Chapter 3: Ethical research, writing, and creative work

Writing research papers and doing creative work based on research (e.g., creating a documentary, a historical web site, or a major creative performance) can be some of the most challenging but rewarding activities of one's university studies. Anyone can write or create a simple project. But, to develop something new that is based on substantial research demonstrates true intellectual enterprise.

As you do your writing and creative work, it is essential to document things and to do so ethically. Ethical research and writing makes a difference not only for Communication Studies students, but also for communication professionals. In recent years, newspaper and magazine writers have been fired for plagiarism, history book authors have been discredited for sloppy sourcing, and documentary filmmakers have been charged with unsubstantiated claims. There is also a long, unfortunate history of researchers abusing human subjects in biomedical, behavioral, and social science experiments. In each case, whether or not the ethical problems were accidental or intentional, the final product suffered, as did the researcher's or professional's reputation.

In this chapter we discuss ethical research and writing. In doing so, we will cover:

  • following guidelines for the protection of human subjects
  • defining the concepts of plagiarism, copyright, and fair use in print and electronic media works, in the context of using others' work [Chapter 7 has more on how to properly cite others' work and build a reference list using a style guide]
  • demystifying other ethical problems, like assigning authorship


Not all communication research presents the same kinds of ethical problems. For example, surveys, interviews, experiments, and observations involve human subjects, whereas critical or rhetorical studies that focus on analyzing texts do not. But, because working with human participants can present some of the most challenging ethical circumstances for researchers we will begin there.

Working with Human Subjects: The IRB Process

Ethics and Human Subjects – A Brief History

Today, universities conduct research using human subjects in biomedical, behavioral, and social sciences. To protect the welfare of human subjects or participants, Institutional Review Boards exist at universities that undertake such research.

The necessity of Institutional Review Boards emerged in light of the abuses of human subjects in biomedical experiments during World War II. Physicians and scientists in Nazi Germany conducted horrific experiments on concentration camp prisoners, including injecting people with gasoline and live viruses, immersing people in ice water, and forcing people to ingest poisons. In December 1946, the War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg indicted 20 physicians and 3 administrators for their willing participation in the systematic torture, mutilation, and killing of prisoners in experiments. The tribunal found 16 guilty, and sentenced 7 to death.

During the War Crime Trials, the Nuremberg Code was drafted as a set of standards for judging physicians and scientists who had conducted biomedical experiments on concentration camp prisoners. This became the prototype for later codes on research involving human subjects.



Nuremburg trial defendants sitting in the dock, circa 1945- 46. From the National Archives (Nuremberg, c. 1945-46)


In 1933, the U.S Public Health Service in Macon County, Alabama began an investigation to chart the effects syphilis on humans who do not receive any active treatment. Investigators enrolled 399 African-American men with latent syphilis and 201 men without disease in the study, but led the poor sharecroppers to believe they were actually being treated for "bad blood," a euphemism for syphilis. The study, which lasted for 40 years, included only sporadic clinical reexaminations when a public health physician came to Tuskegee but denied the individuals any form of anti-syphilitic therapy. By the time the study was exposed and ended in 1972, 28 men had died of syphilis, 100 others were dead due to syphilis related complications, at least 40 wives had been infected and 19 children had contracted the disease at birth, even though effective treatments existed for the disease.



Undated photo (before 1972) of unwitting participants in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments receiving injections. From the National Archives (Tuskegee, n.d.).


The shocking disclosure of what are now known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments led to calls for strong rules to protect human research subjects. The resulting document, The Belmont Report (National Commission, 1979) (named after the Belmont Conference Center in Maryland where a national commission drafted the report) established three basic ethical principles for research using human subjects:

  1. Respect for Persons. Respect for persons incorporates at least two ethical convictions: first, that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents, and second, that persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection.
  2. Beneficence. Persons are treated in an ethical manner not only by respecting their decisions and protecting them from harm, but also by making efforts to secure their well-being.
  3. Justice. Who ought to receive the benefits of research and bear its burdens? This is a question of justice, in the sense of "fairness in distribution" or "what is deserved." An injustice occurs when some benefit to which a person is entitled is denied without good reason or when some burden is imposed unduly. (National Commission, 1979)


Although the rules for human subject research emerged from biomedical experiments, there is the potential for abuse in social science and behavioral research as well. For example, the famous experiments by social psychologist Stanley Milgram in the early 1960s demonstrated the capacity of cruel authoritarian behavior in humans, but was severely criticized for the stress inflicted on subjects. As you can guess by the flier below, the participants in Milgram's experiments would have merely assumed they would earn a nice sum (for 1961) for a brief memory test, and had no idea of the extreme mental stress to which they would be subjected. Today, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) provides regulatory oversight on ethical biomedical and behavioral research.


