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Module 6: Building Good Arguments & Using Sources Effectively

by Jo-Anne Andre and Linda McCloud Bondoc                                                   13 pages; revised February 11, 2014


Overview & Objectives

This module focuses on developing arguments and using sources effectively in academic writing. It should help you learn

§  How to recognize and develop sound arguments

§  When to quote and when to paraphrase sources

§  How to integrate quoted passages smoothly and grammatically into your papers

§  How to paraphrase without crossing the line into plagiarism

§  What verb tense to use when integrating material from sources



American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication Manual, Chapter 6, pp. 169 to 173.


In the world of research you are expected to make claims that you think are new and important enough to interest your readers, and then you are expected to explain those claims as if your readers were asking you, quite reasonably, why you believe them. Because you anticipate those questions, you support your claims with good reasons and grounds, with evidence. (Booth, Colomb, & Williams, 1995, p. 86)


Effective arguments = claims + evidence

In academic writing, an argument is not a dispute between two people with differing points of view; rather, it’s a claim supported by evidence and reasoning. In a paper, you will normally have a major claim (your thesis or main argument) plus an array of minor or supporting claims, which you will also develop and support.


Claims are the assertions you are making, and the evidence you provide can take many forms, including facts, statistics, research findings, expert opinion (testimony), interpretations, and reasoning. For example, a research paper might include the following claims and evidence:


   Major claim      Provincial governments should make early intervention programs

   or thesis            available for all children with autism between the ages and 3 and 7

1st Minor claim   Children with autism who get early intervention are more likely to
develop to their full potential cognitively and socially


  • findings from research study #1
  • findings from research study #2
  • information from an interview with an expert in the field
  • anonymous examples from the writer’s professional experience

2nd Minor claim Despite their high costs, such programs are a good investment in the long term because children with autism who participate in them are more likely to become self-supporting adults, to contribute more in taxes, and to require less social support services than their peers with autism who did not have access to early intervention programs


  • research statistics on the cost and benefits of such programs from study #3
  • a provincial government report supporting this view

3rd Minor claim   Governments have a legal and moral responsibility to provide such programs


  • legal and policy documents promising equality of opportunity for children with different needs and abilities
  • logical arguments based on provincial governments’ educational responsibilities
  • legal arguments based on charter of rights or previous court rulings related to services for children with disabilities

In a paper like this, each section of the paper should provide enough evidence to persuade a doubting reader, and the sections of the paper should work together as a whole to support the major claim or thesis. (Note that a paper does not need to have a particular number of minor claims or arguments developed. While some papers may rely on three key arguments, others may have two or five or more.)


Structuring effective arguments

Below, you will find key writing strategies to help you structure effective arguments and to use sources effectively to support your arguments.


  1. Think about your arguments in terms of claims + evidence.

Make sure that you use your evidence to support your claims and that you support your claims with evidence and discussion. For each key claim you make in your paper, ask yourself whether you have provided sufficient evidence and whether you have interpreted the evidence fairly. As Booth et al. (1995) put it, “When you offer either . . . [claims or evidence] without the other, you seem to offer either pointless data or ungrounded opinion” (p. 90).

  1. Position your key claims in the topic (opening) sentences of sections and paragraphs. Then, within each paragraph, provide and discuss the evidence supporting the claim. Often, what appears to be a weak paper can be transformed into a strong paper simply by rewriting the topic sentences to foreground the arguments and claims being presented. When readers see the claim immediately at the beginning of each section or paragraph, they can quickly grasp the point you are trying to make and can get a sense of how that claim fits into the overall argument of the paper. In the example above, note how the three minor claims listed would work well as topic sentences for those sections of an academic paper.


  1. Don’t be afraid of citing too many sources or citing too frequently. While quoting too much can be a bad thing (as discussed later in this module), providing too much evidence or citing too many sources is almost never a problem. Because knowledge-building is a cumulative process, citing sources is always, as Martha Stewart might say, a good thing. Keep in mind that sources play several critical roles in academic writing. They help to position your own study within the framework of what is already known about a topic, they provide evidence to support your arguments, and they help to demonstrate your credibility as an informed researcher.
  2. As you review your paper, imagine critical readers and anticipate their potential questions and objections. Ask yourself where readers might ask for more evidence or request a source. Where might readers object to your reasoning or offer a counter-argument? Where might readers become confused and require clarification? By anticipating readers’ potential objections, you can revise to strengthen your arguments by clarifying your claims and reasoning or by presenting more evidence.


For example, suppose someone said to you, “Professional nurses should be replaced by lower-paid LPNs, who would save the healthcare system money.” What kinds of questions would you ask? What challenges might you make to the speaker’s position? What kinds of evidence would you find convincing? Imagining a critical reader can be a powerful writing strategy in the early stages of developing your arguments and again at the revision stage when you are critically reviewing your paper.


  1. Avoid rhetorical questions. Although rhetorical questions may work fine in an introduction if they are used sparingly, rhetorical questions generally do not work well to develop an argument in a paper, and many nursing professors frown upon their use even in introductions. Consider the following paragraph from a student paper:

Nurses report the reasons that they most frequently use restraints are to protect a patient from self-harm or injury to others and to control behaviour. However, is there any definite indication that restraints actually protect the patient? Is the use of restraints in response to a staff member’s fear or anxiety? Is the staff member’s judgement impaired by…fear?

There are a couple problems worth noting about this paragraph. First, it opens with a sentence that appears to sum up a research finding, but no source is cited. Sentences (even topic sentences) reporting information from research should include source citations. Secondly, the paragraph fails to include an explicit claim. Instead, the writer presents a series of rhetorical questions that are left unanswered. Although rhetorical questions may imply certain responses, such questions by themselves constitute neither claims nor evidence, and do nothing to build an argument.


In this case, the writer might have transformed the final two rhetorical questions into a claim like the following:

Nursing staff may overuse restraints on patients if they become unreasonably fearful about the possibility of being assaulted by a patient.

This may turn out to be a good claim and the beginning of a strong argument if the writer can provide evidence from sources. Despite the common sense cause-effect logic evoked by the claim, it probably would not pass the test of a critical academic reader unless it were supported by research findings or perhaps by a reference to the writer’s own professional experience. If no research has been done on this topic, then the writer might rewrite the sentence to focus on the lack of research. Here’s one possibility:

Research is needed to determine whether nursing staff may overuse restraints on patients if they become unreasonably fearful about the possibility of being assaulted by a patient.


  1. Try to use the best quality sources available as evidence. The most credible sources of evidence will generally be studies published in peer-reviewed journals. The peer-review process ensures the quality of the research, and journals allow research to get published in a timely way. Books from well-known publishers are also valuable sources, as are specialized medical encyclopedias, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-IV), government reports, and statistics and policy documents from government agencies or reputable organizations.


In some courses, you may be allowed to conduct research in order to gather information from interviews, surveys, observations, organizational records, and so forth, as long as you comply with research ethics requirements. Such information would then become evidence in your papers. Depending on your topic, you might also use as evidence works of literature, legal or government documents, and historical documents like diaries, letters, and news reports. If you were writing a paper on the image of nurses in the popular media, for example, your evidence might include examples of nurses in movies, television shows, and magazines. And if you were writing about nursing in the First World War, the diaries of nurses on the front lines would be an excellent source of evidence.


Depending on the nature of your paper, certain websites may also be useful sources. For example, if you were writing about early intervention programs for children with autism in Alberta, you could gather information about program objectives and educational approaches from information provided on government or organizational websites. However, such websites would not be good sources of information about research on the outcomes of such programs. For that, you should seek out studies in peer-reviewed journals.


Using sources effectively: to quote or to paraphrase?

As we’ve seen, the use of sources is central to academic writing. Like characters in a play, however, sources take on all kinds of roles. In parenthetical references, sources may stand as silent witnesses supporting claims or standing behind the information presented. They take on a more leading role when they are paraphrased, summarized, and discussed in developing arguments. Sources sometimes play even stronger roles—providing theoretical frameworks, establishing key definitions, and presenting essential information from legal or policy documents. They may also stand at centre-stage when they are being critiqued in a paper.


As a writer, you will need to consider when to simply provide a parenthetical reference for a claim, when to quote directly from a source, and when to paraphrase or put the ideas and information into your own words. Of course, whenever you take ideas, information, or words from a source, you will need to include an in-text citation plus a reference list entry for the source, as described in Module 5, which focuses on the use of APA citation style.

Generally, you should quote a source directly only when the original wording is important in some way. If the idea or information—but not the exact wording—is important, then you should paraphrase (put the information into your own words). In fact, you could write an entire research paper without quoting directly from a source. So when might the original wording be important enough to quote rather than simply to paraphrase? You might want to quote a source directly if

§  you’ve conducted interview, survey, or focus group research and want to include excerpts to let the research participants (or experts) speak in their own voices;

§  you are using historical documents (e.g., nurses’ diaries from WW I) that provide a unique glimpse or first-person account of historical events;

§  you are referring to a legal or policy document whose interpretation depends on the original wording;

§  the speaker or writer is an authority on the issue you are writing about;

§  you wish to present a theory or model as it appears in the original source;

§  you are focusing on a contested concept (e.g., basic education or human rights) and want to compare definitions of the term from various sources;

§  you find an idea or piece of information expressed in an especially effective or memorable way and want to preserve the original wording in your paper.

Most students tend to quote too much, perhaps because it’s less work than paraphrasing or because they think they won’t be able to express the ideas as effectively as they appeared in the original source. Nonetheless, as a student, you should resist the urge to quote frequently rather than rephrase information from sources. When you quote too much in a paper, the overall coherence and flow of your paper may be disrupted by frequent shifts to other voices. More seriously, a paper full of quoted passages may come across as weak or underdeveloped; it may seem like a patchwork or string of quotations lacking a coherent organizing argument to hold it together.

To keep your argument in focus, maintain the flow of your paper, and project a professional tone, you should use quotations only when you have a good reason to do so. In all other cases, you should paraphrase—put the ideas and information into your own words and your own sentence structure, but cite the source as usual. Learning Activity 6.1 below will give you some practice in assessing the effectiveness of a number of quotations taken from student papers (with the writers’ permission). In Learning Activity 6.2, you will have to decide whether a source citation is required for a particular topic sentence.

Learning Activity 6.1: To quote or to paraphrase?

For each passage, assess whether the quotation used was justified or whether the information should have been paraphrased. Check your answers at the end of the module.

Quoted passage taken from a student paper

Was the quotation justified? Why or why not?

1.    The College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) “protects the public through regulation of nursing” (Mandy, 1993, p. 3).

Source: Mandy, P. (1993). President’s message: Revised mission
statement now includes concept of public interest. College
Communique, 18
(4), 3-4.

2.    The following is from a student paper entitled “Do Canadian Nurses Have Power?”

Lyman-Blumen (1984) defines power as follows:

The process whereby individuals or groups gain or maintain the capacity to impose their will upon others, to have their way recurrently despite implicit or explicit opposition through invoking or threatening punishment, as well as offering or withholding rewards. (cited in Sweeney, 1990, p. 462)

This definition encompasses the broad scope of this concept. It acknowledges the negative and positive aspects of power. I will use this definition in my examination of this issue.

3.    Nurses feel that “ensuring patient safety by preventing falls has been a primary reason for physical restraints of elderly persons in nonpsychiatric settings” (Ginter & Mion, 1992).

4.    Young identified six components of professionalism: “attitude, ac-countability, role, education, dress and collective action” (1992, p. 54).

5.    Taken from a student paper analyzing whether nursing should be considered a profession or a vocation~

In contrast, nursing can be considered a trade or vocation if the practice does not meet professional standards. A trade is a “regular occupation . . . requiring manual dexterity” (Funk and Wagnalls Canadian College Dictionary, 1989, p. 1418). A vocation is a “calling” to an occupation (Funk and Wagnalls Canadian College Dictionary, 1989, p. 1501).

6.    The policy of the Calgary District Hospital Group on the use of restraints is as follows: “The use of any restraints is confined to patients presenting behaviour which may endanger their own health and/or safety or the safety of others, when alternative interventions are not successful or not available” (1993, p. 2).

