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I want to write a couple of essays on different subjects which I don't know much about, and the first logical thing that comes to mind is that I should do some research on those specific essay-topics before writing.

Now, my question is, when writing, say, about psychology theories or any other types of scientific theories (which, for the most part, are not common knowledge), should I always cite the sources?

I mean, let's say I don't know anything about psychology theories, and I have to explain at least three of them in my essay. So I go and read different psychology articles, magazines, and books, and then, once I finally have a clear idea about these three theories, I proceed to write my essay, which might roughly look like this:

Introduction.

Body:

Paragraph1: According to the behavioral psychology... Today, behavioral techniques are still widely used in therapeutic settings to help clients learn new skills and behaviors.

Paragraph2: Theories of development provide a... understanding these theories can provide useful insight into individuals and society.

Paragraph3: Learning theories focus on ... This is an interdisciplinary topic of interest that often draws upon information from psychology, education, instructional design, and other areas.

Conclusion.

Nevertheless, the problem with following the simple process I've described above is that all the content written in the body of my composition would not be based on my own ideas or experiences, but on all the information, explanations, and definitions I read while doing my research. And I think there's no point in writing an essay if you don't include your own ideas and only write about other people's discoveries and thoughts. However, what else can you do when you are writing about things that have already been explained by experts on the subject you are dealing with? It feels like reinventing the wheel.

It is this feeling of lack of originality that makes me think that I have to add an in-text citation of the sources whithin parentheses at the end of every body paragraph. I feel as if I had to do that in order to avoid plagiarism. For example:

Paragraph1: According to the behavioral psychology... Today, behavioral techniques are still widely used in therapeutic settings to help clients learn new skills and behaviors. (Williams, 2015)

But then again it wouldn't make sense to write an essay where you have to attach an in-text citation to every paragraph you write lol, plus that there would be not only one source but at least three sources to cite for every paragraph--because when you read extensively on a subject you don't know anything about in order to understand it and be able to compose an essay about it, you are basically summarizing and paraphrasing from different sources--putting together all the information you learned about a specific topic--in your own words of course--to build one strong paragraph. So it is my understanding that, in this case, you also have to add a citation within parentheses acknowledging the sources, right? This is what confuses me.

I might be wrong about how and when to use in-text citations, but I gather that my problem with originality when planning and writing essays, especially scientific ones, stems from the fact that I know I won't be innovating. I will more likely just research the topic and then write about other people's (scientists') ideas, discoveries, and theories.

Maybe I just shouldn't write essays without having original points or ideas about the topic that can be supported with citations of some extra sources. But I don't know, I can't wrap my head around this problem with originality.

So, could you please give me some suggestions on how to go about writing original essays without having to add in-text citations to virtually everything because you feel that everything you know about the topic does not come from you, but from your research/reading of outside sources?

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    FIrst things first: Why do you "want" to write these essays? Who are they for? What do you want to tell them? Why should they care? – StoneyB Nov 18 '15 at 1:20
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    I think the people in 'Writers' community can also help you. Try posting this question there as well. Also, if it is an academic paper, you should cite as much as possible because citations support your arguments, hypotheses, and premises. Also, you may utilise footnotes/endnotes (unless, of course, the citation style required is in-text). – shin Nov 18 '15 at 1:49
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    "... because you feel that everything you know about the topic does not come from you, but from your research/reading of outside sources" -- When I read a paper with a title "XYZ: A Review", I never expect anything novel done by the author (though it's not rare that some of their previous work is part of the review). "But then again it wouldn't make sense to write an essay where you have to attach an in-text citation to every paragraph" -- Some papers of this kind have an in-text citation almost every sentence in some paragraphs; for example, ajcn.nutrition.org/content/74/4/418.long. – Damkerng T. Nov 18 '15 at 2:02
  • I don't really think this question is appropriate on ELL.SE. It might be a better fit for ELU.SE or Academia.SE. – stangdon Nov 18 '15 at 16:55
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You have to cite everything that you take from external resources be it a quote or an idea or even a dictionary definition. If you read an explanation of a theory in a book then you write this in your essay using your own words, you still have to cite it in-text and in the reference page. Otherwise it would be considered plagiarism. So be careful.

  • AbdulrahmanThank you for answering my question. But what if as a result of reading a lot about a specific scientific topic in the past, one has a very solid knowledge of some scientific theories and doesn't need to do research to write an essay about them? Would they still have to cite the sources of the knowledge they acquired years ago, which they can explain in their own words and without having to do research? What if they even forgot the names of the books they took this knowledge from? – Luke Nov 19 '15 at 8:03
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According to me, citation is only necessary if you are quoting something or writing the exact lines from a book or any other source. If you are reading, researching and writing things in your own words, you don't necessarily need to cite. Citation is also done if you want the reader to refer to a particular book or source for more information.

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