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Environmental Protection Technology

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Using sources in science writing

On this page, we'll consider the importance of integrating sources into your writing and how to do this correctly within the conventions of science communication.

It helps to keep a couple of things in mind as you work through the exercises below:

  • Scholarship is like a conversation Research and scholarly writing within a particular field is like an ongoing conversation, with experts and professionals building upon one another's work, and what has come before. It is also a space where different perspectives are examined, and where new questions may be asked. As a newcomer to the conversation, you are developing an awareness of sources, evidence, and methods specific to your field. It is also important to recognize your own role in contributing to this conversation as a writer or creator of content.


  • Information has value With so much information so freely available, it is easy to forget that information has value, both in the sense that it is a commodity protected by legal frameworks (copyright), and is a means of education, influence, and navigating the world. The ethical use of information involves acknowledging the work of others by employing the conventions of citation within a field. By using these conventions, you demonstrate that you are a part of the community engaged in a topic.

For a broader discussion on these aspects of information literacy, see the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy

Scholarship is a Conversation. From University of Washington Libraries.

Why Citations are Important

In science communication, include citations to external and reliable sources in order to:

  • increase the credibility of your own work
  • provide your reader with additional sources of information
  • acknowledge the work of others who have gone before you
  • ensure that your work is transparent and unbiased

Direct Quotation, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing

There are certain conventions in science writing that make it a little different from other academic and non-academic writing:

  • Rarely, if ever, are direct quotations taken from other works. This is largely because the actual words that an author uses is not as important as their findings and theories.
  • Paraphrasing the work of others is done by carefully altering sentence structure and terminology while adhering to the original meaning.
  • Most often, when writing your lab reports and research papers, you will be summarizing other works.

Resources on paraphrasing in science writing

Here are a number of practical resources on using sources in science writing.

A look at in-text citations in a primary research article

Your turn: creating in-text citations

The following paragraph is taken from the introduction of a primary research article on factors affecting an ecosytem's ability to reduce drinking water turbidity available online from KPU Library. Here is the full citation:

McMahon, J. M., Olley, J. M., Brooks, A. P., Smart, J. C. R., Stewart-Koster, B., Venables, W. N., Curwen, G., Kemp, J., Stewart, M., Saxton, N., Haddadchi, A., & Stout, J. C. (2020). Vegetation and longitudinal coarse sediment connectivity affect the ability of ecosystem restoration to reduce riverbank erosion and turbidity in drinking water. The Science of the Total Environment, 707, 135904-135904.

Using the above paragraph, practice making one or two in-text citations. Remember that directly quoting is not usually done in science writing. Instead, create a paraphrase, or a summary, of one or two sentences above. 

Add them to this Google Doc so we can view together as a group [link opens in a new tab]. Your additions will be anonymous, so don't worry about being wrong.


Below is a PDF with examples of how to incorporate sources into your writing. Feel free to print it off or save to your own device for future writing.

It borrows heavily from the very useful text:

Graff, G. & Birkenstein, C. (2013). “They say/ I say”: The moves that matter in academic writing (3rd ed.). Norton.

KPU Library has several editions and copies of this book. Check it out!