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Exploring the Chemical Literature

Tutorial for students in advanced Analytical Chemistry courses for majors, but useful to anyone interested in using the literature of chemistry.

Citing & Managing References

Citing your sources

Footnotes are not just busy work. It's very important that you give credit where credit is due by indicating where you found specific pieces of information. If you don't cite your sources, or if you copy or paraphrase text without attribution, you are implying that you are the creator of that information, and obviously that's not the case most of the time. Plagiarism is one of the most serious breaches of academic ethics, and it can ruin your career.

What you can (and should) cite
It's fine to cite these kinds of literature in your assignments, papers, and lab reports:

  • Journal articles and reviews
  • Preprints (e.g. arXiv or ChemRxiv) - make clear that it's a preprint, not a peer-reviewed article.
  • Handbooks, encyclopedias and textbooks
  • Books and book chapters
  • Conference papers and presentations (published or unpublished)
  • Patents
  • Reputable factual databases (such as NIST Chemistry WebBook, DIPPR, etc.)
  • Reputable government or institutional web sites (such as EPA, NIST, IUPAC, NIH, etc.)

You should generally NOT cite things like this:

  • Wikipedia articles (or other crowd-sourced sites)
  • Miscellaneous personal or unofficial web pages, blogs, wikis, social media etc.

Why not? Because they are not "published" or peer-reviewed, and may not be accurate, reproducible, or safe, and they may not persist over time. There is also a professional bias against such sources. If you are giving a talk or presenting a poster at a conference, and a person asks you where you got a certain piece of information, "I got it from Wikipedia" is definitely the wrong answer!

Citation Styles

When it comes to formatting your references in your papers and reports, you should use the accepted "style" for that discipline. Your instructor will tell you which style to use. Styles vary quite a bit, but in chemistry you will typically use the ACS Style Guide as your rule book. (Biochemistry uses a different one.)

Managing your references

file cabinetAs you do your research, you will start accumulating lots of references and articles - and they pile up fast. Setting up an efficient way to manage and use them will save you lots of time down the road. This is where tools known as reference managers come in.

Reference managers have two primary functions:

  • Organize, store, and maintain your personal library of bibliographic references and full-text articles
  • Format your references using the appropriate style for including in your papers and reports

There are several types to choose from, including software you can purchase for your personal computer, or free web tools.  The three most popular products are:

  • Endnote (Clarivate)
  • Mendeley (Elsevier)
  • Zotero

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.