Ivory Tower Writing #18: How many citations is enough?

This is a question I often get from my students, especially since I have a reputation for being a strict grader (to them, this is an understatement; I am known to be judicious (think Lawful Evil)).

Here’s the short answer to the question: it depends on what you’re writing, who you’re writing for, and your current skill level. It is a complicated blend of these three factors, and it’s not easy to discern the contribution of each.

No, seriously, ask anybody and they won’t give you a straight answer to this question. I had to find my own sweet spot, but my sweet spot is either too much or too few according to reviewers. What other people deem “normal” may be excessive or not excessive enough.

Now, the long elaboration. Note that this should not be interpreted as an absolute guide; instead, think of it as one of many voices out there trying to advise you. It all comes back to you and (mostly) your professor’s judgement.

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