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Debatepedia:Sources and referencing

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Citation consists of the acknowledgment and documentation of reference sources that influence or relate to one's writing or communication. While there are a wide variety of citation styles for differing fields, the principle behind citation is the same: to provide a transparent display of one's source material.

In debate, the citation of evidence is crucial in providing credibility to one's assertions or claims. For instance, appropriate definitions, statistics, calculations, and research helps lend respect and weight to one's claims. However, citation does not only involve referencing those that support your work, in debate, in school, or in other fields.

Proper citation also demonstrates one's awareness of the field he or she is working in. For instance, while one may come up with an argument on one's own and thus feel as though other similar arguments should not be cited or referred to, the very lack of citation or acknowledgment indicates a lack of awareness of the field and thus weakens the scholarly merit of one's work.

Similar to Wikipedia

Debatepedia's policies on citations are really no different than Wikipedia's, so feel free to examine their policies here:

The main differences is that we have established MLA's style as the convention across-the-board on Debatepedia, whereas Wikipedia allows for each individual page to adopt a different referencing style, based on the consensus of the editors of that page. We think that Debatepedia's policy will avoid the need for users to have to constantly adjust to the "consensus"-referencing-style of any given page. We also think that it is burdensome for users to have to determine what the referencing-style consensus is for any given page, and that any determination of a "consensus" may be arbitrary or false. Thus, we've decided to avoid these potential problems and adopt MLA across the board.

Avoid Plagiarism

Proper citation helps one to avoid plagiarism and lends greater value, respect, and reliability to one's own communication, whether it is a speech, a debate, a research paper, or even an informal discussion. In the MLA Handbook for Writers, Joseph Gibaldi warns: "Because research has the power to affect opinions and actions, responsible writers compose their work with great care. They specify when they refer to another authors ideas, facts, and words, whether they want to agree with, object to, or analyze the source. This kind of documentation not only recognizes the work writers do; it also tends to discourage the circulation of error, by inviting readers to determine for themselves whether a reference to another text presents a reasonable account of what that text says" (67).

Evaluating the quality and reliability of reference sources

According to the sixth edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers, Joseph Gibaldi advises: "Not all sources are equally reliable or of equal quality. In reading and evaluating potential sources, you should not assume that something is truthful or trustworthy just because it appears in print or is on the Internet. Some material may be based on incorrect or outdated information or on poor logic, and the author's knowledge or view of the subject may be biased or too limited. Weigh what you read against your own knowledge and intelligence as well as against other treatments of the subject. Focus particularly on the authority, accuracy, and currency of the sources you use" (41).

Following Gibaldi's categories, one should be aware of the following key qualities when evaluating a reference source as reliable:

  • Authority: Is the journal, book, or website peer-reviewed? Who is the author(s)? Who are the editor(s)? In the MLA Handbook for Writers, Gibaldi explains: "In peer review, publishers seek the advice of expert readers, or referees, before considering a manuscript for publication" (42-42). Does the source come from a reputable (print or web) publisher or sponsor organization? Or, is it simply information from a self-publisher or a private blog? In general, some level of peer review or peer editing from a respectable institution helps add authority to a reference source. To assess quality websites, check out the source of the site, how field specific the publisher or organization is, and check to see how often their information is checked and updated.
  • Accuracy: Just as you should cite works, the works you cite should also cite its own relevant sources. Check to see if the (print or online) text you are researching has a "Works Cited" section, a Bibliography, and/or hypertextual links. Can you access the information the author(s) are citing? Do they come from reputable sources? If so, then you have a quality resource.
  • Currency: The publication date of a print or online text are important, as is how often they are updated. Definitions, statistics, and facts change, so, (while this is not always valid) in general, those reference sources that keep up-to-date tend to be regarded as more reliable than older, out-of-date ones.

Value of citing source materials

Referenced research (from appropriate and reliable sources) adds to the value of your communication, whether it is an argument in debate, a paper, or in a Pro/Con article on this site. Proper research and citation helps one distinguish between simply being critical versus critical thinking, helps enhance the otherwise sound structure of an argument, and adds to the critical body of quality work, so others can, in turn, recognize and cite your work. In the realm of debate, readers are trying to determine some form of "truth", and citations help them better assess or verify the truth of an assertion. Conversely, references help editors pick out weaknesses of content. As Wikipedia points out, "If all the sources for a given statement or topic are of low reliability, this suggests to the reader that the content be treated with a degree of skepticism, and to the editor that the material may not be suitable for inclusion in Wikipedia."[1] To give appropriate credit to a source of an argument and avoid the appearance of plagiarism.

