6.1 Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is IEEE Style and why do I need to use it?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Style is one of many systems for referencing (citing and documenting) sources that you have quoted, paraphrased, or summarized in your documents or presentations. Different disciplines use different styles, as they suit the needs of their users. For example,

  • Engineering generally uses IEEE or APA Style
  • Social Sciences generally use APA
  • Humanities disciplines often use MLA or Chicago Style
  • The Sciences generally use CSE.

IEEE is the generally accepted format for writing research papers and reports in technical fields, particularly in computer science. You should always confirm with your instructors which format they expect you to use.

In your assignments and Work Term Reports, you often have to gather information, data, illustrations, theories, interpretations and facts about your assigned topic. These sources often provide the evidence or theoretical framework you need to support and develop your ideas. You must cite information and images that you retrieved from other sources to show that you have done good quality research, and to give credit for the ideas to the original author. Failing to cite the source—whether quoted, paraphrased or summarized—is plagiarism. Citing your sources correctly has the following benefits:

  • Provides evidence you need to support your claims and validate ideas
  • Shows you have done significant reading and research on your topic, and therefore have a credible level of authority to write or speak on this topic
  • Shows that you can synthesize and incorporate information into your own work, combining it with your own ideas; the citations distinguish YOUR ideas from those of your sources
  • Allows the reader to find those sources and do further reading
  • Allows you to maintain academic integrity (avoid plagiarizing).

2. How do I cite and reference sources properly?

Citing and referencing sources is a two-part process: there is an in-text marker that directs the reader to the complete bibliographical reference at the end of the document. Both elements are essential and missing one or the other can result in plagiarism. This cross-referencing system is made up of the following two elements:

  1. In-Text Citations:  when you (a) first refer to a source, (b) quote, paraphrase or summarize a source, or (c) use data or graphics from a source, you must place an in-text citation referring to that source within paragraph. The citation takes the form of a number in a square bracket [1] typed inline with your sentence text (generally not super-scripted). Citations are numbered in chronological order as they appear in your paper. Thus, the first source that you site is [1]. The second source is [2], etc. Once a source is given a number, it always retains that number. So if you cite the first source later on in your paper, it is still (and always) cited as [1] throughout your paper.
  2. References List:  include a numbered list of all the sources you have cited in your paper, documented properly in IEEE style, at the end of your paper. A reader familiar with academic conventions will be able to tell what kinds of sources you are referencing, and will be able to find the source based on the information included.

3. In-Text Citations – Where do they go?

It can be tricky to know exactly where to place the in-text citation in your sentence. Generally, the default position for a citation is at the end of the sentence, unless placing it there would create confusion. For example, where should the citation go in the following sentence?

Smith claims that “insert a quotation here,” but other scientists argue that her conclusions are flawed.

If you place the citation for Smith at the end of the sentence, you are saying that Smith acknowledges that many scientists think her conclusions are flawed. That wouldn’t make sense. You would have to cite like this:

Smith claims that “insert a quotation here” [1], but other scientists [2]-[5] argue that her conclusions are flawed.

The citation can be put in several places:

  • At the end of the sentence, if the entire sentence is a quotation, paraphrase, or summary of the source’s idea: Chan asserts ideas X and Y, and he gives additional examples to illustrate them [3].
  • Directly after the name of the source: Chan [1] claims…
  • Directly after the quotation: Chan asserts that “insert quotation here” [2], and carry on with your idea (your analysis of Chan’s assertion).
  • After referring to a source or an idea from a source:
    • This theory was first put forward in a 1996 study [4].
    • Several recent studies [3], [5], [9]-[12] have suggested that…

NOTE: Your citation should NOT go inside the quotation marks; it is not part of the quotation. However, punctuation must be placed AFTER the citation, as that citation is part of that sentence (or clause), not part of the next sentence.  For example

Author X claims “this idea is a quotation” [1]. The next sentence starts here…

Author X claims “this ideas is a quotation” [1], and I add my interpretation after.

Occasionally, some writers use IEEE citations like this (but I don’t recommend it for your university assignments or Co-op Work Term Reports):

As [1] and [5] have shown, quantum theory has many practical applications in real world settings. [2] disagrees, however, and argues that ….

This is why you must put the period AFTER the citation when a sentence ends with a citation. A citation that comes AFTER the period technically belongs to the next sentence, as [2] does in the preceding example.