Learning Activity 6.2: Is a citation needed in this topic sentence?

The following topic sentence opened a paragraph in a student paper. Should the student have cited a source in this topic sentence? Why or why not? Check your answer at the end of the module.

Violence and/or disruptive behaviour towards nursing staff in acute care hospitals, mental health facilities, and nursing homes is rapidly becoming an increasing problem to health professionals.

How to paraphrase without crossing the line into plagiarism

Many students think that paraphrasing (putting a source into their own words) simply involves taking a sentence and substituting a few words or phrases here or there. They assume that as long as they cite the source, they are paraphrasing appropriately. In fact, that is not the case. Using a passage from a source and simply substituting a few of your own words or phrases here and there constitutes plagiarism, even when you cite the source.

Consider the following example of an unacceptable paraphrase and of an acceptable paraphrase of a passage taken from a journal article entitled “Needs of Family Members of Patients with Severe Traumatic Brain Injury” (Bond, Draeger, Mandleco, & Donnelly, 2003). Here is the original passage:

Indeed, all admissions to an ICU are stressful for patients’ families, but the sudden unexpected onset of severe traumatic brain injury, coupled with its unstable nature and strong probability of death, makes the families of patients with such injuries especially vulnerable (Bond, Draeger, Mandleco, & Donnelly, 2003, p. 63).

Here is an unacceptable paraphrase (with wording from the source in blue ):

All admissions to an Intensive Care Unit cause stress for patients’ families, but sudden unexpected traumatic brain injury, with its risks and possibility of death, makes families of patients with these injuries particularly vulnerable to stress (Bond, Draeger, Mandleco, & Donnelly, 2003).

Even though this paraphrase doesn’t replicate the original passage exactly, it would be considered an unacceptable paraphrase because it follows the sentence structure and wording of the original passage too closely. Compare the version above with the following acceptable paraphrase:

Traumatic brain injuries occur suddenly and without warning, and they pose life-threatening medical risks. For these reasons, families who arrive at an emergency room with a family member who must be admitted to hospital for a traumatic brain injury are typically under higher levels of stress than are normally associated with the hospital admission of a family member (Bond, Draeger, Mandleco, & Donnelly, 2003).

This paraphrase does not follow the sentence structure of the original. While it retains the phrase “traumatic brain injury,” that is standard terminology that does not need to appear within quotation marks. To prevent plagiarizing by paraphrasing too closely or by inadvertently quoting from the original source, consider the following strategies:

§  When taking notes from a source, always put quotation marks around wording taken from the original (and jot down the page number). When wording from original sources isn’t clearly marked in notes, writers can easily forget if the words they jotted down were their own words or phrases from the source. Careless note taking may easily lead to unintentional plagiarism.

§  When working from a source, read the information a few times, look away from the source, and then write your own version focusing on the idea and meaning of the original.

§  Always check your paraphrases against the original to make sure you haven’t unintentionally reproduced the sentence structure and chunks of wording from the original. (If you have, you will need to rewrite your paraphrase.)

How to integrate quoted passages smoothly and grammatically

When you quote a source, try to adhere to the following guidelines to ensure that the quoted passage is integrated smoothly, grammatically, and correctly according to proper APA format:

Formatting quotations

  • Use double quotation marks “like this” around words taken from a source if the passage is less than 40 words long. If a quotation is over 40 words, present the passage in a double-spaced inset block format (five spaces from the left margin) without using quotation marks. Include the page number for the quotation in your in-text citation after the quotation, as shown in examples provided in Module 5.

HINT: In MS Word, use the WORD COUNT tool to quickly check the length of quotations


  • When presenting a series of quoted passages from participants interviewed for a research project, you may present all fairly long quotations in inset block format (even if some are not quite 40 words).
  • When ending a sentence with a quotation, place the period AFTER the page number citation. For long quotations presented in inset block format, do the reverse: place the period at the end of the quoted passage, BEFORE the citation. (See Module 5 for examples.)
    • Cite a page number for all quoted passages (except for excerpts from interviews).
      If no page number is available, provide a paragraph number like this: (Smith, 2008, para. 2). To specify the location further, include a section heading if necessary, as in the following example: (Smith, 2008, “Our Mission,” para. 2).

Punctuating quotations

  • Before a quoted passage, you may need no punctuation at all, a comma, or a colon; the punctuation will depend on how the quoted words are embedded in your sentence. Here are guidelines and a few examples.
  • Use a comma before a quoted passage after a lead-in like “According to Smith,” or a word like claimed, stated, or said (without “that”), as shown below:

Stone (2002) advised, “Time spent on choosing and refining an interesting, important, well-structured, ethical, and practical research question is time well spent” (p. 267).
According to Stone (2002), “Time spent on choosing and refining an interesting, important, well-structured, ethical, and practical research question is time well spent” (p. 267).


  • Don’t use any punctuation before a quoted passage if the wording flows naturally into the quotation, as it usually does after the word “that.” Here’s an example:

Stone (2002) cautioned researchers that “labour invested in choosing the research methodology, collecting and analyzing the data, and writing-up the results will be wasted” if the research question is not clearly focused (p. 265).


  • Use a colon ( : ) if the lead-in to a quoted passage could stand as a sentence. This is the best way to set up a long quotation in block indent format. Here’s an example:

Stone (2002) gave the following example to show how the formulation of the research question guides the choice of research methodology:

If the research question is “In patients with prostate cancer and metastatic bony pain is diclofenac better than paracetamol in terms of pain relief, opioid-sparing effects and side-effects?” then a quantitative approach (e.g., a randomized controlled trial) is the methodology of choice. If, however, the research question is “How do patients with metastatic prostate cancer cope with, understand, and create meaning in their situation?” then a qualitative methodology (perhaps using purposive sampling and in-depth interviews) would be the most appropriate approach. (p. 266)


Editing quotations for length & clarity

  • Quote only as much as you need to. Use ellipses (three spaced dots) to indicate where you’ve left out words or phrases when quoting. Add a fourth dot if the ellipsis runs over the end of a sentence.
  • Use square brackets [like this] around words inserted for clarity into a quoted passage to clarify a pronoun, an acronym (like MRSA), or an obscure reference. Here’s an example: “she [his grandmother] was a difficult woman.”


Editing for style & substance when quoting

  • Avoid beginning a sentence with a quoted passage; instead, provide a lead-in for each quotation. However, never refer to the quoted passage as a “quote” in a lead in. For example, never say something like “Here is a quote on this topic….”

Typically, lead-ins will place the quoted idea into context or indicate whose words are being quoted. Here is an example from a student paper in which the lead-in to the quoted passage fulfils both these functions:

More than ten years ago, Csapo and Goguen (1989) summarized the general direction of inclusive education across Canada by stating that “the present and future trend is to increase and improve the integration of children with individual needs within the mainstream of the school environment” (cited in Andrews & Lupart, 2000, p. 7).


  • When using a long quoted passage, try to end your sentence with the quoted passage. Note, too, that long quoted passages generally should be followed by an interpretation or discussion to indicate their significance.
  • Edit for grammatical flow into and out of a quoted passage. A good test is to consider whether the sentence would seem grammatical if you were not quoting. If it would not, you will need to revise accordingly.

Example of a weak lead-in to a quoted passage, with a revision

The following excerpt (heading, lead-in, and quotation from a woman interviewed) was taken from a report prepared for the National Action Committee for the Status of Women – BC region (Kellington, n.d.). The original lead-in to the quotation was weak because it referred to “a very small number of women” while the quotation itself presents the words of only one of these women. In the following excerpt, I have suggested a revised lead-in (see the text in purple type within the square brackets).

System referral

Additionally, a very small number of women had come into initial contact with the Ministry of Children and Families [MCF] when they or their child accessed some other facet of the child welfare system, for example health care, and through that process they were referred to MCF. [Here’s how one woman recounted her experience: ]

My child ha[d] been hospitalised for 7 days with asthma and rashes ….The doctor had advised us to stay because he had a severe attack so he brought us to the hospital…..[W]hen the social workers arrived, there was a lady…who offered me assistance because they learned . . . that I belong to a low-income family. . . . [T]hey helped me pay for some of the hospital bills and initial payment for the medicine. (p. 13)


Helpful lead-ins when referring to sources

Whether you are quoting or paraphrasing, don’t be afraid to mention the speaker or author explicitly in your sentence. That’s almost always a good practice. In Table 6.1, you will find a list of verbs that may be helpful when you are referring to or quoting sources in your academic writing. In the table, the verbs highlighted in yellow were found to be among those most frequently used in good student writing (Adel & Garretson, 2006).

Aim for precision and variety when referring to sources. Avoid overusing “said,” “stated,” or any particular verb, and try to be as precise as possible when choosing verbs to use. Consider, for example, the distinctions between saying that someone found, concluded, noted, proposed, argued for, or claimed something.

Note that the verbs marked with an asterisk in Table 6.1 may pose particular problems, as discussed below.

  • “Proved” may apply when referring to discoveries about physiology, but it’s a poor choice to refer to research involving human subjects. In such cases, try more cautious verbs like found, demonstrated, concluded, or
  • “Felt” and “Thought” are typically weak verbs to use to refer to researchers. Instead, focus on what researchers did, using verbs like studied, identified, defined, found, argued, and concluded. The verbs “felt” and “thought” may be appropriate if you are referring to the experiences of research participants, but even then, it may be better to write something like “John reported feelings of sadness” rather than “John felt sad.”
  • “Quoted” is usually misused as a verb of attribution. Unless you are saying that one writer actually used the words of another writer or source, avoid using the verb “quoted” when introducing a quotation.

One final pitfall to avoid is anthropomorphism—illogically using verbs that require a human subject with inanimate objects. For example, “concluded” (in the sense of “came to the conclusion that”) is a cognitive act that requires a human subject. Instead of writing “The research concluded that the program was valuable,” write “The researchers concluded that…” or “the research led to the conclusion that. . . .” See the APA Manual (2010, p. 69) for further examples of anthropomorphism.


Table 6.1: Verbs of attribution for use when referring to sources in academic writing

according to







attributed… to

attempted to

































focused on

















pointed out





proved (avoid)*


quoted (avoid)*



related …. to…





saw … as



















*Verbs of attribution generally to be avoided.

Note: the verbs highlighted in yellow were found to be among those most frequently used in good student writing (Adel & Garretson, 2006).

What verb tense to use when integrating material from sources

When integrating sources into your academic writing, you will generally need to use the past tense, the present perfect tense, and the present tense. Guidelines and examples are provided below.


  • When describing what a researcher did or found, use the past tense. Consider the following examples (with the verb tense underlined):

Soo (1997) investigated the link between gender and income among social workers. She found that . . .

The link between gender and income among social workers was the focus of
a study by Soo (1997).

  • When referring to topics of research rather than to a specific researcher’s activity, use present perfect tense (has/have + the past participle of the verb):

Learners’ experiences of distance education have been the focus of several recent studies (Lea, 1998; Neff, 1998; Siege et al., 1998).

There has been little research done on . . . .

  • When making general statements about reality (as supported by research), use the present tense:

The causes of homelessness are often surprising (Johnson, 1999).

Spousal abuse appears to have a complex set of causes (Davis & Srinivasan, 1997).

According to Brown (1995), children with FAS often have difficulties establishing relationships with their peers.

Although you should generally aim for consistency in your use of verb tenses, your real guide should be logic; even within a single paragraph, you may have to switch tenses. Always check verb tense when revising. One common problem arises when students copy research method information from their proposal and paste it into their final papers without changing the verb tense. When discussing your proposed research method in a proposal, you will use the future tense; however, once your research is complete, you will have to use past tense to describe your research process.

