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Lesson Navigation IconOnline Guidelines for Academic Research and Writing

Unit Navigation IconThe academic research process

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LO Navigation IconRequirements regarding academic papers

LO Navigation IconFormal structure of papers

LO Navigation IconQuotations and references

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Quotations and references

What should be quoted and how?

As a basic principle, you have to indicate clearly where to find any references used in a paper, such as arguments, explanations, comments, points of view, illustrations, data, or other facts (Baade et al. 2005: 142). There aren't any general rules as to how much and what has to be quoted within an academic paper. It all depends on the field of study. However, it is safe to say that too many word-for-word quotations won't improve a text.

Quotations have to be interpreted; they aren't self-explanatory and serve as content to be integrated into your own argumentation (Esselborn-Krumbiegel 2004: 85–87).

There isn't a uniform system in literature on how to quote the sources used. Various publications and institutes therefore propagandize different methods of referencing. It is advisable to clarify in advance the respective conventions, for example during a seminar.


Use the same system for the entire paper!

You should also be aware that there will always be a gray area, despite all the rules regarding quotations. The general principle is: a reader has to know anytime if a thought has been adopted or if it is an interpretation of your own. In the first case, it is mandatory to indicate the source of that thought and where to find it (Theisen 1989: 131–153); (Sedlacek 1987).


General rule:
No quotation or any other use of data without a proper reference!


A reference is a short record clearly referring to a title listed in the bibliography. It is directly associated with a quotation as regards content as well as form (Baade et al. 2005: 143f).

A reference specifies how a source can be found in your bibliography. Sometimes (especially in the humanities) sources are quoted entirely in footnotes, at least when mentioning them for the first time. When quoting the same source again, it is common to indicate author, year of publication and abbreviated title. More details of this source will then follow in said bibliography. When writing a master's thesis, you have to indicate at least: «Author», «year», «page» (when citing journals or shorter texts, page numbers are only necessary when using direct quotes).


Each quotation (either direct or indirect) requires a reference!

When dealing with references, you should note the following:

  • Authors are referred to by their last name. If there are several authors you should either use the character «&» or «and» (two authors), or the expression «et al.» (lat. et alii (and others), if there are more than two authors).
  • If listing the «Author» and «year» of publication doesn't clearly refer to one single title in the bibliography (in case you use several sources by an author published in the same year, for example), it is common practice to add a small letter to the date (and to the reference in the bibliography as well):
    => e.g. Meier 2005a: 95-101.
  • The number of pages have to be specified exactly (34-87, 98f); they can be omitted if the work cited exclusively deals with a subject examined at that moment in the paper or if the source used (e.g. from the Internet) doesn't provide any page numbers at all (cf. «Internet sources in bibliographies»). Specifying pages by means of «32ff» (= «several pages following») is rather inaccurate and therefore not accepted by many journals.
  • In case a quotation is very large (to be avoided, if possible), it should be separated from the main text and/or presented with indentation.
  • There are also various options in literature when structuring your references.

Depending on your citation, it is possible to refer to sources in the running text, in a footnote, at the end of a chapter or paper. It doesn't really matter which option is preferred unless a certain way of quotation is explicitly required. We therefore recommend checking with your department for specific information first of all. However, the most important thing is to consistently apply the method adopted.

The GIUZ doesn't dictate an explicit doctrine (due to the broad levels of Geography one often follows the requirements of related disciplines; it is therefore possible to come across a lot of different ways of citation); however, it is common practice to refer to sources within the running text in the following way (called the Harvard system):


It is important to use references consistently.

  • If the reference relates to a whole sentence this reference has to be placed at its end.
    => In der Systemtheorie sind es nicht Akteure, die das Soziale ausmachen, sondern die Kommunikation (Treibel 1998: 109).
  • If the reference relates to just a part of the sentence or a certain number this reference (or footnote number) has to be placed right next to it.
    => Im Hitzesommer 2003 verloren die alpinen Gletscher 10% ihrer Masse (Meier 2004, S. 21), was den Wasserkraftwerksbetreiberinnen zunächst grosse Gewinne bescherte (Müller 2005, S. 2)
  • If the reference relates to a whole paragraph this reference has to be placed at its end. You should avoid a sequence of longer quotations or summaries of research contributions since your own point of view in relation to the topic might get lost.
    Nachhaltige Entwicklung ist nicht etwas, das einfach geschieht. Vielmehr muss ausgehandelt und darüber abgestimmt werden, ob und wie sie erfolgen soll. In unseren beiden Fallstudien – der Unesco-Biosphäre Entlebuch und dem Weltnaturerbe Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn – haben Stimmberechtigte entschieden, sich (finanziell) an der Errichtung und dem Management von Schutzgebieten und deren nachhaltiger Entwicklung zu beteiligen (Müller & Backhaus 2006: 2).
    In general, you should refrain from ending a paragraph without a full stop or period. References relating to the entire paragraph therefore have to be placed in front of the period. In doing so, it is not clear if this reference relates to the paragraph or just its last sentence; however, this inaccuracy is tolerated to meet aesthetic requirements.

