Do You Know How to Refer to and Cite Past Research? (Grammar Quiz)

There are grammar rules for referring to and citing past research. This is especially important in your introduction and when you’re reporting results. Take a quiz and learn more.

Which of the following refer/s to past research appropriately?

  1. Author Z et al. (2010) wrote: “X offers an effective technique for performing Y”.
  2. Author Z et al. (2010) wrote that X offered an effective technique for performing Y.
  3. Author Z and colleagues claim that X was effective as a procedure for Y (2010).
  4. According to Author Z (2010), X is effective as a procedure for Y.

In discussions of past research, the reporting verb is usually in the past but the tense of the news content depends on if the news is still true when you are writing.

Sentence (1) uses a direct quotation to avoid accusations of plagiarism; this style is acceptable in some disciplines (for example, social sciences) but not in others (for example, life sciences), unless the quote is commented on or is a specific definition. Note that the quotation describes a general truth using the simple present.

Sentence (2) shows a tense shift from “offers” to “offered” (present to past) in an indirect quotation. However, this practice may still be seen as plagiarism in some disciplines, and the simple past implies that the news is no longer true. The reader would expect that you give your reasons for believing the opposite.

Sentence (3) paraphrases the news, but the reporting verb is better in the simple past and the publication year should come after the name. Always check your target journal’s in-text citation style (for example, name and year, or numbering; using “et al.” for more than two authors). However, the corrected sentence “Author Z and colleagues (2010) claimed that X was effective as a procedure for Y” implies that the news is no longer true because of the verb “claim” and the use of simple past in the content of the news. If the news is still viewed to be true, the revision could be: “Author Z and colleagues (2010) stated that X is effective as a procedure for Y.”

Sentence (4) is another good paraphrase, but “et al.” or “and colleagues” is missing: “According to Author Z et al. (2010), X is effective as a procedure for Y.”

Quick Tip

Which of these alternatives is correct?

The researchers asked the participants to record (1) they’re  /  (2) there  /  (3) their weight once a week.

All three words are pronounced the same, but “their” is the correct word here, as the third-person plural possessive determiner. “They’re” is short for “they are” and would not be used in formal writing. “There” is the opposite of “here” (think of “t+here”).

Grammar and punctuation are among the top reasons for being rejected by a journal. To ensure the language in your manuscript is publication-ready you should have a native-English-speaking expert in your field edit for grammar, clarity, and accuracy of scientific expression.

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