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Inclusive Citation

Guidance and resources for finding and citing sources with a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds

Inclusive citation: What and why?

"Inclusive citation" describes an approach to citing the intellectual and creative work of individuals and groups with a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Inclusive citation works to counteract dominant power structures that have historically privileged certain groups while disadvantaging others. The tips in this guide will help you find a wider diversity of voices and perspectives when searching for sources on a specific topic. Drawing on that diversity in intentional and purposeful ways can further enrich your own thinking and the larger conversations about the topic with which you're engaged.

Citations and social (in)equity

Power inequities are often reflected in who is and is not included in citations (for example, research shows that men are much more frequently cited in social science scholarship than are women and that Black women are also greatly underrepresented in citation practices in anthropology. (The problem extends far beyond these areas of study and is far more pervasive than just these two studies illustrate.)

Because academic environments mirror many of the inequities that structure society in general, it is unsurprising that citations reflect these systems of privilege and disadvantage, but it is also unacceptable.

The video below further explores how citations often reflect and reinforce larger systems of power and privilege, and how inclusive citation practices can foster richer inquiry and scholarship.

Video: Citing Multiply Marginalized and Underrepresented (MMU) Scholars (USU Libraries)

Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This resource was adapted by Andrea Baer, with use of content from USU Libraries' MMU Scholarship guide and TU Dublin Library Services' "Building Multi-Stories: A Guide to Inclusive Referencing" resource. All guides have Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licenses. Many thanks to those guides' creators for permission to reuse their content.

Appreciating complexity

Look at who you are representing and reading. If you notice you are missing diverse representation of scholars or perspectives, use inclusive citation practice to seek out more sources. As you do this, keep these tips in mind: 

  • Avoid tokenism. Tokenism occurs when someone decides to include a scholar from an underrepresented group just because they belong to that group, rather than because of that scholars' unique contribution. Inclusive citation that is meaningful and intentional instead reflects genuine engagement with scholars’ ideas and exploration into how what they have to say enriches your research. 
  • Recognize that scholars from underrepresented groups may speak to any topic. While some topics may relate directly to a group identity that they share, others may not.
  • Appreciate that each individual has a background, set of life experiences, and perspectives that are unique to them. Challenge the misconception that an individual who belongs to a given group (including underrepresented groups) represents or speaks for that group as a whole.

Opening questions and considerations

As you develop strategies for finding sources, consider the following questions:

  • What voices could or should be included in your research?
  • Are you looking at a particular community or geographic region? Do you have sources from that community or region?
  • Are certain groups particularly affected by the topic you're discussing? Do you have sources from those groups?
  • Does your research need to be accessible for people with different needs? For example, would audio-visual resources or other means of representation make your topic more accessible for your audience?

As you review your citations, consider the authors you used in your research. Do you know what their relationship to the topic is? Does the collection of authors represent a range of voices and perspectives that are relevant to the topic? Reflecting on this might include considering: 

  • Where the authors are from
  • Aspects of their identity or positionality that may relate to the topic (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, age, disability)
  • Their perspective(s) on or interest(s) in the topic

Diversify your research tools and sources.

  • Explore new types of information sources, including audio-visual materials. Non-academic and non-text sources may include valuable perspectives and modes of expression that you might not otherwise encounter.
  • Find out where scholars in your field share ideas less formally (such as blogs, Twitter, etc), to find conversations happening outside of traditional forms of scholarly communication. Ways to do this include:
    • Search the Internet and platforms like Twitter for resources and authors who may not show up in library databases or Google Scholar.
    • Search Google Scholar for resources and authors that may not appear in library databases.
    • Search some of the resources featured on this page under "Research starting points" and "More resources."
    • Look at conference programs in your area of study.
    • Ask professors or researchers who shares your research interest where they see conversations happening outside of scholarly publications.
  • Explore new sources of news.
  • Explore professional association conference programs, committee lists, and membership rosters to identify scholars and their interests.