Milgram's Advertisement

Advertisement to gain subjects for Yale professor Stanley Milgram's 1961 behavioral lab experiments (Milgram, n.d.)


In addition to its three basic ethical principles, the Belmont Report established three general requirements for the conduct of research using human subjects:

  1. Informed Consent: Respect for persons requires that subjects, to the degree that they are capable, be given the opportunity to choose what shall or shall not happen to them... there is widespread agreement that the consent process can be analyzed as containing three elements: information, comprehension and voluntariness.
  2. Assessment of Risks and Benefits: The assessment of risks and benefits requires a careful arrayal of relevant data, including, in some cases, alternative ways of obtaining the benefits sought in the research...For the investigator, it is a means to examine whether the proposed research is properly designed. For a review committee, it is a method for determining whether the risks that will be presented to subjects are justified. For prospective subjects, the assessment will assist the determination whether or not to participate.
  3. Selection of subjects: Just as the principle of respect for persons finds expression in the requirements for consent, and the principle of beneficence in risk/benefit assessment, the principle of justice gives rise to moral requirements that there be fair procedures and outcomes in the selection of research subjects.

    Justice is relevant to the selection of subjects of research at two levels: the social and the individual. Individual justice in the selection of subjects would require that researchers exhibit fairness: thus, they should not offer potentially beneficial research only to some patients who are in their favor or select only "undesirable" persons for risky research. Social justice requires that distinction be drawn between classes of subjects that ought, and ought not, to participate in any particular kind of research, based on the ability of members of that class to bear burdens and on the appropriateness of placing further burdens on already burdened persons. Thus, it can be considered a matter of social justice that there is an order of preference in the selection of classes of subjects (e.g., adults before children) and that some classes of potential subjects (e.g., the institutionalized mentally infirm or prisoners) may be involved as research subjects, if at all, only on certain conditions. (National Commission, 1979)


Institutional Review Boards

Given the potential for abuses – unintentional or not – in the process of research with human subjects, colleges and universities have institutional review boards to guide researchers through their work. (See, for example, IRBs at institutions such as Northwestern UniversityUniversity of IllinoisUniversity of KansasUniversity of Michigan, and University of Oklahoma.) The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) is charged with leadership, providing models for the review process, and oversight for the nation's IRBs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is part of the Department of Health & Human Services, regulates the human testing of clinical products such as drugs and medical devices. Institutions that engage in research using human subjects must register with the OHRP and comply with their regulations on such research.

One of the most important questions is determining if a project needs IRB approval. At the University of Northern Iowa, where an Institutional Review Board comprised of faculty members determines approval of projects, the two main questions to answer to determine the project's status are:

  • Is your project research?
  • Does your project involve human participants?

If the answer is "Yes" to both questions, then the researcher should seek IRB approval.


Some projects do not count as research because they are not systematic investigations designed to develop generalizable knowledge. As the University of Northern Iowa IRB states, these can include:

  • Teacher and student evaluations used solely by the institution
  • Class-related data collection projects (with adults and of no more than minimal risk) conducted solely for didactic [teaching and learning] purposes where the results are not disseminated outside the classroom
  • Activities conducted for quality improvement/quality assurance intended solely for internal use
  • Data collection activities performed as a commercial service to inform business decisions regarding a specific process or product that will not be made public by the researchers or the sponsor
  • Journalism articles
  • Theatrical productions
  • Art exhibits (Office of Sponsored Programs, 2011)


The categories for exemptions are not ironclad. For example, a theatrical production that is based on ethnographic interviews would likely require IRB approval. Different institutions may have other types of projects that do not qualify as research. If in doubt, it is always advisable to consult with your IRB office before beginning a study.

The IRB Process

Institutional Review Boards require those conducting the study (called Principal Investigators, or PIs), to first undergo training. A common online training module subscribed to by institutions across the U.S. is the CITI (Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative) Program. The online tutorial takes about 2-3 hours, and upon completion sends an electronic training certificate to the member institution's IRB office. The certificate will then be on file for any applications the PIs submit for IRB approval.