Handling sequences of citations within a paragraph

When using a single source throughout a paragraph, you don’t need to repeat the authors’ names or provide a citation for each sentence in the paragraph—as long as the pronouns you use clearly refer back to the previously cited researchers. However, you do need to cite a page number whenever you are quoting. Here’s a hypothetical example:

Johnson and Gardenzo (2003) compared the math scores of teenagers who spent four or more hours a week playing role-playing video games to the scores of teens who did not regularly play video games. They found that the teens who played video games regularly scored, on average, 17 points higher on a standardized math test for their grade levels. [no citation needed here as you are clearly referring back to Johnson and Gardenzo] They also noted that longitudinal studies are needed to determine whether video games actually strengthen mathematical ability or whether “video games simply appeal to teenagers with logical minds who are also drawn to math” (p. 4). [page number needed here for the quotation]

When handling a series of citations, use pronouns to refer to authors only when the authors have been mentioned by name in the preceding sentences, not including mentions within parenthetical citations. Consider these examples:

ü   Smith (1998) found that dogs make better pets than cats. She concluded …

X   Dogs make better pets than cats (Smith, 1998). She concluded…

ü   Dogs make better pets than cats (Smith, 1998). Smith (1998) concluded…

In the second example, note that if the parenthetical citation were removed from the first sentence, the pronoun “she” in the second sentence would be unclear to the reader. A good test for grammatical pronoun use in such cases is whether the pronoun would work if the parenthetical citation were not present.

Learning Activity 6.1: Solution

Was the use of this quoted passage justified? Why or why not?

1.    Probably not. This quotation might be justified if Mandy is the president of the CNO, as the reference suggests. However, the quoted passage doesn’t phrase the information in a particularly effective way. The idea could easily be paraphrased using different words. Of course, a source citation would still be required.

2.    Yes. In this paper, power is a key term, and the quoted definition provides the theoretical framework by which the writer proceeds with her analysis.

3.    No. There is nothing remarkable about the original wording that warrants quoting. Only the information is important, and it could easily have been paraphrased. Of course, a source citation would still be required.

4.    Yes. This list of six components would be difficult to paraphrase, and they are key to the definition provided by the source and later used in the writer’s analysis, so it would be best to present the list as a quotation.

5.    Yes (probably). Generally, it is not a good idea to quote from a regular dictionary, but in this case, the quoted passage can be justified. Whenever your impulse is to quote from a regular dictionary, ask yourself if you should instead be quoting from a specialized source like the DSM-IV or a medical dictionary, or if you can simply state how you are using a term in your paper without citing a dictionary definition.

6.    Yes. Citing from an official policy document may capture essential details and emphases that may be lost in a paraphrase.

Learning Activity 6.2: Solution

Violence and/or disruptive behaviour towards nursing staff in acute care hospitals, mental health facilities, and nursing homes is rapidly becoming an increasing problem to health professionals.

Yes, a citation is needed for the claim in this topic sentence. Even though the idea may seem like common knowledge, the only way we can be sure of an increasing or decreasing trend is through the evidence that comes with research. If no source is cited, readers might assume that this statement merely reflects the writer’s opinion, perhaps one based on nothing more than recent stories in the media. In fact, in this case, a reference citation was essential, for the rest of the paragraph contained no further evidence or source citations to support the claim.

When revising your papers and you aren’t sure if a source citation is needed for a particular claim, try to imagine if a critical reader might write “source?” in the margin. If you can imagine your reader doing that, then error on the side of caution and cite a source, even in a topic sentence.



The Module 5/6 task is a 4% online quiz due Monday, February 24, at midnight, with no further grace period. Access the quiz via the ASSIGNMENTS area of Blackboard. The quiz is open book. However, you are expected to complete it without working with any of your fellow students. The quiz is not timed. You can open it, do part of it, save your work, and complete and submit it at a later date (but don’t forget to submit it).


Adel, A., & Garretson, G. (2006, September). Citation practices across the disciplines: The case of proficient student writing. Paper presented at the conference of The European Association of Languages for Specific Purposes, Zaragoza, Spain.

Bond, A. E., Draeger, C., R. L., Mandleco, B., & Donnelly, M. (2003). Needs of family members of patients with severe traumatic brain injury: Implications for evidence-based practice. Critical Care Nurse 23 (4), 63-72.

Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., & Williams, J. M. (1995). The craft of research. Chicago: U of Chicago Press.

Kellington, S. (n.d.) “Missing voices”: Mothers at risk for or experiencing apprehension in the child welfare system in BC. Retrieved from http://www.nac-cca.ca/

Stone, P. (2002). Deciding upon and refining a research question. Palliative Medicine 16, 265-267.

Module 5: Documenting Sources in APA Style   updated January 31, 2014

Overview & Objectives

This module focuses on the use of the 6th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) (2010) as a style guide in academic writing. The module should help you to

  • understand the social context of academic citation practices
  • distinguish between journalistic and academic norms of citation
  • learn how to use APA format to cite sources in the body of your papers
  • learn how to format reference lists according to APA format
  • understand how to paraphrase from sources without plagiarizing
  • become familiar with the RefWorks citation tool available to U of C students



Readings & Resources (to review either now or at the end of this module.)

APA. (2010a). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington, DC: author. Chapter 6, p. 174 to 192 & Chapter 7 (all – for reference only). [Note: a copy of this reference manual will normally be kept at the reference desk of all libraries.]

APA. (2010b). Four sample papers using APA format. Retrieved January 31, 2014, from http://www.apastyle.org/search.aspx?query=&fq=StyleContentTypeFilt:%22Sample%20paper%22&sort=ContentDateSort%20desc

APA. (2009a). The basics of APA style. [PowerPoint]. Retrieved January 31, 2014, from http://www.apastyle.org/learn/tutorials/basics-tutorial.aspx?imw=Y

APA. (2009b). What’s new in the sixth edition. [PowerPoint]. Retrieved January 31, 2014 from http://www.apastyle.org/learn/tutorials/brief-guide.aspx

APA. (2009d). Quick answers: Referencing & Quick answers: Formatting. Retrieved January 31, 2014, from http://www.apastyle.org/

APA (producer). (2009e). Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs): How to find DOIs in PsycINFO

. Available from http://www.apa.org/flash/pubs/databases/tutorials/doi/index.aspx




Credible citation practice is more than a matter of selective quotation, fluent paraphrase, accurate summary, avoidance of plagiarism, and precise punctuation. It is an act of building community, collaboratively constructing shared knowledge. (Rose, 1996, p. 45)


Introduction: The social context of citation practices

Most students understand that in academic writing they are expected to cite their sources whenever they borrow information or ideas from other writers—whether they quote directly from the source or paraphrase (present the borrowed information or ideas in their own words). Although citation styles vary among disciplines, the practice of explicitly citing sources sets academic writing apart from other kinds of writing, including newspaper or magazine articles and even non-fiction books for a general audience. Table 5.1 highlights some of the key differences between journalistic and academic norms of citation.



Table 5.1: Journalistic vs Academic Norms of Citation

Journalistic Norms of Citation
(in newspapers, magazines, etc.)

Academic Norms of Citation
Citations for information from a source Information about sources is often missing, incomplete, or vague (e.g., “Researchers have found…”) All borrowed information or references
to research are accompanied by explicit in-text source citations.

Citation style

When sources are cited, the citations are typically informal references embedded directly in sentences without footnotes, endnotes, or in-text parenthetical citations. Citations always follow a standard style like APA, MLA, Chicago, or IEEE style. In-text citations typically take the form of a footnote, numbered reference, or parenthetical citation (with author, year, and page number for quotations).

Reference list

Complete publication information for sources or a reference list is almost never included. A reference list in a standard citation style is always included. Complete publication information is given for all sources.



Failure to explicitly and completely cite a source for research or borrowed information is generally not considered a problem. However, copying another writer’s words without acknowledging the source is a serious offence in journalism. Failure to explicitly cite a source for bor-rowed information is a serious academic offense (plagiarism) as is copying another writer’s words without using quotation marks. Student writers found guilty of plagiarism may fail a course, face academic probation, or even be expelled.

When students write academic papers, they may cite sources simply to avoid charges of plagiarism. However, according to Rose (1996), students who consider citation simply as a mechanical or ethical obligation misunderstand the deeper roles that citation practices play in academic discourse. Rose observed that

The scholarly writer . . . builds her identification with both her readers and the other writers she cites in her text as she negotiates for a place in a relatively small and well-defined community. When she incorporates words, ideas, and conclusions which have already appeared elsewhere, she does not present these because they are unfamiliar to her readers so much as she presents them as a reminder to the disciplinary colleague of knowledge they presumably have in common. (1996, p. 41)

For Rose, citation practices allow writers to identify themselves as members of academic communities. By citing sources, students demonstrate familiarity with research on a topic and begin to establish their own authority as researchers. And, as Bazerman (1988) pointed out, citing the author and year of each research source in the body of a paper, as in APA-style, serves as a visible reminder to readers that the present research builds on past research. Because citing sources is central to demonstrating membership and building knowledge in a discipline, the strict rules of citation in academic contexts should not come as a surprise.


A note about paraphrasing

Before we go on to look at citation formats, let’s quickly review the basics of paraphrasing. Many students seem to think that it’s all right to take a passage from a source, substitute a few words here and there, and present the resulting sentence in their paper as long as they include an in-text parenthetical reference and a corresponding reference list entry. In fact, even if they cite the source in such cases, they still could be guilty of plagiarism.


Consider the following passage taken from Proctor and Prevatt (2003), which discusses a model for diagnosing learning disabilities:

Grade-level discrepancy models, also called deviation from grade level, look for a difference between the child’s actual grade placement and his or her achievement level as indicated by grade-equivalent scores. In this model, actual grade placement almost serves as a proxy for ability—that is, where the child should be functioning. (p. 460)

Now consider the following unacceptable and acceptable paraphrases of this passage. In the unacceptable paraphrase, the writer cites the source but relies too heavily on the sentence structure and wording from the original passage. Note the underlined passages taken directly from the source and the sentence structure that follows the source closely. If that paraphrase appeared in a student paper without quotation marks, it would be considered unacceptable–and potentially as an instance of plagiarism. In contrast, in the accept-able paraphrase, only the key term–grade-level discrepancy models–has been preserved from the original. If this is a commonly used term to describe these models in the field, a writer could use the term without using quotation marks.


Unacceptable paraphrase:
Grade-level discrepancy models
focus on the difference between the child’s actual grade level and his or her achievement level. In this model, actual grade placement generally indicates the level at which the child should be functioning (Proctor & Prevatt, 2003).

Acceptable paraphrase:

Grade-level discrepancy models can be used to diagnose learning disabilities in children by comparing their actual grade level to their score on grade-normed tests (Proctor & Prevatt, 2003).

As you can see, paraphrasing without crossing the line into plagiarism requires good judgment and attention to detail. When you paraphrase information, always check to see that you haven’t inadvertently used chunks of wording from the original or relied heavily on the original sentence structure. If you have, you will need to revise or to use quotation marks around phrases lifted from the original. You may find it easier to paraphrase without the original text in front of you. Of course, whether you paraphrase or quote, you must always cite your source.


Citations in extended passages

While it’s important to provide a citation whenever you take ideas or wording from a source, you do not have to provide a citation for every sentence in a paragraph that all rely on information from the same source. Consider the example below:

In a study on academic writing in nursing and midwifery, Gimenez (2008) found that students “sometimes fail to recognize the real value of referencing their work. They usually see referencing as a requirement to get a passing grade, and ask questions like ‘how many references do I need to use for this assignment?’” (p. 159). Gimenez suggests that instructors should help students understand that sources are important because they provide evidence to support claims put forward in written papers. The study also reinforced the idea that instruction in academic writing should be discipline-specific, emphasizing genres that students will need in their academic programs (Gimenez, 2008).

Note that in the passage above, the year is cited immediately after the author’s name is first used, and a page citation is provided at the end of the quoted passage. In the sentence beginning “Gimenez suggests” no year citation is needed, as the passage clearly refers to Gimenez from two sentences earlier. However, in the final sentence in this passage, Gimenez’s name does not appear in the sentence itself, but the idea is taken from his article. In this case, a regular citation is required, with the author’s name and year included. Whenever an author’s name is included in an in-text citation, the year should also be provided, and if the citation is for a quoted passage, the page number should also be cited. The key principle is that your readers should never be in doubt about the source of borrowed ideas or wording.


