic writing. Subscribe and get curated reads that will help you write an excellent manuscript.