Next, the PIs need to submit applications to the IRB that detail the elements of the project using human subjects, including the purpose, methodology, any use of deception (often the case in behavioral or biomedical research), the debriefing script the PIs will use to inform participants at the end of the study, the nature of the participants, the risks and benefits to participants, the confidentiality of the data, and sample consent forms.

Depending on the size of your college or university, your institutional review board may meet and review applications on a continuing basis, or may meet bi-weekly or monthly. PIs should be sure to take into account the IRB schedule when planning research. If your IRB only meets monthly, you may have to delay weeks to begin your study as you wait for the IRM approval. IRBs may follow an "expedited review" when the study seems to present minimal risk to human subjects (for example, ethnographic data collection using interviews, or a brief survey on political knowledge). Such approval may take just a few days. For studies of sensitive topics, vulnerable subject populations (such as children), or have complex methodologies, a "full review" might be in order, and could take several weeks for the IRB to review. If changes are suggested, the review process could take even longer.

Using Others' Work

If you are researching, writing, and making creative projects, the assumption is that it is your work. Of course, the old adage "there is nothing new under the sun" applies to, like all things, your research and creative work, too. Want to write a paper on steroid use in professional sports? It has been done. Making a presentation on global warming? It has been done, too. Creating a video on body art? That has been done several times. But don't let that keep you from studying a topic of interest.

The fact that these topics have been covered before does not mean that you cannot bring your original insights to these topics, especially if you have something new to add to the discussion. What it does mean is that you cannot ignore what others have done before you. In fact, your work must build on and acknowledge what has been done before. You need to do this for two reasons:

  1. if you do not research previous work on the topic, how will you know if you have anything new to say, and
  2. if you do not acknowledge others' previous work on this topic, your audience will think you did not do your homework on it. For example, acting as though you are the first person to ever develop a PowerPoint presentation on global warming would overlook a very famous presentation on the topic once done by Al Gore (Bender et al, 2006).


Written Work and Plagiarism

When you do refer to others' work, it must be done with adequate attribution. Otherwise, plagiarism can be the result. At the University of Northern Iowa, the Academic Ethics policy defines plagiarism as "the process of stealing or passing off as one's own the ideas or words of another, or presenting as one's own an idea or product which is derived from an existing source." Properly citing one's work is crucial. According to UNI: avoid any appearance of plagiarism or accidental plagiarism, it is important that all students become fully cognizant of the citation procedures utilized in their own discipline and in the classes which they take. The plea of ignorance regarding citation procedures or of carelessness in citation is not a compelling defense against allegations of plagiarism. (University of Northern Iowa, 1983)

Thus, putting quotation marks around quoted material and attributing the source (with appropriate citations for research papers) is expected. Alternately, writers may also paraphrase ideas – that is, rewrite ideas or summarize an idea with their own words. But, paraphrase with caution, and make sure your wording is substantially different. As the University of Chicago's Plagiarism Guidelines note, "No matter your intention, close paraphrase may count as plagiarism, even when you cite the source." The University of Chicago guidelines suggest to check paraphrasing work: "If you think someone could run her [or his] finger along your sentences and find synonyms or synonymous phrases for words in the original in roughly the same order, try again" (Williams & McEnerny, n.d.)

As a student, your instructors will require you to use scholarly resources. To be a communication professional, employers and community members will expect you to support your claims with data. Citing sources should become a habit.

While some domestic students may not be familiar with the legalities of plagiarism (Blum, 2009), international students may be even less familiar with the concepts behind the idea of plagiarism. As an international student services official at St. Cloud State University explained, international students may be unaccustomed to the American cultural values of individualism and direct communication, which are foundational to the American perspective on plagiarism (Di Maria, 2009). In many countries, accomplishments are shared and attributed to a family or other collective. Moreover, students in those countries may be taught to copy the work of their masters or teachers. But in the U.S., "The cultural value of individualism requires students to respect the rights of individuals whose ideas they have borrowed by clearly distinguishing another's ideas from one's own and using an established method for doing so" (Di Maria, 2009).