APA documentation style: The basics

The next section of this module reproduces a short handout on APA style available from the U of C Writing Support services website at http://www.ucalgary.ca/ssc/node/209

Of course, when in doubt, you should always consult the APA Publication Manual (2010).



Documenting Sources: The APA Format
Effective Writing Program, University of Calgary                                                               Updated Feb. 2011


What is the APA format?

This handout summarizes APA guidelines for documenting sources cited in written work; these guidelines are based on the 6th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2010). APA style is standard in many fields, including psychology, education, nursing, and social work. . . .

What sources must be documented in academic writing?

In academic writing, you must cite sources for all borrowed information, visuals, and ideas–including material you have paraphrased (put into your own words). However, you should not cite sources for generally known facts. If in doubt, cite your source.


What does APA documentation consist of?

Complete APA documentation consists of two elements:

  • an in-text citation at the point in your paper where you are presenting information borrowed from a source or where you are referring to published research;
  • a reference list giving complete publication information for all sources cited in the paper (except for personal communications and references to the Bible or Qur’an).

Examples of in-text citations and reference list entries (and formatting guidelines), are included below. While the examples are single-spaced, in APA format, you must double space your entire paper, including inset quotations and your reference list.



  1. In-text citations for paraphrased ideas and information & references to research

Example 1 The high infant mortality rate in the U.S. may be attributed in part to the high cost of medical insurance (Smith, 1996). Smith (1996) found that economic…

Example 2 Smith (1996) concluded that the high infant mortality rate in the U.S. may be attributed in part to the high cost of medical insurance. Smith found that economic barriers to adequate prenatal health care were higher for some ethnic groups.


Guidelines for paper-based and online sources

  • Cite the author’s last name plus the year of publication in parentheses, as in example 1. If the author’s name appears in the sentence (example 2), just cite the year.
  • Place the closing period for the sentence after the parenthetical citation, as in example 1.
  • Note that a parenthetical citation would not normally be included for a source cited earlier in a paragraph if the author’s name is used in the narrative and if it’s clear that the same source is being referred to (as in example 2). However, a citation for the year should be included if the author’s name first appeared in a parenthetical citation, as in example 1.
  • When paraphrasing, avoid using exact wording from the source. If you take wording from a source, use quotation marks around the borrowed wording. When paraphrasing, include page number citations only “when it would help an interested reader locate the relevant passage in a long or complex text” (APA, 2010, p. 171).

Example 3   Some people have found vitamin E helpful for this problem (“Ways to overcome,” n.d.).

Guidelines for a source with no author or no date

  • For a source without an author, use a short form of the title within quotation marks in the citation, as shown in example 3. For a source without a date, write “n.d.” (for no date) in place of the date. Note: generally, sources without an identifiable author or date of publication would not be considered credible sources in an academic paper.

Example 4   Some researchers have noted a positive correlation between caffeine intake and heart disease (Carmichael, 1998; Hawkins, 1997), while others (Lumpas et al., 2000; Wright & Weston, 1993) have found conflicting results.

Guidelines for multiple authors or multiple sources

  • When including more than one source in an in-text citation, arrange sources alphabetical-ly (as in the reference list) and separate them by semicolons. The APA Manual advises citing “one or two of the most representative sources for each key point” (2010, p. 169).
  • For sources with two authors, always cite both authors. For sources with 3 to 5 authors, cite all authors in the first reference, and in subsequent citations, use only the first author’s name followed by “et al.” (not italicized and with a period after “al”). For sources with six or more authors, use the first author’s name with et al. for all in-text citations.
  • Use the “&” symbol to connect authors’ names inside parenthetical citations; outside citations, use the word “and”
  1. In-text citations for quoted passages less than 40 words long:

Example 5 Halloran (1990) notes that concern with grammatical correctness in English was “essentially an eighteenth-century invention” (p. 166).

Example 6 Concern with grammatical correctness in English was “essentially an eighteenth-century invention” (Halloran, 1990, p.166).

Example 7 Sharp (2003) found that “there was no evidence of a link between people’s voting patterns and their television viewing habits” (para. 5).


Guidelines for citing page and paragraph numbers for quoted passages under 40 words

  • When quoting, use quotation marks and cite the page number. For sources with no page numbers, use paragraph numbers (e.g., para. 5). If necessary for clarity, cite paragraph numbers from specific sections of a document, for example– (Smith, 2009, Conclusion section, para. 4) or (Weldon & Rice, 2007, “Reasons for Program Changes,” para. 2).
  • Delete any period or comma at the end of a quoted passage, but retain question marks from the original text. Place the period (or end punctuation) after the parenthetical citation.
  1. In-text citations for quotations over 40 words:

Example 8 As Halloran (1990) notes, correct grammar has long been associated with social class:

In the competitive middle-class society of the nineteenth-century, speaking and writing “correct” English took on new importance as a sign of membership in the upper strata. . . . [B]y attempting to impose a “hyper-correct” dialect on the generally privileged students at Harvard and the other established liberal arts colleges, Hill and others may actually have strengthened the linguistic obstacles to upward mobility. . . . The rhetoricians prepared students to leap social hurdles, while at the same time elevating the hurdles. (p. 167)

Guidelines for block indent quotations

  • For quotations over 40 words, indent the quoted passage five spaces on the left, double-space, and do not use quotation marks or insert extra space before or after the quotation.
  • Place the end punctuation before the citation (not after, as with short quotations).
  • Use an ellipsis (three spaced dots) to indicate words left out of a quotation; use square brackets [like this] to indicate words that you’ve added for clarity. The first letter of the first word of a quotation may be changed from upper to lower case or vice versa.
  • To introduce a long quotation effectively, try preceding it with what could be a complete sentence, followed by a colon (as in the example above).
  1. In-text citations for sources taken from other sources:

Example 9   Wright (1999) argues that drug companies “hold governments hostage” when they refuse to justify the cost of life-saving but highly expensive medications (cited in Frost & Krahn, 2000, p. 8).


  • Use original sources rather than “second-hand” sources whenever possible. If you must use a “second-hand” source, format your citation as shown in example 9. Provide a reference list entry only for the source you are working from—in this case, Frost and Krahn (2000).
  1. In-text citations for personal communications and class lectures:

Example 10   In 2002, the profits doubled (J. Bell, personal communication, May 4, 2004).

Example 11    According to Bell, the organization’s CEO, the company’s profits doubled in 2002 (personal communication, May 4, 2004).

Example 12    Critics at the time panned this film, which is now regarded as a masterpiece (B. Green, University of Calgary, Film 201 lecture, March 20, 2003).




  • For personal communications (conversations, letters, and e-mails), in-text citations should include the name of the source, the words “personal communication,” and the date of the communication. Citations should exclude information already included in the sentence.
  • Do NOT include personal communications in your reference list, but do include reference list entries for course notes if they are in hard-copy or electronic format. (Cite course lectures only when necessary; look for published sources making the same point.)

Formatting an APA Reference List

Page formatting: Type References, centred at the top of a new page. Double-space the entire list and format entries using hanging indent format, as shown in the example at the end of this handout.

Arranging entries: Include entries for all sources cited in your paper except personal communications. Arrange entries alphabetically by the first author’s last name and by the first key word in a corporate author name (e.g., The UNIVERSITY of Calgary). If there is no author, place the title first and alphabetize by the first key word in the title.

Authors’ names: Invert all authors’ names, putting the surname first, followed by initials (never full first names). List all authors of a work up to seven, then add ellipses and the last author’s name.

Multiple sources: For multiple works by the same author, list the earliest work first. Include all authors’ names in each entry. For two or more works by the same author(s) in the same year, add a lower-case letter (e.g., 1998a; 1998b) to the entries and the corresponding in-text citations.

Dates: If no publication year is available, write (n.d.). in the date slot for the reference list entry.

Titles: Use normal type (and no quotation marks) for article and chapter titles; use italics for book, newspaper, journal, and magazine titles. For book and article titles, capitalize only the first letter of the first word. Capitalize the first letter of all key words of newspaper, magazine, and journal titles.

Page numbers: Include inclusive page numbers for all articles. Write “p.” (or “pp.”) before page numbers for book chapters and newspaper articles but not for journal or magazine articles.


DOIs for online sources: Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) are alphanumeric strings that provide a persistent link to electronic sources. When available, they should be included in reference list entries for both print and electronic sources. When you include a DOI in a reference list entry, no URL, data-base name, or date of retrieval is required. If a DOI is unavailable, cite the URL of the journal’s home page. (Include the URL for online archives such as ERIC or JSTOR for documents not available via other routes.) Note: Crossref.org provides a DOI search function and also provides a service that takes readers to the online article when they input an article’s DOI.


Retrieval dates: Include retrieval dates for online sources only if the material is subject to change (e.g., Wikis). Retrieval dates are not required for journal articles or other texts not likely to change.

Sample APA Reference List Entries

Journal article with doi:

Wellen, K. E., & Hotamisligil, G. S. (2005). Inflammation, stress, and diabetes. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 115(5), 1111-1119. doi: 10.1172/JCI200525102


  • Capitalize only the first letter of the first word of article titles and subtitles, but capitalize the first letter of all key words of journal titles, and italicize journal titles.
  • After the journal title, put a comma, then the volume number in italics, then the issue number, and the page range. Leave out the issue number for journals paginated continuously through the year, with the page numbers of each issue continuing from the last page number in the previous issue. The issue number and page range should not be in italics.
  • If a DOI (Digital Object Identifier) is available, cite it, as shown above. The DOI can some-times be found under a link or button labelled Article, Cross-Ref, or the database name (e.g. PubMed). If necessary, you can check or search for DOIs at CrossRef.org . When citing a DOI, leave out the database name or URL.
  • Do not cite a retrieval date for journal articles (or other sources unlikely to change).


Journal article with NO doi:

Hawkins, C. (2008). Affirmations: How to inspire students to revise. Praxis: A Writing Centre Journal, 5(2). Retrieved from http://projects.uwc.utexas.edu/praxis/


  • If a DOI is not available for an online journal article, write “Retrieved from” and then include the URL of the journal home page on the Internet, as shown above. Cite the page range for the article if it’s available. (Note: no page numbers were available for the Hawkins article above.)


Magazine article (online & paper-based):

Horton, S. (2009, August). Court orders release of juvenile prisoner at Gitmo. Harper’s Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.harpers.org/

Sutton, R. (1994, May 10). Landscaping trends. Gardening World, 54(3), 27-33.


  • For magazine articles retrieved online, give the URL of the magazine’s home page.
  • Include the full date, volume number, issue number, and page range, if available.


Article in a daily newspaper (online & paper-based):

Lowey, M. (1994, June 11). Facing the techno-gap. The Calgary Herald, p. B8.

Richards, G. (2009, July 30). Alberta police face stricter Taser rules. The Calgary Herald. Retrieved from http://www.calgaryherald.com/index.html


  • For articles on discontinuous pages, give all page numbers (separated by commas).




Article from ERIC database:

Smith, R. R. (2006). Teaching English to new immigrants. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED2900353).


  • For informally published work on ERIC, an educational resources database, cite the database and document number


Books (print & online):

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington DC: Author.

Bazerman, C. (1988). Shaping written knowledge: The genre and activity of the experimental article in science. [WAC Clearinghouse Landmark Publications in Writing Studies.] Retrieved from http://wac.colostate.edu/books/bazerman_shaping/

Jolliffe, D. A. (1999). Inquiry and genre: Writing to learn in college. Boston MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Scott, B. C. (2009). Health care for the 21st century. doi: 10-a3r0023aljhd.2613


  • Capitalize only the first letter of proper nouns and the first word of book titles and subtitles. Italicize book titles.
  • For print books, include the place of publication and the state abbreviation followed by a colon and the name of the publisher. If the publisher and writer are the same, identify the publisher as “Author” (as in the APA example above)
  • For books available online (i.e., electronic versions), cite the doi (or the URL if a doi is not available), as in the Bazerman and Scott examples above.