Two ways of referencing as follows:
References in the running text
‹Name› (‹year›: ‹page or pages›) or
‹Name› (‹year›, p. ‹page or pages›)
=> Habermas (1998: 7) meint: «...»
=> Gemäss Habermas (1998, S. 7) sind...

References confirming a statement
(‹Name› ‹year›: ‹page or pages›) or
(‹Name›, ‹year›, p. ‹page or pages›)
=> «Der zeitdiagnostische Rückblick auf das kurze 20. Jahrhundert versucht, die gegenwärtig verbreitete Stimmung aufgeklärter Ratlosigkeit zu erklären» (Habermas 1998: 7).
=> Auf das kurze 20. Jahrhundert zurückblickend... (Habermas, 1998, S. 7).

Referencing secondary sources
Secondary sources quote sources used by other authors. Their names have to be mentioned but not their original work as a whole. The book citing this original work has to be put in parentheses before listing it in the bibliography.
‹Name 1› (‹year›: ‹page›, cit. in: ‹Name 2› ‹year›: ‹page›) or
‹Name 1› (‹year›, p. ‹page›, as cited in ‹Name 2›, ‹year›, p. ‹page›)
=> Eine andere Meinung hat Luhmann (1984: 45, zit. in: Habermas 2002: 9)...
=> ... man kann dies auch Kommunikation nennen (Luhmann, 1984, S. 45, zit. nach Habermas, 2002, S. 9).

Referencing large passages In case you reference to only one single work when writing a paragraph or chapter, it is necessary to add a footnote right next to the heading or at the end of the section saying: «This paragraph/chapter is vastly based on ‹Name› (e.g. ‹year›: ‹pages›).» However, this should only be an exception when writing a paper.


Direct quotations

Direct quotations repeat another author's words exactly and are used in case (Esselborn-Krumbiegel 2004: 86f):

  • these words are followed by an interpretation,
  • a technical term is used for the first time, or
  • this quotation is the gist of the matter and supports your own arguments.

Direct quotations from other sources are put in quotation marks along with final characters, usually in their original language (cf. fig. 12). You should avoid longer direct quotations; these should be indented or rather summarized with your own words (= indirect quotation or reporting). When using translated text passages, you have to add «my own translation» or «translation by X» to the reference.
=> «Der zeitdiagnostische Rückblick auf das kurze 20. Jahrhundert versucht, die gegenwärtig verbreitete Stimmung aufgeklärter Ratlosigkeit zu erklären» (Habermas 1998: 7).

When modifying direct quotations (omissions, additions, comments, etc.), you are required to indicate this.

When omitting one or several words, it is common practice to use three dots instead:
=> ...
=> «Der ... Rückblick auf das kurze 20. Jahrhundert versucht, die gegenwärtig verbreitete Stimmung aufgeklärter Ratlosigkeit zu erklären» (Habermas 1998: 7).

Omitting sentences, beginnings of sentences, paragraphs
Three dots in parentheses [sometimes also square brackets are used but never {curly ones}] are used when omitting more than one sentence or the beginning of a sentence:
=> (...)
In case entire sentences or the end of a sentence is omitted, one has to add a period as well:
=> (...).
In case whole paragraphs are omitted, this omission requires a section of its own:
=> (...).¶

Modifications (such as additions) have to be put in squared brackets:
=> [...]
=> «Der zeitdiagnostische Rückblick auf das kurze 20. Jahrhundert versucht, die gegenwärtig verbreitete Stimmung aufgeklärter Ratlosigkeit [in Mitteleuropa] zu erklären.» (Habermas 1998: 7)
In case the one quoting assumes directly citing a misprint, you have to indicate this right next to the word in question:
=> [sic!], [sic] for lat. «so»; or simply [!]

Indirect quotation or reporting

When reporting, you use paraphrase and summary to acknowledge another author's ideas.
=> Habermas (1998: 7) meint, dass der Rückblick auf das kurze 20. Jahrhundert, die Stimmung aufgeklärter Ratlosigkeit zu erklären versucht.
=> Nach Habermas (1998: 7) versucht der...