Digital Audio and Video Texts, Fair Use, and Copyright

The norms of citation in the world of written text have a long history. But in the realm of digital audio/visual culture, the concept of what constitutes fair use of the "text" and what counts as a "citation" is far from clear. According to the Center for Social Media at American University, "fair use" is "the right, in some circumstances, to quote copyrighted material without asking permission or paying for it. Fair use enables the creation of new culture, and keeps current copyright holders from being private censors" (Center for Social Media, 2011).

If you are writing a research paper, you can cite some sentences from a book on which you are commenting, and you would be easily within the bounds of "fair use" of that work. (That is, the book's copyright holder would not object or sue you for "stealing" a small amount of the book's work.) However, if you are a making mash-up political commentary using excerpts of a popular song and television news program clips, or a parody of old music videos by inserting new lyrics that literally describe what's going on in the video, you could indeed be subject to action from the copyright holder (McSherry, 2009). There is no explicit rule on fair use; instead, determinations have been made through court cases. The most important doctrine to emerge in cases of fair use have been whether the new work is transformative. In the case concerning a rap group's parody of Roy Orbison's song "Pretty Woman," the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that transformative works, which create something substantially different from the original work or works they are based upon, "lie at the heart of the fair use doctrine's guarantee of breathing space within the confines of copyright." (Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music Inc., 1994).

For media makers and those who teach media criticism, the Center for Social Media has developed best practices guidelines for fair use in the creation of documentary film, online video, and for media literacy education. If you are going to produce any of these forms, make sure you are familiar with these guidelines.

There are exceptions to copyright. For example, older works created before 1923 are generally in the public domain, meaning that anyone can use the work and it is free of copyright protection. The images from 1899 and 1911 in this chapter are examples of work in the public domain. Works that are created by the federal government are also in the public domain. The photographic image appearing in this chapter from the Nuremberg trials of 1945-46 are in the public domain, as it was taken by a U.S. government soldier or employee as part of that person's duties. Hence, it is a work of the government, and in the public domain. The same holds true for another photo from the National Archives taken sometime before 1972 of the unwitting subjects of the unethical Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments. To battle the barriers of copyright to creative digital culture, a group of academics formed the Creative Commons in 2001. The Creative Commons enables artists to mark their Web-based work with a choice of different licenses. For example, a musical artist may upload a song, and give it a Creative Commons license that allows others to distribute, remix, and build upon her work as long as there is attribution. Another license might restrict such use to noncommercial purposes, or allow people to share works, but not alter them in any way.

The common point to all instances of using other's work – whether it is for a term paper or a mashup video, whether the original has a copyright, is in the public domain, or the creative commons – is that it is always the best practice to provide fair, clear attribution.

For other types of creative work that more accurately fall under the realm of professional or performative work, there are professional codes that can be helpful. For students doing journalism work, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics is an excellent resource, as is the code from the National Press Photographers Association(NPPA). For public relations practitioners, the Public Relations Society  (PRSA) Code of Ethics is an important guide. Even forensics programs and tournaments of America follow a code of standards written by the American Forensics Association.

Other Ethical Concerns

Finally, two other ethical concerns merit mentioning. First, although researchers making creative works generally do not go through the IRB process, they still need to be careful in their work, particularly when it comes to participants' privacy. Secondly, in communication research of all kinds, there are often multiple authors or creators. Fairly assigning authorship is an important concern so all participants get the appropriate acknowledgement for their work.

Creative Work and Privacy

Although the ethical responsibilities of researchers using human subjects are fairly clear, and there are some guidelines (e.g., fair use, the public domain, and Creative Commons licenses) for creative scholars using digital works, there are no institutional reviews or guidelines for creative work that is not research but still may involve human participants. For example, videomakers would be wise to obtain signed consent forms from people they include in a video – even student projects. Mass media companies such as cable TV channels, video web sites, or DVD distributors will expect that all subjects in a work (represented in audio, video, or still image form) have given their permission to being included and having that work distributed to any media platform. University communication offices and Communication Studies departments generally have "release form" templates on hand for student and faculty use. (Students doing a broadcast news program or reporting for a newspaper do not need consent forms, as journalism is protected by the First Amendment.)

Creative projects may involve ethical and legal issues. For example, if a performer writes about someone else in a creative project, it may involve potential privacy torts; that is, the subject may claim damages in a liability lawsuit. Legal scholars William Prosser and John W. Wade identified the four areas where a subject's privacy might be damaged:

  1. Intrusion upon seclusion or solitude, or into private affairs;
  2. Public disclosure of embarrassing private facts;
  3. Publicity which places a person in a false light in the public eye; and
  4. Appropriation of name or likeness. (Wade, 1979, p. 367)


In the book and film industries, disclaimers are common in fictional media to reduce the possibility of a libel suit (although disclaimers are not sufficient, in themselves, to protect an author from paying damages). A common disclaimer might say "All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental." The animated show South Park has its own satirical version of a disclaimer.