Article or chapter in an edited book:

Halloran, S. M. (1990). From rhetoric to composition: The teaching of writing in America to 1900. In J. J. Murphy (Ed.), A short history of writing instruction from ancient Greece to twentieth-century America (pp. 151-182). Davis CA: Hermagoras Press.


  • Include editors’ names (with initials before surnames). Include the page range in parentheses after the title and prefaced by pp.


Encyclopedia or reference work entry:

Caffeine. (n.d.). The American heritage® Stedman’s medical dictionary. Retrieved from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/caffeine


  • Begin with the author’s name, if available. If there’s no author, begin with the title

Technical and research reports:

Statistics Canada. (2009). 2006 Census: Immigration in Canada: A portrait of the foreign-born population, 2006 Census: Findings. (Report No. 97-557-XIE2006001). Retrieved from http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2006/as-sa/97-557/index-eng.cfm



  • For paper-based reports, include the place of location and the publisher, as for a book. If the publisher is the author, then write “Author” for the publisher’s name.



Bard, R. (Writer), & Boynton, G. (Director). (2005). Going away [Television series episode]. In R. Kelley (Executive producer), Mystery Archives. Toronto, ON: OTV5 Broadcasting.

Nova Science Now (Producer). (2009). The science of picky eaters [DVD]. Available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/archive/date-20090721.html


  • For a tv episode, use the same format as for a book chapter, but list the script writer and director in the author position and the producer in the editor position.


Blog post:

Sherman, A. (2009, July 28). Extravagant eggs. Retrieved from http://cookingwithamy


  • If the author uses a screen name, use that in place of the author’s actual name.


Message posted to a newsgroup, online forum, or discussion group:

Jenson, C. (2009, April 4). Never again [Electronic mailing list message]. Retrieved from http://socialpower.groups.yahoo.com/group/calendula/message/410


Web sites:

University of Minnesota Libraries. (n.d.) Evidence based practice. Retrieved October 23, 2008, from http://www.biomed.lib.umn.edu/learn/ebp/index.html

Ways to overcome pain. (n.d.). Retrieved May 3, 2001, from http://www.painrx.com.html


  • Begin with the author’s name; if no author or corporate author can be identified, begin with the title. The second source above, with no author, would be cited in a paper as follows: (“Ways to Overcome,” n.d.). Write “(n.d.)” if no publication date is available.
  • Do not italicize the title of an article on a website (just as you would not italicize the title of an article in a magazine). Do italicize the title of a report or book found on a website (as you would for a print copy). Capitalize only the first letter of the first word (plus proper nouns).
  • Provide the retrieval date if the content is likely to change or be updated.
  • Cite the URL (with no period after it). Break long URLs before punctuation marks.



Canadian Landscapers Society. (2003). Xeriscaping. [Brochure]. Toronto: Go Press.


  • Italicize book titles. Capitalize only the first letter of proper nouns and of the first word of book titles and subtitles. (For brochures, add “[Brochure]” after the title.)

Sample APA reference page:


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington DC: Author.

Bard, R. (Writer), & Boynton, G. (Director). (2005). Going away [Television series episode]. In R. Kelley (Executive producer), Mystery Archives. Toronto, ON: OTV5 Broadcasting.

Bazerman, C. (1988). Shaping written knowledge: The genre and activity of the experimental article in science. (WAC Clearinghouse Landmark Publications in Writing Studies.) Retrieved from http://wac.colostate.edu/books/bazerman_shaping/

Caffeine. (n.d.) The American heritage Stedman’s medical dictionary. Retrieved from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/caffeine

Canadian Landscapers Society. (2003). Xeriscaping your yard [Brochure]. Toronto: Go Press.

Halloran, S. M. (1990). From rhetoric to composition: The teaching of writing in America to 1900. In J. J. Murphy (Ed.), A short history of writing instruction from ancient Greece to twentieth-century America (pp. 151-182). Davis CA: Hermagoras Press.

Hawkins, C. (2008). Affirmations: How to inspire students to revise. Praxis: A Writing Centre Journal, 5(2). Retrieved from http://projects.uwc.utexas.edu/praxis/

Horton, S. (2009, August). Court orders release of juvenile prisoner at Gitmo. Harper’s Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.harpers.org/

Jolliffe, D. A. (1999). Inquiry and genre: Writing to learn in college. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Lowey, M. (1994, June 11). Facing the techno-gap. The Calgary Herald, p. B8.

Nova Science Now (Producer). (2009). The science of picky eaters [DVD]. Available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/archive/date-20090721.html

Richards, G. (2009, July 30). Alberta police face stricter Taser rules. The Calgary Herald. Retrieved from http://www.calgaryherald.com/index.html

Smith, R. R. (2006). Teaching English to new immigrants. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED2900353).

Statistics Canada. (2009). 2006 Census: Immigration in Canada: A portrait of the foreign-born population, 2006 Census: Findings. (Report No. 97-557-XIE2006001). Retrieved from http://www12.statcan.ca/census-reensement/2006/as-sa/97-557/index-eng.cfm

Sutton, R. (1994, May 10). Landscaping trends. Gardening World, 54, 27-33.

University of Minnesota Libraries. (n.d.). Evidence based practice. Retrieved October 23, 2008, from http://www.biomed.lib.umn.edu/learn/ebp/index.html

Ways to overcome pain. (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2001, from http://www.painrx.com.html

Wellen, K. E., & Hotamisligil, G. S. (2005). Inflammation, stress, and diabetes. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 115(5), 1111-1119. doi:10.1172/JC1200525102.

Note: Many examples used here are taken from actual sources; others are hypothetical.


book, published by the author

tv episode



online book



entry (online)

brochure (print)

article or chapter in a print book


online journal article; no doi

magazine article (online)

book (print)

newspaper article



newspaper article (online)

article from ERIC


research report



magazine article

article from a website

article from a website, no author

journal article with doi; 2 authors



TIP: To format a hanging-indent reference list, use the hanging indent feature in the paragraph formatting area. In the pop-up window for paragraph formatting, under SPECIAL, choose HANGING and specify the amount as .5”. For WORD 2007, follow the above steps, but in step 4, access the paragraph formatting box from the Home tab.

A few APA quirks to keep in mind when editing

As you probably noted, the APA documentation style has a few quirks. When editing your papers, don’t forget to check that you’ve followed these rules:

In the body of your paper:

  • For quoted passages of more than 40 words, do not use quotation marks; instead, indent the whole quoted passage 5 spaces from the left margin (and place the citation after the closing period).
  • For parenthetical citations that include more than one source, arrange the references alphabetically, like this: (Adderly, 2012; Broadview, 2011; Custer & Smith, 2010).

In your reference list:

  • Use authors’ last names written out in full, with first and middle initials only, and an & symbol before the last author’s name
  • Capitalize only the first letter of the first word (and all proper nouns) in the titles and subtitles of books and articles, but capitalize the first letter of all key words in the titles of journals, newspapers, and magazines.

Bibliographic tools

Several online tools allow you to easily import information about sources into an online folder, from which you can then generate reference lists and citations. Here are a few such tools worth checking out:


Zotero. This free tool is available here: http://www.zotero.org/


Ref Works. This free tool is supported by the University of Calgary library. Access it here: http://library.ucalgary.ca/refworks


Write-N-Cite for Mac. This free tool is supported by the University of Calgary library. Access it here: http://library.ucalgary.ca/refworks



If this is your first introduction to APA style, you may be feeling a bit daunted at this point. Relax. Keep in mind that you are not expected to memorize all the details of APA style. Of course, you should know how to cite a source in the body of a paper using proper PA format. But for the formatting reference list entries and mastering other elements of APA style, the key is that you know where to look up the information you need.


If you haven’t already done so, you should take some time now to go through all of the resources listed at the beginning of this module. They will help to reinforce the key concepts in APA style.


: Module 5 – Module Assignment.

There is no separate module assignment for this module. However, the quiz for Module 6 will include questions based on Module 5, and your proposal will also be marked in part on how well you use APA style in formatting the in-text citations and reference list entries in your proposal.



APA. (2010a). The publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington DC: APA.

APA. (2010b). Four sample papers using APA format. Retrieved January 31, 2014, from http://www.apastyle.org/search.aspx?query=&fq=StyleContentTypeFilt:%22Sample%20paper%22&sort=ContentDateSort%20desc

APA. (2009a). The basics of APA style. [PowerPoint]. Retrieved January 31, 2014, from http://www.apastyle.org/learn/tutorials/basics-tutorial.aspx?imw=Y

APA. (2009b). What’s new in the sixth edition. [PowerPoint]. Retrieved January 31, 2014, from http://www.apastyle.org/learn/tutorials/brief-guide.aspx

APA. (2009d). Frequently asked questions about APA style. Retrieved January 31, 2014, from http://apastyle.apa.org/learn/faqs/index.aspx

APA (producer). (2009e). Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs): How to find DOIs in PsycINFO

. Available from http://www.apa.org/flash/pubs/databases/tutorials/doi/index.aspx

Bazerman, C. (1988). Shaping written knowledge: The genre and activity of the experimental article in science. Madison, WI: U of Wisconsin P.

Gimenez, J. (2008). Beyond the academic essay: Discipline-specific writing in nursing and midwifery. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 7, 151-164. doi: 10.1016/j.jueap.2008.03.005

Proctor, B., & Prevatt, F. (2003). Agreement among four models used for diagnosing learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities 36(5), 459-466.

Rose, S. K. (1996). What’s love got to do with it? Scholarly citation practices as courtship rituals. Language and Learning Across the Disciplines, 1(3), 34-48. Retrieved from http://wac.colostate.edu/llad/issues.htm

University of Calgary. (2014). Refworks [and Write-N-Cite for Mac]. Available at http://library.ucalgary.ca/refworks

Zotero. (2014). [online bibliographic tool]. Available at http://www.zotero.org/

Module 2: Formulating research questions & writing research proposals
by Jo-Anne Andre and Linda McCloud Bondoc                                                       15 pp. revised Jan. 5, 2014

Overview & Objectives

This module is intended to help you

  • develop good research questions
  • become familiar with research proposal elements and conventions
  • learn about the ethics requirements for research involving people
  • become familiar with the format of an annotated reference list


George Mason University Writing Center. (2012, March 8). How to write a research question [Web log posting]. Retrieved from http://writingcenter.gmu.edu/?p=307

APA Publication Manual (2010) – about three pages from Chapter 1, as follows:

  • Ethical and Legal Standards in Publishing – introductory paragraphs on p. 11
  • Plagiarism and Self-Plagiarism – Sec. 1.1, pp. 15-16
  • Protecting the Rights and Welfare of Research Participants – Sec. 1.11, pp. 16-17


To think of yourself as an active enquirer, rather than as a mere receptacle of ideas and knowledge or as a passive medium by which they are transmitted from your books to your essays, is essential. (Taylor, 1989, p. 2)



Formulating a compelling research question is a good starting point for all research. Good research questions are worth asking, manageable in scope, and precisely worded.


Questions worth asking. In health and human service fields, research questions worth asking often relate to professional practice or program evaluation. Many good questions start with a particular problem, an unexpected observation, or an interesting or unusual case. And, at the intersection of the academic world and the world of practice, many good questions focus on the relationship of theory to practice. Other questions can stem from sheer intellectual curiosity. Whatever its focus, a good research question should lead you to more than a list of facts. Which of the following research questions would likely lead to an interesting analytical paper—not just to a factual description?

When were the first nurses’ associations formed, where, and by whom?

Why were the first nurses’ associations formed?

How did the first nurses’ associations affect the practice of nursing?

You’re right if you think that the last two questions would lead to more interesting papers than the first question. In fact, how and why questions typically invite deeper analysis and lead to more insights than who, when, and where questions.


