No, I'm not talking about the format of your parking ticket.
If you've written a research paper for a class (see this series of blog posts on how to make it more palatable--even, dare I say it, fun) then you know you have to include acknowledgements of the resources you used when formulating your arguments. These are called citations and there are several ways to note them.
The thing is, I have never heard a student jump up, click their heels and yell, "Yay! I'm writing my bibliography; I love figuring out where all those commas go. I just love punctuation!" (if you are a student who has done this, please send a video and I will feature you!)
Even though many of us consider this an onerous step in the research process, it's important. It's good practice. Oh, wait... IT'S THE LAW!
So, I am going to do the mom-thing and tell you the "why" (as an instructor/teacher/parent I like to have an answer for this question in everything. If I can't explain or defend the purpose of a requested action, then maybe I need to rethink the necessity).
In no particular order:
Do you know how annoying it is when a friend repeats your best joke to someone else and they all think your friend is awesome? Even though it was your joke in the first place? Well, that's the same thing as using ideas or information from a resource without giving credit to who said it first. You can take credit for gathering and using the brilliant idea but not for the idea itself.
The official term for this kind of thing is: "intellectual property" and not respecting it is an offense which can result in jail time or, more likely, a substantial fine in the real world and can get you a failing grade, failed course, or even failed college career in school. Another word about disregarding the rights of intellectual property is "plagiarism". Easy and advisable to avoid.
Have you ever played the game Telephone? The more people the message has filtered through adds to the hilarity of the final outcome. [As an aside, there is a drawing version of this and it is also hilariously fun] But how do you know where it went wrong? Was there one drastic turning point or a gradual series of misunderstandings? This is where recording all the resources you used in developing your paper is important. Just like Hansel and Gretel needed breadcrumbs to find their way back home, readers and teachers need to be able to follow your information to make sure it's accurate. Things can be taken out of context or a different meaning might be assigned to a particular phrase, citing your resources is a way to ensure accuracy.
What makes a scientific hypothesis into a theory into a law? The simplified version is that the results can and have been repeated over and over again with little to no variation of the outcome. If you drop a ball, it falls down. If you drop it from a greater height, it does the same thing. If you drop it from a lesser height or throw it up first, it will always fall downward and end up in the same place. So if you and three other people can follow the same path of resources and come up with the same conclusion, you know you're on to something that is reliable and firm.
As I mentioned before, there are several standardized style formats and most institutions and/or teachers have their preferences. Rather than trying to detail each of these right now, I'll leave it to the experts and offer you some good resource sites to take a look at:
I have no connection whatsoever with this university but I came across their writing lab resource and it is fantastic! The kind of place that makes this type of resource available for everyone is one I would love to work with if I had the chance.
Again, this is another one I stumbled across but is very helpful. You pick your citation style, plug in the information and it gives you the formatted citation.
These are both free resources, if you have any others to share or if you use one that you have purchased, please feel free to share that information!