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Using Sources in Creative Nonfiction
Victor Wasserman, UR Writing Consultant
(printable version here)Writer's Web

Why Use Sources?

Generally, there are two reasons to use sources:

1. To credit the ideas of other people.
2. To give readers an avenue to find more information. Although students may see citing sources as simply another step in writing papers, professionals in the academic world use source citation as a trail of bread crumbs to learn more about ideas that are mentioned in a book or article.

Students may have trouble with the idea of using research in a creative nonfiction essay because research papers are associated with discussing other people's ideas and creative writing is still not being thought of in terms of its academic properties. Try to keep in mind that a creative nonfiction paper should tie together various fields and ideas to provide a more complete perspective for the reader. Also remember that this can include any valid and substantial sources, not necessarily academic ones. Your research does not need to come in the form of other people's words, but can instead be a reflection of knowledge you gleaned from them.

How to Use Quotations

Based on how you choose to write your essay, you may choose to use quotations or not. When using quotes, always remember to introduce them with context such as who the speaker is and what the situation is.

Quotations, especially block quotations, should not be mere plug-ins to take up space, and if you choose to include block quotes, you need to expand on them by discussing what they say, why, how, and so forth. As with anything you say in your paper, you should have a reason for doing so that is made clear to your reader.

Including Citation

Understand citing a source does not immediately mean choosing whether you want to interrupt the flow of your paper with MLA, APA, or Chicago. Try to avoid using parenthetical citations. If you are citing a quotation, consider glancing at a newspaper. Newspaper articles use quotes liberally, but avoid the need for messy academic citation methods by providing a simple tag line at the beginning or end of a sentence such as:

"Dr. Brian Mathews of the University of Pittsburgh said Tuesday,'....'"


"Tuesday, Dr. Brian Mathews of the University of Pittsburgh told the Chicago Tribune,'...'"

If, instead of a quote, you are citing an idea you have either mentioned or referenced, a more traditionally academic citation may be appropriate. To avoid the intrusive in-text citations, footnotes can allow the essay to progress while still giving credit to your source. Most word processors have functions that can create footnotes and you need only enter your preferred bibliographic citation.

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