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Essential Research Skills for Workplace Writing

This tutorial is a basic introduction to doing effective and credible research for a variety of purposes and audiences

Learning Objective #8



Learn when and how to apply formal (APA) or informal methods of citation to your research in the workplace. 

Citing Your Sources: Formal and Informal Methods of Citation

Whenever you are doing research--whether for school or in the workplace--you need to be responsible and transparent in your use of research sources. It is important that you give credit where credit is due. Also, you want to indicate the sources of your information to your audience so that they can judge their credibility and follow up to find out more, should they want to.

Citation is the main way that we we not only give credit to the original authors of information we use, but we show our readers (whether our professors, client's, colleagues or bosses) that we've done thorough research and have used quality sources.

Formal vs. Informal Methods of Citation

In the workplace, the research tasks you take on will vary quite a bit in their complexity and depth. Some research tasks will result in a brief, but well-informed email response to a request for information. Others will require that you consult dozens of sources and produce a lengthy document that synthesizes and analyzes the research. Because these tasks vary so much in their audience, purpose, timeline and final product, it only makes sense that you will also need to choose a mode of citation best suited for the task and context. 

Regardless of whether you choose to use formal or informal methods of citation, you always want to give credit to the sources and allow your audience to know where you got the information so that they can easily find them.  

Informal Citation

For shorter, more routine research tasks that result in a letter or email, informal methods of citation are often the best choice. But what does it mean to cite something "informally"? Depending on the type of sources you consulted, you might cite informally by mentioning the title of document you consulted, so that the audience might find it themselves. Or, if you found the source(s) online, you might include a web link that at the end of the routine message, encouraging the audience to take a look, should they be interested. 

Remember: Even the most routine and informal research task requires that you paraphrase and summarize information in your own words OR quote responsibly. You should ALWAYS indicated quoted material with double quotation marks (" ") and NEVER pass off another person's words as your own.

Formal Citation (APA)

Research tasks that are more complex and result in a longer final product will require that you use a formal method of citation. In WRIT courses we teach you to use the APA method of citation because it is the standard method across the social sciences. 

Professional researchers always cite the sources of information they use and use a consistent method of citation. This is a hallmark of credibility and you should be wary of trusting sources that draw on research, but do not cite their sources. If you want your audience to trust the quality and credibility of your research, you'll need to cite consistently and apply the standards of APA style.

There are two components to citing sources in APA style:

  • In-text Citations are used when paraphrasing or quoting an author in your assignments.
  • The Reference List (APA) page is the bibliography at the end of your assignments.

Remember, Humber Libraries' Discover search has a citation builder within it - but make sure you use with caution - there will be errors in any citation builder that you will need to correct. Use the APA guide and resources below to help support you. 

Cite Your Sources: Resources

  • Humber Libraries' APA Tip Sheet provides examples of how to cite commonly used information sources.
  • The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) is a popular source for APA formatting and style guide help
  • Humber Libraries' APA in Minutes video series walks viewers through referencing and in-text citation. Pause, rewind, or fast forward through these videos that provide on screen examples with voice over and captioning.
  • The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) is available at the library Research Help desk - ask us for help!