Questions of a manageable scope. Aim for a research question that you can effectively answer given the time and research resources available to you. One good strategy is to keep narrowing your tentative research question until it feels too narrow. For example, if you wanted to look at the factors contributing to eating disorders, you might narrow your research question to focus on changes in media images of the ideal female body. You might further narrow your focus to a particular medium (e.g., magazine ads) and time period (e.g., 1950 to the present). When you begin to feel that you have narrowed your focus too much, your question is probably close to a manageable scope. Of course, you can always widen the scope of your research as you progress, but beginning with too broad a question is a common problem for novice researchers.


Questions worded with precision. When writing research questions, try to weed out vague terms and to revise for preciseness. Think about what variables (factors of interest, e.g., related to causes or effects) are lurking in your research questions. Table 2.1 below offers examples of weak research questions along with suggested revisions.


Table 2.1: Hilsden’s (1996) examples of imprecise and improved research questions

Imprecise research questions Suggested revisions
The purpose of this study is to determine the major concerns of women after a cesarean delivery.
Unclear: immediately after delivery, a year after delivery? Concepts not identified: … kinds of concerns?
The purpose of this study is to determine the major physiologic, psychosocial and lifestyle concerns of women two weeks and eight weeks after an unplanned cesarean delivery.
Does the administration of analgesic by nurses vs. by patients themselves affect how older patients feel during postoperative recovery?
Constructs not defined: feel…. (p. 2)
Does the administration of analgesic by nurses vs. by patients themselves affect pain intensity during the first postoperative recovery day in older adults? (p. 3)


Of course, if you are a student relying entirely on published (secondary) sources for your research, you won’t be able to narrow your research questions quite as much as Hilsden (1996) suggests, but you still should think carefully about the wording of your questions and replace any vague wording with clear and precise terms.


Take a moment now to read How to write a research question by the Writing Center of George Mason University, available here: http://writingcenter.gmu.edu/?p=307 The writers offer the following advice on the steps to developing a good research question:

  • Start with a general topic in which you are truly interested;
  • “Do some preliminary research [i.e., reading] on your general topic”;
  • “Consider your audience”;
  • “Evaluate your question.” (2012, p. 1)

The writers also note that “research questions should not be answerable with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or by easily-found facts. They should, instead, require both research and analysis on the part of the writer” (2012, p. 1).

Here are two more helpful strategies:

  • Review your course outline to find particular themes or concepts you might work into the focus of your question. For example, if your course focuses on family dynamics, then your research question should in some way relate to that focus. If the course description highlights themes like right to privacy in medical treatment or interpersonal conflict in family settings, then you might formulate a question relating one of those subthemes to an aspect of practice in your field.
  • Try to cultivate the habit of inquiry—the habit of asking good questions—when reading, listening to lectures, or just chatting with others. When taking notes, a useful strategy is to leave a wide margin for questions and comments on the materials. Your questions and comments can sow the seeds for good research questions—and ultimately good research papers.

Writing a Research Paper Proposal

Proposals are perhaps the most explicitly persuasive genre of academic writing. Whether you are a researcher applying for a grant or a student proposing to study a particular topic, your proposal must persuade your readers that your proposed research question or topic is worthwhile, that you are familiar with the topic and some of the prior research on it, and that you have a sound research plan.


Although research proposals are not a common assignment in many fields, they perform a number of useful functions when they are assigned. A proposal assignment may

  • encourage students to begin their research earlier and manage their time better, resulting in a better (and less rushed) final research paper;
  • give students an opportunity to explore sources on their topic and to get feedback on their proposed topic and research method early in the research-writing process;
  • help to ensure that interviews, surveys, or other studies involving participants follow appropriate ethics guidelines and approval processes.

The basic elements of a research paper proposal are outlined in Table 2.2 and described in more detail below.


Table 2.2: Basic Components of a Research Paper Proposal

  • An informative title & identifying information (i.e., date, names, etc.)
  • A statement of the research topic or question (and possibly the hypotheses) for the study.
  • Introduction (Overview; Background). The opening section should provide context for the proposed topic and establish why it’s worthy of study. In some cases, a literature reviewa summary of prior research on the topic—will also be required.
  • Research plan (proposed methods). Research methods should be described in some detail, and a schedule or timeline may also be included.
  • Preliminary list of references (research sources). An annotated bibliography may be required (with short evaluative descriptions of each source listed).


Informative title and identifying information

In formal funding or research proposals, include a title page, with the title, your name, the recipient, and the date; in more informal proposals (like the proposal assignment for ACWR 303), simply include the title and identifying information at the top of page one.


Aim for a proposal title that concisely yet informatively sums up the topic and focus of the proposed research. The title should contain keywords pertaining to your proposed study and should contain enough information for the reader to deduce your research question. Consider the following examples:

Nurses’ Learning Styles   

Nurses’ Learning Styles as Determinants of Success in Online Learning

A Survey of Nurses’ Learning Styles and Attitudes toward Online Learning

Note how the last two titles above are more informative and precise than the first title.
In Table 2.3, you’ll find selected titles from ACWR 303 student proposals along with instructor comments. (The titles are reproduced here with students’ permission.)


Table 2.3: Selected Proposal Titles from Student Papers in ACWR 303

Proposal titles Instructor’s comments
Effects of Specialized Preschool Programs on Child Development This is a good title, but the program name(s) could be included.

Possible revision: The Effects of Headstart Programs on Child Development

Prevention Campaigns on Eating Disorders Research Proposal This title identifies the topic but not the focus of the proposed study. (Is the research focusing on the approaches used or on their effectiveness? Which campaigns are to be studied?) Also, the closing phrase “Research Proposal” could be cut.

Possible revision: An Evaluation of the Websites for Three Campaigns for the Prevention of Eating Disorders in Teens

Including Students with Special Needs in Alberta’s Regular High School Classrooms This is a good title, but the focus could be clearer. Is the focus on school policies, pedagogical practices, or student outcomes?

Possible revision: Including Students with Special Needs in Alberta’s Regular High School Classrooms: A Study of School Board Policies and Pedagogical Practices

ACWR 303 Proposal This generic title provides no helpful information. Avoid such titles.


Statement of the research topic or question

When instructors ask for a research paper proposal, they may specifically ask you to state a research topic or a research question. These are not quite the same, and you should include only one or the other. Consider the following research topic and research question:

Statement of research topic: I am interested in studying the early history of the formation of professional associations for nurses.

Potential research question: What factors led to the formation of the first professional associations for nurses? [note the question mark at the end]

From these examples, you’ll notice that a research topic is usually more general than a research question. In a sense, a research topic suggests the direction in which you will focus your gaze, while a research question indicates what you will be looking for.


Presenting your research topic or question. When writing a research paper proposal for university courses, professors may specify whether they want to see a research topic or a research question and whether they expect some discussion to put your research question into context. Often, you will have freedom to determine how best to present your research topic or question. Below are three alternative ways of presenting the same research topic or question. The third version offers a bit more context and articulates the research question in terms of a “problem.” Which version do you like best?

Proposed research topic: I am interested in researching the public policy positions taken by professional associations for nurses in Canada over the past 50 years.

Proposed research question: Over the past 50 years, what public policy positions have been taken by professional associations for nurses in Canada and what impact have nurses’ associations had on government policy decisions?

Proposed research problem: Modern professional associations for nurses appear to have little influence on the current debate on healthcare reform in Canada. To place this problem into historical perspective, I propose to investigate the public policy statements and the impact on public policy of professional associations for nurses in Canada over the past 50 years.


Hypotheses (or tentative thesis)

If you are writing a formal proposal for a quantitative study seeking to study the correlation between two or more variables, you may be expected to include hypotheses in your proposal. For example, a nutritionist studying the relation between dairy intake in teen years and the incidence of osteoporosis in a given population might hypothesize (predict) that increased dairy in teen years intake reduces osteoporosis in later life. (Qualitative studies typically are more exploratory in nature and seldom include hypotheses.)


If you include hypotheses in your proposal, place them at the end of the overview of your proposed study and identify them clearly as hypotheses. Tornquist (1986) offers the following example of a formal hypothesis in her guide to nursing research writing:

Patients experiencing chronic back pain who are taught progressive relaxation and practice regularly will report a significantly greater decrease in pain from pretest to posttest than will a control group of similar patients who do not practice relaxation. (p. 51)


If you are assigned to write a research proposal, check with the instructor to see if you should include a hypothesis or tentative thesis (if the instructions aren’t clear on this point). Even if you are not required to include a tentative thesis (your best initial guess at the answer to your research question) in your proposal, you may find it useful to formulate one early in your research process. Having a tentative thesis in mind as you proceed with your research can

  • make your research process more efficient as you will home in more quickly on the most relevant information;
  • encourage you to read more critically as you “test” the new information against your predictions;
  • help you to keep your own developing argument in focus and keep you from the pitfalls of digressing or of simply summarizing other writers’ arguments;
  • encourage you to deepen your analysis and refine your developing argument;
  • keep you from the kind of research paralysis (and crisis of confidence) that can occur when you read so much that you don’t know what you think anymore.

If coming up with a tentative thesis before you begin your research process strikes you as counter-intuitive, think of your research-writing process as analogous to the process of carrying out a scientific experiment. In the classic scientific method, a scientist asks a question, comes up with a hypothesis, and then designs and carries out an experiment to test that hypothesis. Similarly, in researching and writing a paper, you are testing your tentative thesis or best guess at the answer to your research question. Of course, if you are investigating a topic about which you know nothing (e.g., health practices of the ancient Incas), then you will need to do some general reading on your topic before you can formulate a good research question or tentative thesis.


Getting to a tentative thesis: an example. If you are interested in researching the reasons behind the formation of the first professional nurses’ associations and have to produce a tentative thesis, you might start by simply brainstorming possible reasons for the formation of such associations. Here’s what my brainstorming on this topic looks like:

Factors that might have led to the formation of the first nurses’ associations:

  • desire for better working conditions and pay (associations might have acted like unions as they do now in a way; association = more bargaining power)
  • desire for more respect as professionals
  • need for a unified voice to represent nurses’ interests to hospital boards, government agencies, and other bodies? (Were hospitals even public then?)
  • imitation of a trend among other kinds of professionals (doctors? teachers?)
  • legal requirement (maybe the government mandated them? Unlikely?)
  • maybe a particular person(s) was instrumental in organizing them. (But why? Should I focus on reasons, not people?)
  • need for a mechanism to share nursing practices and advances among nurses?
    (I wonder when the first professional conferences were held? And whether academic and professional associations overlapped in any way?)


In the process of brainstorming toward a tentative thesis, I turned up further questions that might help guide my research. In this case, the act of brainstorming itself has served as a helpful tool for inquiry. While I would keep all these ideas in mind, I would focus on the most promising points in order to develop a tentative thesis, as shown below:

The first professional associations for nurses may have been formed because of nurses’ desire for better pay and working conditions, the need for nurses to share nursing knowledge, and their desire to be respected as professionals.


Note how this tentative thesis presents an arguable claim. Note too that it uses the verb modal “may” (“may have been motivated”) since the thesis is only tentative; in a final paper, the simple past tense (i.e., “was motivated”) would be more appropriate.


Of course, any tentative thesis is just that—tentative—and it is likely to be revised or even radically changed as you conduct research and critically analyze your findings. Do not fall into the trap of treating a tentative thesis as if it cannot be changed; taking such an approach defeats the purpose of research. Your research is a way to test your predictions, and your thesis should evolve as your research progresses.


Introduction (Overview, Background) to put your research topic into context

Research proposals normally include some introductory or background information to put the topic into context. For a short proposal in an undergraduate course, a few sentences might be sufficient to introduce your topic, but in a formal proposal, particularly one on a complex topic, you may need several paragraphs to adequately introduce your topic.


Within a proposal, an introduction, overview, background, or research context section may serve a number of purposes. For example, it might

  • provide a rationale for the proposed study, explaining why the research is important
  • define key terms
  • sketch out the theoretical or historical context for the study
  • define the research problem in some detail
  • briefly review prior research on the topic. (This literature review may be presented as a separate section.)

Depending on the length of a proposal, the amount of background included could range from a sentence or two to a few pages. For example, in a research proposal on the causes of obesity among teens, an introductory or background section might define obesity, establish its prevalence and increase over the past few decades, and indicate the negative health outcomes associated with it.