Experiment with search strategies and search filters.

  • Read the author information in database records, journal articles, or other publications to learn more about the author. Sometimes you may need to go outside the source and search for university profile pages, blogs, social media, and other online projects the author may be involved in. This information can often help you better understand an author's background, research agenda, and perspectives on the topic you are researching. 
  • Change the way search results are sorted. “Relevance" is often the default setting for displaying search results, but you can change it to another setting, such as “Date-newest.” (In Library Search, use the "Sort by" feature. Other search tools have similar display options.) 
  • Experiment with different search terms. Sometimes the terms you are using to describe your research topic may be different from those others are using. Consider the terms that different communities might be using. Try out different terms, and pay attention to what terms appear in the sources that you locate. Approach searching as a playful and exploratory process.
  • Consider geography/location in your searching. For example, you might look for journals, online resources, or other publications that based in a certain geographical area. Sometimes it may also help to use search terms that reflect a given region or location. Keep in mind that most academic libraries in the U.S., including Rowan University Libraries, include a larger number of resources from North American and English-speaking European countries. Looking beyond the Libraries may be especially important if you are seeking resources from other geographic areas or cultures.

Finally, talk with your professors or subject librarian about how they diversify their reading and reference lists and who they think are exciting new voices in the field.

Consider your relationship to the research.

Most of us – at least initially – search for, interpret and use information in a way that confirms our own beliefs. This is known as confirmation bias. Its effect is strongest when the researcher has an emotional attachment to the subject.

Genuine research and learning involve:

  • acknowledging your own biases, preconceptions and prejudices
  • with that awareness, finding and using sources for their authority on and relevance to a subject, regardless of whether you agree with them
  • critically evaluating sources by considering the creators' perspectives, motivations, uses of evidence and argument, and rhetorical strategies (e.g., how they appeal to their audience)
  • challenging "both-sideism" and "false balance" (the notion that all arguments are equally valid) and instead critically examining assumptions, evidence, and claims used to support specific arguments

Tips for acknowledging your perspective and finding new perspectives on your topic:

Awareness of your own biases and perspectives can strengthen your ability to critically evaluate sources and arguments. Below are some practical strategies.

Investigate your beliefs, assumptions, and emotions.

  • Why do you care about this topic? How does it (not) affect your life or the communities to which you belong?
  • What do you know about the topic, including various perspectives and arguments about it?
  • What are your opinions or beliefs about it and what influences those opinions?
  • Are there alternative perspectives or counter-arguments that you may need to investigate in order to develop a fuller understanding of your topic?

Identify both facts and perspectives on the topic.

  • Gather general background information on the topic. Reference sources like encyclopedias can be helpful for this.
  • Seek to distinguish between fact and opinion. Sometimes opinions and arguments are presented as facts, when they are actually based on assumptions or implicit beliefs that may not be true, or that may not reflect the full complexity of an issue. It is often difficult to identify assumptions or implicit beliefs. However, searching for sources from a variety of places, comparing what those sources say and what their different relationships to the topic can help with this.
  • Reject unsound arguments. Remember that not all viewpoints are valid, even if you initially agreed with them.

Both acknowledging your own biases and finding and using resources from different voices and communities can be challenging, but doing these things will bring your new insights and perspectives and make your research more meaningful and interesting. The news reporters in the video below illustrate practical ways that they engage in this process.

Video: "How Journalists Minimize Bias" (from Facing Ourselves and History)

Diversity Audit Tools: One Tool in the Toolbox

These can be helpful tools, and at the same time they are imperfect. Citation audit tools may give you some sense of the ethnic, racial, and gender diversity of your references, but are not entirely accurate and cannot account for many aspects of diversity such as gender, sexual identity, and disability. The most meaningful way to audit your citations is to expand where and how you encounter work on your research area, and to engage with the substance of what others are saying about your topic.