Skip to Main Content

BSCI 1510L Literature and Stats Guide: 2.1 Literature Cited

Introduction to Biological Sciences lab, first semester

2.1 Literature Cited

Science does not happen in a vacuum.  Research is based upon and influenced by previous work done by others.  In scientific writing, it is required that the work and ideas of others be referenced.  This serves not only of an acknowledgement of the work that was done, but also allows subsequent researchers to find out the details of how previous experiments were carried out. Citations are highly important in Research and Science in general.  Creating a well-done experiment that shows something amazing is desired...but even more important is how well that work is used by other persons (cited) in future experiments.  Having a good paper is nice.  Having a paper that hundreds of people cite each year shows that your work is thought of and even respected.  That sort of acknowledgment can help generate funding for your research as what you do is useful!

The last section of every paper is the Reference section, which is sometimes called Literature Cited.  This is actually one of the most important sections of a paper. The main aspects that this section gives to you is:

-depth of research that the author(s) performed for their experiment; this may be number of papers cited, number of different authors cited (not 5 papers by same person!), years of publications (within 2-8 years of this paper or from more than 20 years ago)

-type of research formats that the experiment has an impact from (i.e., if all the cited articles are from one journal/topic area or are drawing from other areas)

-new journals and authors that can give you new areas to research and to explore/learn about

Simply having a good experiment where you cite 2 previous works is not is not great, but there is not a specific number of citations that any given published work should have.  What IS important is that the works cited are: relevant to the work being supported and are actually used/cited in the work.  Thus, producing a paper to publish with 10 citations included versus one with 27 citations, the more heavily cited work may imply a better depth of research into the experiment, especially if they are appropriate for the experiment. It does not mean ‘better’, simply possibly better researched.  

Depending on the journal format, the references in the reference section may be listed alphabetically by author, or be a numbered list in the order that the citations occurred in the text.  Most biomedical journals use the latter method, the numbering system.  However, the former method makes editing easier, so in this class we will follow that method, using an author, year format and listing by alphabetical order.  We will use the format of the journal, Ecology, as shown in these examples:


  • Journal example:

Parmesan, C. 2007. Influences of species, latitudes and methodologies on estimates of phenological response to global warming. Global Change Biology 13:1860-1872.

  • Journal article with multiple authors:

Weber, D. J., W. A. Rutala, and E. E. Sickbert-Bennett. 2007. Outbreaks associated with contaminated antiseptics and disinfectants. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 51:4217-4224.

  • Book example:

Darwin, C. 1859. On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or, The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. John Murray, London, England.

  • Article in a book:

Werner, P.A. 1979. Competition and coexistence of similar species. Pages 287-310. in O.T. Solbrig, S. Jain, G. B. Johnson and P. Raven, editors. Topics in plant population biology. Columbia University Press, New York, New York, USA.

  • Thesis or dissertation:

Calvo, R. N. 1990. Pollinator limitation, cost of reproduction, and fitness in plants: a demographic approach.  Dissertation. University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida, USA.

  • Technical report:

Heinselman, M. L. 1981. Fire intensity and frequency as factors in the distribution and structure of northern ecosystems. Pages 7-57 in H. Mooney, I. M. Bonnicksen, N. L. Christensen, J. E. Loten, and W. A. Reiners, editors. Fire regimes and ecosystem properties. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report WO-26.


 1. Some reference formats abbreviate the journal titles, but for this class write out the complete journal name.

 2. All authors must be named in the Literature Cited; use "et al." only with the text.

 3. No reference is listed in the Reference section unless it was cited somewhere in the text.

 4. The DOI (digital object identifier) must be listed following the citation if one has been assigned to the article or book.  See Section 2.2.1 for more information about DOIs.

 5. It is generally not acceptable to cite web pages as references because they are subject to change at any time and their URLs are generally unstable.  However, if you MUST cite a web source that is not a peer reviewed article or which does not have an assigned DOI, use the following format:

Author, A. A. and B. B. Author.  Title of Document.  Retrieved from on YYYY-MM-DD. 

For example:

Manola, F. and E. Miller. RDF Primer. Retrieved from on 2013-05-07.

DO NOT JUST PASTE THE WEB-ADDRESS.  If you cannot determine a clear author, etc., then FIND A DIFFERENT SOURCE!!!

6. There is variation among journals in the exact format used in references.  Sometimes journal titles are italicized.  (Article titles are never italicized.)  Journal titles are sometimes abbreviated using standardized abbreviations.  We will not use abbreviated journal titles.

7. Volume and page numbers are always listed in the format: volume number, a colon, and the range of page numbers that include the article (e.g. 23:57-89 not "vol. 23, pg. 57-89").  The issue number is sometimes given in parentheses after the volume, but is often omitted unless the journal does not number pages serially throughout the volume (very rare for scientific journals).


2.1.1 Citation Generators for Scientific Papers

For the content described above, you should know and understand how to do that.  The analogy is when you learned to do multiplication.  While you have a calculator available, when you just need to do 3x3 or 7x12, it is easier and quicker to just do the operation yourself rather than trying to open the program on your phone up or find a calculator. Of course if you had to had to perform a more complex operation (7x6-5/(5-4*0+6)), you would probably turn to the calculator first.  The same concept applies for using a citation generator, that while if you have 1-3 papers to use as citation, it will be faster to simply do it yourself. HOWEVER, if you have 10 (or more) journal articles that you are using for an upcoming paper that you are preparing, knowing how to use a citation generator is a skill to become aware of, just like the use of a calculator (or Excel!). There are several available on-line (and often 'free') by searching 'citation generator'. Especially in the "more than 10" situation, it is generally acceptable to use a citation generator (e.g. to create the Literature Cited.  For this course, we will present Zotero to you.

What a citation generator does is often three things:

-is able save papers you select in a file library

-is able to take a saved paper and create a full citation for many journal requested formats, based on what you select.

-is able to place a citation within the text of a paper that you indicate

It is YOUR responsibility to make sure that the tool actually did the citation correctly.  For example, the generator might not add the DOI to the end of the reference listing, and you might need to do it manually and thus need to know what to do. Remember, YOU will be judged by others in how you perform basic skill sets.  If you present that 3x3=12, YOU will receive the deserved chastisement for not reviewing your work by your peer community, no different than if you incorrectly place within a paper as a citation:

Weber, D. J., W. A. Rutala, and E. E. Sickbert-Bennett. 2007. Outbreaks associated with contaminated antiseptics and disinfectants. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 51:4217-4224.

instead as this

Weber and friends, 2007. Outbreaks associated with contaminated antiseptics and disinfectants.


Read section 2.2 in the Scientific Literature Guide (methods for accessing papers).