Overview of Debatepedia referencing and citation guidelines

  • Content on scholarly pages on Debatepedia must be based on and cited to reliable published sources: Just as in Wikipedia, the threshold for inclusion on Debatepedia is not whether an assertion is "true", but whether it is attributable to a reliable published source. Debatepedia uses the same criteria for reliability as Wikipedia: "Reliable sources are credible published materials with a reliable publication process; their authors are generally regarded as trustworthy, or are authoritative in relation to the subject at hand. How reliable a source is depends on context; what is reliable in one topic may not be in another. In general, the most reliable sources are books and journals published by universities, mainstream newspapers, and magazines and journals that are published by known publishing houses. What these have in common is process and approval between document creation and publication. As a rule of thumb, the more people engaged in checking facts, analyzing legal issues, and scrutinizing writing, the more reliable the publication. Material that is self-published is generally not regarded as reliable, but see below for exceptions. Any unsourced material may be removed, and in biographies of living persons, unsourced or poorly sourced contentious material must be removed immediately."See Wikipedia's "Reliable sources" and Attribution pages.
    • The exceptions to this are when a statement is axiomatic or very unlikely to be questioned or challenged by anybody.
  • Citing primary and secondary sources (preferably secondary):
    • Citing primary sources Debatepedia is the same as Wikipedia in this regard. Wikipedia's policy on this is the following: "Edits that rely on primary sources should only make descriptive claims that can be checked by anyone without specialist knowledge. Primary sources are documents or people close to the situation you are writing about. An eyewitness account of a traffic accident, and the White House's summary of a president's speech are primary sources. Primary source material that has been published by a reliable source may be used for the purposes of attribution in Wikipedia, but only with care, because it's easy to misuse primary sources. The Bible cannot be used as a source for the claim that Jesus advocated eye removal (Matthew 18:9, Mark 9:47) for his followers, because theologians differ as to how these passages should be interpreted. Edits that rely on primary sources should only make descriptive claims that can be checked by anyone without specialist knowledge."[2]
    • Citing secondary sources: Again, Debatepedia is no different than Wikipedia in this regard. "Wikipedia articles should rely on reliable, published secondary sources wherever possible. Secondary sources are documents or people that summarize, analyze and/or interpret other material, usually primary source material. These are academics, journalists, and other researchers, and the papers and books they produce. A journalist's description of a traffic accident he did not witness, or the analysis and commentary of a president's speech, are secondary sources. Wikipedia articles should rely on reliable, published secondary sources wherever possible. This means that we only publish the opinions of reliable authors, and not the opinions of Wikipedians who have read and interpreted primary source material for themselves."[3]
  • Citing questionable or self-published sources (same as Wikipedia):
    • Questionable sources: Debatepedia is no different than Wikipedia's policy in this regard: "A questionable source is one with no editorial oversight or fact-checking process or with a poor reputation for fact-checking. Such sources include websites and publications that express views that are widely acknowledged as fringe or extremist, are promotional in nature, or rely heavily on rumors and personal opinions. Questionable sources may only be used in articles about themselves."[4]
    • Self published: Debatepedia is no different than Wikipedia's policy here either: "A self-published source is material that has been published by the author, or whose publisher is a vanity press, a web-hosting service, or other organization that provides little or no editorial oversight. Personal websites and messages either on USENET or on Internet bulletin boards are considered self-published. With self-published sources, no one stands between the author and publication; the material may not be subject to any form of fact-checking, legal scrutiny, or peer review. Anyone can create a website or pay to have a book published and then claim to be an expert in a certain field; visiting a stranger's personal website is often the online equivalent of reading an unattributed flyer on a lamp post. For that reason, self-published material is largely not acceptable."[5]
  • Debatepedia has adopted MLA's citation style for footnote referencing:
    • Here's a link to a full guide to the MLA citation style.[6]
    • The use of the MLA style is only required in the references section of an article or debate. It is not required when, for example, introducing a quote.

How to reference

Referencing is fairly easy on Debatepedia. The first thing you'll want to do is have two windows open (or tabs), one with Debatepedia on it, and the other with the article or other source that you are referencing. Now, the first thing that you will be doing is getting the url (or web address of the source) and plugging that into the article on Debatepedia where you are making the reference. To do this, just go to the top of the browser while looking at the source page, highlight the url (web address), copy it, then go to the Debatepedia page, and paste the url where you will be making the footnote (at the end of the material that you are citing). Now, put a single bracket on either side of the url. At this point you can press "save". If you do this, you will see that your reference has been made into a footnote number. This is a basic URL footnote, but not a full MLA reference yet. At this point, you can do a number of things. You can choose to press "edit" again, and make your citation into a full reference, including all the relevant information on the source that you are citing (described below). Or, you can decide that this is too much of a pain for the time being, and continue editing at will, either coming back to do the footnoting, or relying on others to go through and do this at a later date (less ideal). If you despise the process of having to make a full MLA reference, than don't worry about it, just provide the URL footnote, and proceed forward. Because most all articles are "works in progress", you should not feel too bad about leaving detailed referencing until later. It is, actually, more important that you focus on creating quality content in the beginning.

Creating full MLA references on Debatepedia:

How to introduce quotes and authorship within a Debatepedia article

There are no strict form requirements for introducing a quote or authorship. Users should feel flexible to use language as they judge necessary. However, there are certain pieces of information that are critical to provide:

  • Name of author (Person, Organization, Newspaper, other...)
  • Title of author (Professor at the University of Michigan,...)
  • Title of the article, book, or piece of writing from which the quote or reference is derived.
  • Publication in which the article appeared (Newspaper, journal, website)
  • Date of publication.

"Works Cited"

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Sixth Edition. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2003.


Links to Common Citation Styles (Wikipedia)


See Also


Other About pages:

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