Fig. 12: Quotation examples. Source: Diagram by author; examples                            are fictitious (emphasis for illustration purposes).Fig. 12: Quotation examples. Source: Diagram by author; examples are fictitious (emphasis for illustration purposes).

Quotation within a quotation

If the material quoted already contains a quotation, use single quotation marks for the original quotation: «(text) ‹(original quotation)›(text)».
=> «Jacob Grimm (1847: 255) appelliert an das Gesetz, dass ‹nicht Flüsse, nicht Berge Völkerscheide bilden, sondern dass ein Volk, das über Berge und Ströme gedrungen ist, seine eigene Sprache allein die Grenze setzen kann›» (Habermas 1998: 22).


Avoid larger interlacings of quotations; it is better to use indirect quotations instead.

Oral Sources

Sometimes there is only information obtained verbally but nonetheless important for your work. Moreover, especially with qualitative research using interviews data are produced and statements are documented that are directly cited in texts. You should distinguish between an informant and an interviewee. Interviewees can be seen as «research subjects» whose statements are part of your analysis. Depending on the study topic, their names often have to be kept anonymous; it is therefore necessary to avoid quoting them similarly to other sources. Their statements are to be treated as information that has to be analyzed and interpreted.


You should be careful with oral sources since such sources are difficult to verify.

Oral sources from informants

Informants and there statements are not to be seen as research objects and should therefore be quoted as a source, if possible. You should only use oral sources in case there aren't any written ones; additionally, they should be reliable as well. Oral statements aren't usually listed in a bibliography but mentioned within the text or a footnote.
=> The unusual architecture of the Balinese Manuaba temple east of Ubud is the result of a compromise between rivaling priests in the 17th century (oral information by Ida Bagus Sudewa, Gianyar, 02/22/1996).

Oral sources from interviews

As mentioned, data from interviews are systematically collected. Statements from interviewees will be cited if they accurately point out opinions and issues. If you have the approval of the persons you have interviewed to state their name, you can cite them with first and surname and the date of the interview.
=> A ficticious example: «The Swiss system of nature protection is too complex!» (Maria Bernasconi, 28.02.2015).

In many cases, however, interviewees want to remain anonymous. This means that no conclusion to this person's identity should be possible. If you want to still cite them, you can use a pseudonym (which you have to declare) or initials (better use non-conclusive ones; in the example above do not use M.B. for instance). Initials can also follow the logic of interviews, i.e. I1, I2 etc. or A1, R1 (= first person interviewed from the group A as in «administration» respectively R as in «researcher»).
These persons are not mentioned in the bibliography. They can be named in an appendix (if they consented to this).
For further information on data protection see Kaspar & Müller-Böker (2006). Download PDF.

Audio-visual sources

Audio-visual material tends to get more and more accessible and can therefore also be used as a source. In case you cite an entire work, its reference is similar to the one of a written text. The question arises if it is necessary to indicate a movie's author (often unknown) or its title (cf. «Audio-visual sources in bibliographies»).
=> Also in science fiction movies real existing landscapes are used as orientation (i.e. Avatar 2009).
It is more complicated to indicate single scenes. If a DVD provides a list of scenes you can quote single scenes accordingly. If not, you can mention its time segment. The same applies to TV or radio programs; you only have to add a corresponding air date.
=> The fact that migration is a complex endeavour becomes apparent by following the narration of a Kyrgyz grandmother whose daughter and grand child work abroad (The other silk road 2008, 4:55-9:22).

Referencing sources from the internet

In case the author or creator of a website is known you can reference this source as usual (e.g. Name year: page/retrieved + access date). Sometimes the entire address of a document is indicated along with the date of access. However, it is important that the reference clearly relates to a source listed in the bibliography. If the author of a website is unknown you have to indicate the corporation hosting the website.

If your document is a HTML file, its traceability can be difficult since there aren't any page numbers. Passages from HTML documents are easy to quote in case the author has provided numbered paragraphs. However, this rarely happens. Instead, you can always indicate the chapter in which the quotation can be found.
=> «Eine wesentliche Rolle bei der Archivierung von Internetressourcen spielt das 1996 von Brewster Kahle gegründete Internet Archive. Als gemeinnützige Organisation hat es sich die Aufgabe gestellt, einen Beitrag zur Bewahrung unseres kulturellen Erbes – das sich zunehmend auch über die Internet Resourcen [sic] manifestiert – zu leisten» (Baumgartner 2008b: Kap. Das Internet Archive, eine wichtige Initiative, retrieved 04/02/2009).

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