But, in the world of live performances, which often derive from autobiographical disclosures, saying that characters are not real is not accurate. Some performers protect themselves by sharing scripts with the people about whom they write. But, what if the performer's story is about abuse, should the performer inform the abuser? There are cases where there are no easy answers. The best process for making ethical decisions where no formal rules, review process, or guidelines exist, is to talk with others and "engage in rational, systematic examination of an ethical problem and its possible solutions" (Leslie, 2004, p. 21). Doing so involves describing the problem, analyzing and discussing all of the possible solutions, and then making the decision that is the most defensible.

Assigning Authorship Fairly

Finally, in doing research, writing, and creative projects, researchers and authors often work with others. The time for considering the conditions for who will be listed as authors, and in what order, should be agreed upon at the beginning of a project, not at the end, particularly when the work is to be published, exhibited, or performed in some manner. Put the agreement in writing, or at least in a digital document.

Generally in works with multiple authors, the authors are listed in order of the amount of contributions to the project, with the person who did the most listed first, and so forth in order of decreasing contributions, although this can vary in other fields.

For co-authored works in which all of the parties contributed equally, authors should be listed alphabetically, or in an order agreed upon by the authors. A content note that states the authors contributed to the project equally is a good idea, so others will not make assumptions about the level of contributions based on the order of the names.

Style Guides for Writing

Contrary to popular perception, style manuals and citation guidelines did not emerge from evil academics in ivory towers interested in inventing even more difficult tasks for student writers. Instead, style guides developed out of the need to organize information consistently so writers and readers could make sense of it.

Before style manuals came into existence, academic writing had glaring inconsistencies. For example, look at this January 1899 bibliographic excerpt from the The Library Journal.


The Library Journal


Notice any problems? First, the authors are not listed in alphabetical order. Some authors have full first names, whereas some have only initials. Some years are in parentheses, and some are not. References to volume numbers and page numbers are inconsistent. Place of publication is usually given, but publisher names are not. Beginning in this era of confusing citation formats (the late 1800s), systems for citing other literature developed as a way to bring order to research papers.


The Chicago Manual of Style 1911

The front page of the third edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, from 1911. 
In the public domain.


The first major manual of style got its start in the early years of the University of Chicago Press (founded 1891) when "a solitary proofreader began jotting down on a single sheet of paper a few basic style rules" (2003, p. vii). In 1906, the growing list of rules was gathered into a volume, The Chicago Manual of Style, which more than a century later is in its fifteenth edition. Because it is the style guide from a university press, the Chicago Manual includes not only citation and writing recommendations, but also book binding, production, and printing sections. The University of Chicago Press later published a shorter guidebook based on the Chicago manual that focused on just research, writing, and citation style. Kate L. Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style Guide for Students and Researchers, was first assembled as a booklet in 1937 by Turabian, the University of Chicago's dissertation secretary. Now in its seventh edition, the Turabian manual can be used as an alternate guide to Chicago style; Turabian (2007) notes that some recommendations "diverge in a few instances from those in The Chicago Manual of Style, but the differences are a matter of degree, not substance" (p. xiv). Today, Chicago and Turabian style are often used synonymously.

Two other very popular citation formats are American Psychological Association (APA) and Modern Language Association (MLA), each of which originated with academic associations with particular disciplinary perspectives. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (the resource for APA style) began with a seven-page journal article in 1929 that intended to establish a standard of procedure for the field. By 2010, the manual was in its sixth edition. The APA manual is the leading guide for writing in the behavioral and social sciences (although not used exclusively in these areas), and is used for works including empirical studies, literature reviews, theoretical articles, methodological articles, case studies, brief reports, book reviews, and monographs. If you take course in the following areas in the Department of Communication Studies, you can expect to write assignments using APA: Communication Theory, Interpersonal Communication, Nonverbal Communication, Organizational Communication, Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods.