Returning to the previous example on the history of nurses’ associations, here’s what a short introduction with a minimal amount of background might look like:

Today, professional nurses’ associations represent hundreds of thousands of nurses around the world and wield significant power in negotiating working conditions for nurses, but such associations are a relatively new phenomenon. Nurses’ associations were first formed [where, when]. . . (source). I propose to research the factors that led to the formation of these associations.


Providing a rationale for the study. A research proposal should persuade the reader that the research is important and worth doing. Even when the importance of a research topic seems obvious, a proposal can provide persuasive detail. For example, a research proposal studying the role of the family in the treatment of brain-injured persons might be more likely to attract funding if the writer points out how many people are affected by brain injuries each year or how much money the health care system might save with more effective rehabilitation efforts.


If the significance of your research topic is not obvious, consider why it deserves study.
To return to the previous example, an analysis of the factors that led to the formation of prossional associations for nurses may be interesting to nurse historians but may not attract other readers. But other readers might become intrigued by the research question if you point out how such research may provide insights into the growing power or the continuing relevance of nursing associations today.


If you can effectively articulate why your topic is significant, you may be able to use those ideas in the introduction or conclusion of your final paper, and you will likely be more motivated as you move through the challenges of the research writing process. On the other hand, if you can’t come up with any good reasons for why your topic is important, try rethinking your research question or consult with your instructor.


Summarizing prior research in a literature review. Funding agencies expect research proposals to situate research questions within the context of previous research. Even instructors in undergrad courses may ask for a literature review in a research paper proposal. In literature reviews, researchers summarize prior research (“the literature”) on a topic in order to show how the proposed research builds on prior research and fills important gaps in it. The research literature usually takes the form of journal articles, books, and conference papers.

If you are writing a proposal and aren’t sure whether to include a literature review, check with your instructor. Even if a literature review isn’t required, it’s still a good strategy to cite a few sources in your proposal as you establish the context for your study. By doing so, you demonstrate your professionalism and your familiarity with the relevant research on your topic.


Here are a few guidelines for including a literature review in a research proposal:

  • Keep the review relatively brief and highly selective, focusing mainly on prior research close to your research questions.
  • When sketching out the broad outlines of research on your topic, group related studies, as in the following example from a research paper by Marshall, Karow, Morelli, Iden, and Dixon (2003, p. 333):

Impairments in problem solving have been found to be a frequent consequence of brain injury (Ben-Yishay & Diller, 1983; Glosser & Goodglass, 1990; Goldstein & Levin, 1991; Levin et al., 1993, 1997; Luria, 1973; Oddy, 1984; Selinger, Walker, Prescott, & Davis, 1993). [multiple citations are organized alphabetically & separated by semicolons]

  • Avoid citations from Wikipedia or other sources not considered scholarly. Focus on journal articles, books, and standard reference sources, like the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (APA, 1994). Try to focus on research published in the previous five years or so.
  • Organize your literature review to move from the general to the specific and from the known to the unknown; try to end the review by demonstrating a need (or creating a niche) for your proposed study.
  • Group related studies; avoid a chronological structure discussing studies one by one. Provide a bit more information about highly relevant studies.

More guidance on writing literature reviews is provided in a later module.


Research plan (proposed research methods)

If your research will consist entirely of looking at published research on a topic, you may be able to describe your proposed method (i.e., your information search process) in a few sentences. In such a case, you should mention the scope of the literature you plan to consult and the key words you plan to use in your information search. (e.g., “I plan to review relevant research published in peer-reviewed journals since 2005, using the key words “adolescent,” “teen,” “obesity,” and “treatment”).

Useful sources might include government documents and policy statements or materials from professional associations or public organizations. But be critical and selective when using non-academic sources. For example, if you’re describing the mission of the Heart and Lung Association or studying its health marketing efforts, the association’s website and pamphlets would be good sources to use and cite. However, these materials would not be acceptable or scholarly sources of information on the incidence of asthma in Canada or on current treatments for it.


Whenever possible, you should seek out and cite original research papers in peer-reviewed journals. However, for definitions and general information on a topic, useful and acceptable sources may include specialized encyclopedias, standard textbooks and reference books (like the DSM-IV), and websites from highly credible organizations (e.g., Statistics Canada, the Mayo Clinic, etc.). (Module 3 provides tips on information searching and on evaluating potential sources of information.)


Although most of your research for undergraduate papers may involve published sources, primary research involving interviews or surveys may also be useful depending on your topic. However, you should never undertake research involving human beings without consulting with your instructor, receiving prior approval, and complying with all relevant research ethics guidelines. Research ethics guidelines apply in all types of research dealing with human subjects. Even if you just plan to interview a friend, relative, co-worker, or representative of a public agency, you must go through the requisite ethics procedures, which require that you receive permission in advance from the instruct-tor and that you have your interviewee sign a letter of consent. While this may seem to be a bother, it is an important requirement for any research conducted within a university setting and for any research intended for publication.


If you are planning research involving people, be sure to include the following information in your proposal, using sub-headings as appropriate:

  • A description of your proposed research method. Clearly describe what kind of research you plan to do. Consider justifying the research method you’ve chosen.
  • Subjects or participants. Describe in detail who your research participants are and how you will recruit them. If you are planning a survey, for example, you should explain how many participants you will include in your study, whom you will include or exclude as participants, and how you will contact and recruit them. If you plan to recruit participants (or to conduct research) in a workplace, explain what steps you will take to secure written permission from the company or organization.
  • Research ethics compliance. Explain in detail the research procedures you intend to follow to ensure informed consent and confidentiality. Append a copy of your proposed letter of consent to your proposal. For further information, consult the ethics documents posted on Blackboard (under ETHICS DOCS) and see the Faculty of Arts research ethics website (http://arts.ucalgary.ca/research/research/research-ethics ) or the research ethics website for your faculty.
  • Research design and procedures. Describe your proposed procedures in enough detail that someone else could replicate your research. Indicate how you plan to carry out observations, interviews, surveys, focus groups, or other procedures. If you are planning interviews or survey, explain if these will be done in person, on the telephone, online, or via e-mail. Append a copy of your proposed interview or survey questions to your research proposal.
  • Data analysis. Describe any statistical or other procedures you plan to use to analyze your data.

Informed consent letter template. Under the ETHICS DOCS menu button in Blackboard, you will find the latest version of a letter of informed consent to be used by students in ACWR 303 who propose to conduct an interview or do any other kind of research involving other people.


For the research paper in ACWR 303, you should focus on published sources. You may propose to do an interview, but you may proceed with the interview only if you

  • include all necessary information in your proposal (including a copy of your proposed consent form), and
  • receive approval from your instructor or marker.


Using case studies and personal experiences. In your proposal, final paper, or module tasks, you may wish to refer to some of your own professional experience. In such cases, you must protect the anonymity and confidentiality of any client you refer to in your writing. To do this, use a pseudonym (a made-up name) and withhold any detail that might help identify the client (e.g., the client’s occupation or employer, or the name of the hospital or organization where you encountered the patient or client.) These safeguards and others are discussed in the APA Manual. Before proceeding with this module, take a few minutes to read the sections of chapter 1 of the APA Manual indicated at the beginning of this module, focusing particularly on pages 15 to 17, which deal with research ethics.




Research and writing timeline

If you are asked to include a research timeline or schedule in your proposal, present that information in a table or in a simple two-column list format, with the research and writing tasks on the left and the target dates in the right-hand column. One tool you may find useful is the assignment (schedule) calculator available from the University of Minnesota (2011) at the following link: http://www.lib.umn.edu/help/calculator/


Draft outline for the final paper
If an instructor asks for a draft paper outline as part of your research paper proposal, here are a few starting points for thinking about the possible structure of your paper:

  • Study the assignment instructions for explicit advice and implicit clues about what should be included in your paper and about how to structure it
  • Ask yourself what background information or definitions of key terms a general (non-specialist) reader would need early in your paper.
  • Consider whether your tentative thesis suggests key sections for your paper.
  • Study your course outline to see what themes your instructor has highlighted that might form the focus for certain sections of your paper.
  • Consider whether any of the following (or some combination of the following) standard structures might work with your topic:
    • Generalization + reasons/supporting arguments (perhaps moving from least to most important or from simplest to most complex)
    • Problem to solution; problem-method-recommendation-conclusion
    • Cause(s) to effect(s)
    • Benefits/advantages vs costs/drawbacks (pro-con)
    • Compare-contrast
    • Historical or chronological (not usually the best choice)
    • Scientific method (question, hypothesis, research methods, findings, discussion, conclusion) (See Module 9 for more on structuring papers.)
  • Consider including a section focusing in some depth on the significance of your findings or on their implications for public policy or for professional practice.


To return to a previous example, here is what a draft outline might look like for a paper on factors leading to the formation of professional associations for nurses, emphasizing the hierarchical relationships between parts of the paper, as shown below:

Introduction (including thesis)


   Historical context

      – when and where such associations began

      – the state of the nursing profession at the time

   Definition of professional associations


Motivating factors for the formation of the first prof. associations

Nurses’ desire for better working conditions

– discussion of existing working conditions & improvements sought

The need for nurses to share nursing practices and knowledge

– examples of the kind of knowledge sharing that would be useful

– discussion of how a professional assoc. might foster this

Nurses’ desire to be respected as professionals

    – their treatment/reputation among other professionals

Effects of the formation of professional associations for nurses

   Improved working conditions?

   Increased sharing of nursing knowledge?

   Increased respect for nurses?

Conclusion summing up of key argument and reflecting on the significance
of this historical development


Note that the above outline is organized roughly around a cause-to-effect structure; if the paper’s real focus is on causal factors, then those should take up the bulk of the paper. In such a case, a section on the effects of the formation of professional associations for nurses may not be necessary.


Unless your instructor recommends otherwise organize your draft outline hierarchically with two or three levels of topics. If you choose to number the sections, here are two possible numbering systems:


         Traditional numbering system Decimal numbering system
           Top level – I, II, III, IV, etc.

Second level – A, B, C., etc.

Third level – 1, 2, 3, etc.

Fourth level – a, b, c, etc.

   Top level – 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, etc.

Second level – 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc.

Third level – 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.2.1, etc.


List of references (or of potential research sources)

If you cite sources in your proposal, you need to include a properly formatted reference list. Note that APA-style reference lists normally include only sources actually cited in your document. However, your instructor may ask you to include a preliminary reference list even if you are not expected to cite sources in your proposal; if you’re not sure, always clarify proposal expectations with your instructor.


If an instructor asks you to include an annotated reference list (or annotated bibliography) in your proposal, provide a properly formatted reference list with a few sentences after each entry describing the research source and commenting on its potential research value. As an example, the reference list at the end of this module is presented as an annotated reference list.


When annotating (i.e., adding notes to) a reference list, format all entries in a similar way and use parallel structure. For example, keep the annotations about the same length and use full sentences in all annotations if that is how you structure the first annotation. Brief annotations may also take the form of phrases rather than full sentences (e.g., “A useful source of information on care plans”).


Key writing strategies

When writing a research paper proposal, including the proposal you will write for ACWR 303, keep the following strategies in mind:


  1. Use headings to organize your proposal

Even in a short proposal, section headings are helpful. They break up long pages of text and provide important visual signals about how your proposal is organized. By chunking information into sections, headings also make proposals easier to read and make the information more easily accessible for readers looking for particular details.


  1. Use the first person (I) where appropriate

Because a research proposal describes what the writer plans to do, it’s normal to use “first person” pronouns (I or we) when writing proposals. In fact, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA, 2010) recommends against using “the researcher” to refer to yourself if you are the writer of a paper or proposal.


  1. Cite all sources using APA (or other recommended) format

In a research proposal, citing all sources according to the required format, such as APA, not only protects you against charges of plagiarism but also indicates your scholarly approach to research and enhances your credibility as a researcher.


