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I4: Referencing

The most updated lab writing instructional modules are available:

Learning Objectives

This module is designed to assist engineering instructors in strengthening lab instruction materials so that students should be able to:

  1. Evaluate the credibility of references (secondary sources) to use them properly in the lab report.
  2. Identify typical citation and referencing styles in engineering literature.
  3. Describe why the preferred citation/referencing styles (or conventions) in engineering are different from other disciplines, such as humanities and social sciences.

What are the Credible References (Secondary Sources) When Writing Engineering Lab Reports?

The audience always expects the information writers are stating is actually true and closely related to the lab topics. Instructors need to introduce examples of credible sources typically accepted in the discipline.

Credible <—— ——> Unreliable
Sources Scholarly articles from peer-reviewed journals/conferences. Books, Course webs by engineering instructors. Webpages from industries. The public editable internet database or pool.
Pros Most updated technical information. Accurate technical information. Easy to understand. Easy to understand.
Cons Topics can be too specific. Topics can be too specific. Information can be biased. Anyone can update.
Examples IEEE Journals, ASME Journals, etc. Textbook,, etc. Wiki,, etc.

What is the Difference Between Citation and Reference?

Writers need to acknowledge any works from others by including a citation in the body of text and its corresponding literature reference in the Reference section of the report.

Does the Technical Audience Care About Citation and Referencing?

First, the audience wants to distinguish your ideas/works and others. Second, they want to trace the references to check their credibility, evaluate their appropriateness to the report contents, and conduct additional reading.

What are the Differences Among Popular Citation Conventions Used in College Writing?

IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics) APA (American Psychological Association) MLA (Modern Language Association)
Typical Users Electrical Engineering Social Sciences Humanities
May Be Used In Engineering Labs Science Labs ENGL 101 Courses
Citation Style Examples “The theory was first put forward in 1923 [1]” “Einstein [1] has argued…” “The theory was first put forward in 1923 (Einstein 1923).” “Einstein (1923) has argued…” “The theory was first put forward in 1987 (Einstein 448).” “Einstein (448) has argued…
Referencing Style [1] A. Einstein, “The Theory of the Affine Field,” Nature, vol. 112, pp. 448–449, 1923. Einstein, A. (1923). The Theory of the Affine Field. Nature, 112, 448–449. Einstein, Albert. “The Theory of the Affine Field.” Nature, 112 (1923): 448–449. Print.
Characteristics Citations are numbered. Author name and the published year are valued. Author name and the location (page number) of work used by the author are valued.

Frequent Questions From the Students and the Answers

  1. Do I have to cite all fundamental scientific knowledge such as Newton’s laws?
    • Mostly no, because they may not influence your work directly. If your lab work is about Newton’s laws, yes.
  2. I used a lot of materials from the instructor’s lab handouts. Do I need to cite it?
    • Mostly no, because the lab instructor cannot be treated as others in the context of lab report writing.
  3. Citing other works in the conclusion section is not desired. Why?
    • The conclusion is your wrap up of the report to restate the main points; therefore, introducing other works in the conclusion is not desired.

Common Mistakes by Students

  • Pick secondary sources from inappropriate places such as,, etc., which anyone can update.
  • Pick inappropriate technical information from credible sources such as peer-reviewed technical journal papers. For example, technical information about polymer crystallinity from a journal paper is used when interpreting lab data about crystalline metals.


  1. University of Pittsburg University Library System Course and Subject Guides, “Citation Styles: APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, IEEE: Home,”