The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers originated with the Modern Language Association's 1951 publication of a style sheet. By 2010, the MLA handbook was in its seventh edition. MLA style, according to the MLA, "represents a consensus among teachers, scholars, and librarians in the field of language and literature on the conventions for documenting research" (2009, p. xiii).

The three leading citation styles are fairly similar in approach. Below are several media format citations with examples from each style guide. For more information, see an often-used online guide, at the OWL Purdue site.

Citations for Reference Lists

Book with one author.


Crystal, D. (2008). Txtng: The gr8 db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Author's Last Name, First/Middle Initials. (Year). Title with only 1st word capped: Subtitle. Place of Publication: Publisher.


Crystal, David. Txtng: The Gr8 Db8. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

Author's Last Name, First Name. Title With All Major Words Capped: Subtitle. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year. Medium of Publication (e.g., Print, Web).


Crystal, David. 2008. Txtng: The Gr8 Db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Author's Last Name, First Name. Year. Title: Subtitle. Place of Publication: Publisher.

Article in scholarly journal.


Craig, R. (1999). Communication theory as a field. Communication Theory, 9, 119-161.


Craig, Robert. "Communication Theory as a Field." Communication Theory 9.2 (1999): 119-161. Print.


Craig, Robert. 1999. Communication theory as a field. Communication Theory, 9, no. 2: 119-161.

A book published in a second or subsequent edition, with multiple authors.


Dominick, J.R., Messere, F., & Sherman, B.L. (2004). Broadcasting, cable, the internet, and beyond: An introduction to modern electronic media (5th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.


Dominick, Joseph R., Fritz Messere, and Barry L. Sherman. Broadcasting, Cable, the Internet, and Beyond: An Introduction to Modern Electronic Media. 5th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004. Print.


Dominick, Joseph R., Fritz Messere, and Barry L. Sherman. 2004. Broadcasting, Cable, the Internet, and Beyond: An Introduction to Modern Electronic Media. 5th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Online newspaper article.

Hare, B. (2009, October 1). Eight digital alternatives to paper business cards. CNN. Retrieved from


Hare, Breeanna. "Eight Digital Alternatives to Paper Business Cards." CNN. 1 Oct. 2009. Web. 15 June 2010.


Hare, Breeanna. 2009. Eight digital alternatives to paper business cards. CNN. October 1. [accessed June 15, 2010].

Single episode from a television series. APA

O'Shannon, D. (Writer), & Winer, J. (Director). (2009). Come fly with me [Television series episode]. In S. Levitan (Producer), Modern Family. New York, NY: American Broadcasting Company.


"Come Fly With Me." Modern Family. ABC. 7 Oct. 2009. Television.

Broadcast sources are cited only in the text of the research paper, and aren't included in the reference list. For example:

The Modern Family episode titled "Come Fly With Me" (aired October 7, 2009), illustrates a recurring theme.

Reference Citations in Texts

Citing your sources in a reference list is important, but how do writers indicate that the ideas they are writing have a reference? The usual way is through in-text citations (or "parenthetical citations," because parentheses are used) citations, which tell the reader quickly "here is the source; the full source citation is in the reference list."

Schor, J. (2010). Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. New York: The Penguin Press.

The APA's author-date citation system is one of the most common ways to cite in text. For example, if we want to cite the above work, we can handle the in-text in a few different ways:


Schor (2010) argues that in pockets around the world, people are inventing new lifestyles that are not part of the current work-and-spend economy.

In pockets around the world, people are inventing new lifestyles that are not part of the current work-and-spend economy (Schor, 2010).

If the in-text citation involves a direct quote from the source, the citation should also include the page numbers. Here are two examples of how to do this:

The U.S. built an industrial revolution on energy derived from oil and coal, but "what we haven't done is work through the implications of that for the post-carbon era" (Schor, 2010, p. 17).

Schor (2010) noted that the U.S. built an industrial revolution on energy derived from oil and coal, but added "what we haven't done is work through the implications of that for the post-carbon era" (p. 17).

The MLA uses a similar parenthetical citation system, but tries to keep them as brief as possible, dropping the year, eliminating commas, and "p." designation before the page number. Thus (using the same example from above), an MLA parenthetical citation would look like this:

The U.S. built an industrial revolution on energy derived from oil and coal, but "what we haven't done is work through the implications of that for the post-carbon era" (Schor 17).

Chicago/Turabian style lies between APA and MLA on parenthetical citations, with year, comma, but no "p.".