  1. Edit carefully.

Ethos—the image that writers project of themselves to readers—is critical in proposals. If a proposal is full of spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and citation problems, the reader may conclude that the writer is careless and unprofessional. In contrast, a well written and carefully edited research proposal can impress an instructor or reviewing committee and convince them that the writer is a conscientious, professional, and careful researcher whose project deserves approval or even funding.


Proposals as flexible documents

Writing a research paper is like embarking on a journey. While your proposal sets out your planned itinerary, it’s worth departing from it if you run into real problems or if you find other spots worth visiting along the way. In other words, your research proposal (at least in an undergraduate course) should be a flexible tool to guide your research process. While researching and writing a paper, you may decide to revise your research question or to consult additional sources. However, you should always check with the instructor if you decide to change topics or research methods.


Helpful resources and proposal samples

For a helpful resource on writing funding proposals, see Levine’s (2007) Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal available at http://learnerassociates.net/proposal/. Two sample proposals from past ACWR 303 students, along with comments and suggest-ed editorial changes by the instructor, are included below. The proposal writers have given their consent for their proposals to appear here.


Sample proposal #1:  Including Students with Special Needs
in Alberta’s Regular High School Classrooms


Research Question

How do Alberta’s high school teachers prepare themselves to include students with special needs in their regular classrooms?



Csapo and Goguen (1989) have summarized the general direction of inclusive education across Canada by stating that “the present and future trend is to increase and improve the integration of children with individual needs within the mainstream of the school environment” (cited in Andrews & Lupart, 2000, p. 7) . In Alberta, as with the rest of Canada, more and more students who have learning disorders, behavioral challenges, or who require significant medical attention are attempting to learn alongside their peers in regular classrooms. There are significant benefits to what is called Inclusive Education (Andrews & Lupart, 2000), but I am curious as to how many teachers are prepared with adequate training, supports and resources to meet the diverse learning needs of these children. I have worked closely with teachers who excel in their instructional abilities and interactions with students, but who became frustrated and discouraged when they suddenly had students with disabilities in their classrooms. These feelings surfaced not for lack of care and concern for the child, but because they felt the child was not receiving his/her best opportunities for learning under their limited instruction. It is my intent to discover whether or not these attitudes are widespread among high school teachers, and what resources are available to help them.
Proposed Research Methodology

I have prepared a list of sample survey questions which I will distribute to a cross section of inclusive high schools in Alberta. By cross section I mean rural, urban, public and Catholic schools. I plan to email these surveys to eight schools as follows:
–   Two Rural Public High Schools; different towns and school divisions
–   Two Rural Catholic High Schools; different towns and school divisions
–   Two Urban Public High Schools; Edmonton and Calgary
–   Two Urban Catholic High Schools; Edmonton and Calgary

The instructions given to school administrators will be to ask their staff for three volunteers to complete return the surveys.


Upon receipt of the surveys, I will make comparisons of urban versus rural settings as they relate to teachers’ access to resources and exposure to inclusive environments. In completing this research, I hope to bring attention to the quality of training and supports given to our teachers, and perhaps emphasize the urgent need for more effective methods.


Tentative Timeline

Calls and emails to locate those willing to participate                 October 20-24

Distribution of surveys via email                                October 27

Deadline for participants to back out                                                       October 31

Deadline for survey return via Canada Post
(post marked by this date)                                                                          November 5

Deadline for survey return via email                                                        November 7

Analysis and evaluation of data                                                 November 8-11

Begin writing process                                                                                  November 12

Research Draft due                                                                                         November 24


Preliminary Reference List

Alberta School Act (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.qp.gov.ab.ca/Acts/S03.cfm

Andrews, J, & Lupart, J, (2000). The inclusive classroom: educating exceptional children. Scarborough, ON: Nelson.

Collaborative Alberta university programming in inclusive/special education. (n.d.) [Concept paper] Retrieved October 6, 2003, from http://psych.athabascau.ca

Council on Alberta Teaching Standards (n.d.) [Website]. Retrieved October 8, 2003 at http://www.teachingquality.ab.ca

Instructor comments


Good research question


Helpful info, but could you break this very long paragraph (200+ words) into two paragraphs?


Good use of sources & per-sonal experience to put your topic into context





Provide more information: How will you select these schools? Where will you get the list of schools?


Direct readers to your appendices (Appendix A, B, C) for a copy of your survey, instructions to administrators, & consent form.




A well devel-oped timeline, but all the tasks are in the form of noun phrases except “Begin…” (faulty parallelism)





The first and last sources should also be cited in the proposal.


A well organized proposal.




Sample proposal #2: ACWR 303 Proposal
Proposed Research Topic:
I am interested in comparing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to invasive angiography in detecting coronary artery disease.


Research Question:

Does MRI detect coronary artery disease as well as invasive angiography?



Invasive coronary angiography will be more sensitive in detecting coronary artery disease when compared to MRI.


Background Information:

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in industrialized nations. A non-invasive procedure to detect coronary artery disease could be an important advance in cardiology (Manning et al., 1993). Almost half of the patients under-going invasive coronary angiography do not need intervention due to the lack of significant coronary artery disease (Leber et al., 2003).


The most recent study performed by Kim et al. (2001) enrolled 109 patients that underwent coronary magnetic resonance angiography (CMRA) followed by invasive coronary angiograms. In this study, CMRA detected left main stenoses and three vessel disease in all patients just as accurately as invasive angiography (Kim et al., 2001). Forty one percent of the patients had no significant coronary artery disease, as confirmed by both techniques (Kim et al., 2001) Based on these results, it is possible that CMRA could prevent patients with no significant coronary disease, left main stenoses, or three vessel disease from having an invasive angiogram (Fayad et al., 2002). This would reduce the need of invasive angiograms by 89% (Fayad et al., 2002). This would be very beneficial as invasive angiograms have a higher complication rates and are more expensive than CMRA (Leber et al., 2003).   However, further studies utilizing a larger group of patients are warranted before CMRA can replace conventional coronary angiography. Until such a definitive study is completed, a review of the current literature will be performed.



Relevant articles will be identified by searching the Medline data base (from January 1992 to September 2003) for literature with the subject headings or key words “coronary angiogram” and “magnetic resonance angiography.” The limited dates of the search are because CMRA was not being used to assess coronary arteries prior to that. The search will be restricted to articles comparing conven-tional to magnetic resonance angiography written in English. I will focus on doing a meta-analysis between research studies comparing invasive angiograms to CMRA. All potentially relevant articles will be reviewed and inclusion will be restricted to randomized trials, case-control, done on more than 10 subjects, and blinded studies. Analysis will include a comparison between specific coronary arteries studied, MR imaging parameters, sample size, method of interpreting MR and conventional angiographic findings, recruitment of subjects, and patient data including age, gender, or previous myocardial infarction.


Research and Writing Timeline:

Establish topic of interest Completed
Complete Initial journal review Completed
Complete Extensive literature review October 22, 2003
Write Introduction October 25, 2003
Write Discussion October 30, 2003
Write Conclusion November 10, 2003
Edit Reference list November 20, 2003
Have Paper reviewed by peers November 24, 2003
Submit final paper ?



Achenbach, S., & Daniel, W. G. (2001). Noninvasive coronary angiography—an acceptable alternative? New England Journal of Medicine, 345(26), 1909-1910.

Fayad, Z. A., Fuster, V., Nikolaou, K., & Becker, C. (2002). Computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging for noninvasive coronary angiography and plaque imaging: current and potential future concepts. Circulation, 106(15), 2026-2034.

Kim, W. Y., Danias, P. G., Stuber, M., Flamm, S. D., Plein, S., Nagel, E., Langerak, S. E., Weber, O. M., Pedersen, E. M., Schmidt, M., Botnar, R. M., & Manning, W. J. (2001). Coronary magnetic resonance angiography for the detection of coronary stenoses. New England Journal of Medicine, 345(26), 1863-1869.

Leber, A. W., Knez, A., Becker, C., Becker, A., White, C., Thilo, C., Reiser, M., Haberl, R., & Steinbeck, G. (2003). Non-invasive intravenous coronary angiography using electron beam tomography and multislice computed tomography. Heart, 89(6), 633-639.

Manning, W. J., Li, W., & Edelman, R. R. (1993). A preliminary report comparing magnetic resonance coronary angiography with conventional angiography. New England Journal of Medicine, 328(12), 828-832.



This proposal lacks an informa-tive title (e.g., A meta-analysis of research compar-ing the effective-ess of MRI to ang-iography in detec-ting coronary artery disease


Include either a research topic statement or question, not both



































When writing a task list, present all items in the same gramma-tical form. Here, the first item began with a verb “establish,” so the other tasks should as well (as shown).



This proposal is effectively organ-ized, informative, and well written. In the Back-ground section, sources were used effectively to provide a strong rationale for the study, and the writer explained her information search methods in good detail.



Focus on Language – For writers whose first language is not English

If you’re writing a proposal, literature review, or research paper and are struggling with expressing your ideas, check out the Academic Phrasebank from the University of Manchester: http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/ This phrase bank lists typical sentence structures useful in introducing topics, defining terms, and referring to published research. Both non-native and native English speakers may find this resource useful.



:! Module 2 Assignment          (due Wed., Jan. 22, 2014)


Submit your completed module via the link provided in the ASSIGNMENTS area of Blackboard. Be sure to do all three parts.

  1. List 3 general topics of interest related to your professional field (e.g., brain injury, smoking cessation, obesity in teens).
  2. Formulate 9 research questions—3 on each topic you listed (e.g., Why has obesity among Canadian teens increased over the past 20 years? What education programs have proven to be effective in addressing obesity among teens? Etc.)
  3. Of the 9 questions, choose one to pursue for your final ACWR research paper, brainstorm possible answers to the question, and develop a tentative thesis statement.

References [example of an annotated bibliography]


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American psychological association. Washington, DC: APA.

This definitive guide to the APA style of documenting sources also contains extensive advice on writing style and usage. It is a helpful source for undergraduate and graduate students.


Centre for Student Development, McMaster University. (2007). Phases of writing.

. Retrieved November 21, 2013, from http://maclife.mcmaster.ca/

This four-minute video introduces the key phases of research writing using an inquiry-based approach. To get to the link, you will need to scroll down the page to the Writing section.
A written transcript is also provided.

George Mason University Writing Center. (2012, March 8). How to write a research question [Web log posting]. Retrieved from http://writingcenter.gmu.edu/?p=307

This short blog entry provides a clear introduction to writing research question, along with a few helpful examples


Hilsden, R. (1996). Beginner’s guide to the research proposal. Retrieved September 19, 2003, from http://www.ucalgary.ca/md/CAH/research/res_prop.htm

This guide provides helpful advice and examples on writing the various sections of a research proposal. Unfortunately, it no longer appears to be available online.


Levine, S. J. (2003). Guide for writing a funding proposal. Retrieved September 19, 2003, from http://learnerassociates.net/proposal/

This guide provides guidelines along with a complete example of a hypothetical proposal seeking funding for “A Community-Based Mothers and Infants Centre.”


Marshall, R.C., Karow, C.M., Morelli, C.A., Iden, K.K., & Dixon, J. (2003). A clinical measure for the assessment of problem solving in brain-injured adults. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 12, 333-348.

This article presents the Rapid Assessment of Problem Solving (RAPS) clinical test of verbal problem-solving skills for persons with brain injuries. The authors describe the test in detail and provide examples of its application.


Morley, J. (2005). Academic Phrasebank. University of Manchester. Retrieved August 23, 2012, from http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/

This website is a useful resource for academic writers. It lists phrases useful in introducing a topic, defining key terms, referring to and critiquing research, and concluding a paper.

Tornquist, E.M. (1986). From proposal to publication: An informal guide to writing about nursing research. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley.

An excellent resource, particularly for graduate students and professionals, this book provides helpful advice and examples on writing proposals, dissertations, research reports, abstracts, and presentations. The chapter on literature reviews is especially helpful.


University of Minnesota. (2011). University of Minnesota assignment calculator. Retrieved November 21, 2013, from http://www.lib.umn.edu/help/calculator/

[Check out this calculator. What would you write for an annotation here?]