The U.S. built an industrial revolution on energy derived from oil and coal, but "what we haven't done is work through the implications of that for the post-carbon era" (Schor 2010, 17).

Bibliographic Citations

Another way of doing citations is bibliographic style, which uses superscript numbers in the text, and corresponding numbered footnotes (at the bottom of the page) or endnotes (at the end of the document) to cite sources. This style of citations is more common in the humanities. To return to our previous example, a bibliographic note in the text would look like this:

The U.S. built an industrial revolution on energy derived from oil and coal, but "what we haven't done is work through the implications of that for the post-carbon era."1

The corresponding endnote or footnote 1 would then have the Schor citation, and may also suggest other publications to consult on the topic.

Bibliographic notes are not used in APA style. Reference lists (like with APA style) alphabetically list the references that support and are specifically cited in the article. Bibliographies, on the other hand, can include references cited in the article, and can also include additional author commentary that might seem tangential in the text, as well as recommend sources for further reading. For more information on bibliographic note style, consult the MLA Handbook or Turabian's manual on Chicago style.

Communication Studies Journals and their Citation Style

Because Communication Studies draws on many traditions in the social sciences and the humanities, all three major styles are widely used in its journals and books. Given the many citation styles, a key for communication studies scholars is to keep full citation information. You may need it to submit work in different style format, and you don't want to be, for example, hunting at the last minute for the full first names of authors cited as you switch from APA to MLA style.

Communication journals that require APA style come out of social science and humanities traditions, and include Journal of Communication, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Journal of Applied Communication Research, Journal of International and Intercultural Research, Communication Teacher, Communication Education, Communication Research, Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, and the Iowa Journal of Communication.

Journals that require or allow MLA include Text and Performance Quarterly, Argumentation and Advocacy, Journal of Popular Culture, and Popular Music and Society.

Chicago style journals include Cinema Journal, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, and Quarterly Journal of Speech.

Tools for Making Accurate Citations Easier

There are a number of web-based or centrally-hosted web sites that aid users in managing references. RefWorks and EndNote are two of the more widely used commercial services, which can cost from $100 to $300 a year. The services allow users to enter bibliographic and reference information into fields, which the user can later export into various reference formats. There are also free, open-source tools for reference management. One of the most popular is Zotero, a free Firefox extension from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Zotero enables users to keep track of web sites, blogs, newspaper and magazine articles, online video and audio, or even library search listings. First released in 2006, Zotero enables researchers to save web articles, link notes to citations, and tag citations with search terms for easy retrieval. Online tutorials illustrate how the tool can be used to help researchers organize bibliographic information.

Even if you do use reference management software, you still should proofread your bibliography and make format changes. Nothing substitutes for using the actual style manuals. And, most of the web-based sites do not alter title capitalization. The manuals are also helpful for more than just citations – they help you organize, write, and argue better.


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

Bender, L., Burns, S. Z., and David, L. (Producers), & Guggenheim, D. (Director). (2006). An inconvenient truth [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Classics.

Blum, S. D. (2009). My word!: Plagiarism and college culture. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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McSherry, C. (2009, February 26). "Hey, Warner, leave those kids alone." Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved from

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Modern Language Association of America (2009). MLA handbook for writers of research papers (7th ed.). New York: Author.

National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (1979). Ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of research [The Belmont Report]. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Retrieved from

Nuremberg. (c. 1945-46). "Nuremberg trial" [photo]. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from

Nuremberg Code (1949). Trials of war criminals before the Nuremberg military tribunals under control council law no. 10, Vol. 2, pp. 181-182. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved from

Office of Sponsored Programs (2011). "Does my project need IRB review?" University of Northern Iowa. Retrieved from 7.

Turabian, K. L. (2007). A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations: Chicago style guide for students and researchers (7th ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tuskegee Syphilis Study (n.d.) "ARC Identifier 956104, Item from Record Group 442: Records of the centers for disease control and prevention, 1921 – 2006" [photo]. The National Archives. Retrieved from

University of Chicago Press (2003). The Chicago manual of style (15th ed.). Chicago: Author.

University of Northern Iowa (1983). Policies: 3.01 academic ethics/discipline. Retrieved from

Wade, J. W. (1979). Second restatement of torts completed. ABA Journal, 65, 366-371.

Williams, J. M., and McEnerny, L. (n.d.). "Writing in college." University of Chicago. Retrieved from