4. What about page numbers for quotations?

When citing a quotation from a print source, your citation should indicate the page where that quotation can be found:

[2, p.7]. or, if referring to several consecutive page [2, pp. 7-12]

If the source is from the Internet or does not have pagination, you don’t have to indicate page numbers (or paragraph numbers).

When citing equations, figures, appendices and such, use the same format you use for citing the page number:

[3, eq. (2)]

[3, Fig. 7.2]

[3, Appendix B]

If you create your own visual (table or graph) based on the data from a source, then your citation should refer to the source. You might include a note such as

… figure data adapted from [3].

5. Do I need to keep citing the source every time I refer to it?

If you are discussing the ideas in a source at length (for example, in a summary), you do not need to cite every consecutive sentence. Cite the first time you mention the source. As long the following sentences clearly indicate that the ideas come from the same source—for example, you are using signal phrases, such as “the author further clarifies the problem by…”—you do not need to keep citing.

If you stop using signal phrases, be sure to include a citation. If you introduce material from another source or add your own analysis between references to that source, you will have to re-cite the source when you refer to it again. Always make sure your reader knows which ideas come from a source, and which come from you, and when you shift from one to the other. If in doubt, cite.

6. What if a source has more than one author?

If the source you are citing has one or two authors, use their names in your signal phrase:

  • Brady [5] argues that ….
  • Mehta and Barth’s study [6] demonstrates that ….

If the source has three or more authors, use the name of the lead author, followed by et al., the Latin term meaning “and the others.” Like all Latin words, et al. should be italicized:

  • Isaacson et al., in their study on fluid dynamics, found that ….

NOTE: in your Reference at the end of your paper, it is a courtesy to list the names of ALL the authors who contributed to the source (rather than using et al.). However, if there are 6 or more authors, it is acceptable to use et al. in your reference list.

7. How do I figure out what the title of an academic journal is?

 Figure 6.1.1 shows a typical .pdf file of a journal article. It will help you determine the various elements of an academic article that must be included in your reference. Note the difference between the database company (such as Elsevier, EbscoHost, JSTOR, etc) and the name of the journal.

An academic article will have information about the database, title, volume, issue, date, pages, authors, doi, and summary
Figure 6.1.1 Elements of an Academic Article.

8. How do I set up my References list?

 Different citation styles use various terms to introduce their list of references, for example, Bibliography or Works Cited. IEEE style uses the term References, or sometimes Cited References to distinguish from General References (of works that have helped to form the author’s ideas, but have not been cited in the document).

At the end of your paper, add a list of all the sources you have cited in your paper, in the order you have cited them—that is, in numerical order (not in alphabetical order). Each reference must provide thorough and complete documentation so that readers can identify the kind of source, and retrieve it if they want to read it. Section 6.2 shows the formats for many of the different kinds of sources you will likely use in your papers and projects. It is important to use the correct conventions for each type of source, as readers familiar with academic conventions will expect this, and they will be able to tell what kinds of sources you are referencing based on what information is included and how it is formatted. If you use conventions incorrectly (such as failing to italicize or use quotation marks around titles to indicate what kind of source it is), you can confuse and mislead your readers.

Format Guidelines for Setting up a REFERENCES List

Here are some general formatting guidelines for setting up your references list:

  • Create a bold heading called References, aligned with the left margin. If you are using headings, make this heading consistent with other first level headings in your document.
  • The square-bracketed numbered references should be flush with the left margin, and should form a column of their own, with the text of the references indented so the numbers are easy for the reader to see (use the “hanging indent” function to format this, or use a table with invisible grid lines).
  • Give all authors’ names (up to five), but only use the first initial. Don’t invert the order. Separate names with commas, and include the word “and” before the last author.
  • Capitalize only the first word (and the first word after a colon, as well as proper nouns) in titles of articles within journals, magazines and newspapers, chapters in books, conference papers, and reports. Only use ALL CAPS for acronyms.
  • Capitalize the first letter of all main words in the titles of books, journals, magazines and newspapers.
  • Add a space between references if you single space each reference.

If you use citation software (such as Zotero, Endnote, or Mendeley) to generate a list of references, be sure to review the references it generates for any errors. These programs are not foolproof, and it is up to you to make sure your references conform to IEEE conventions. For example, sometimes the auto-generator will give a title in ALL CAPS or the author’s full first name. You will have to revise this. They usually do not give DOIs; you may have to add these.

Sample References List

The sample References list below presents shows the preferred formatting.  Note the hanging indent that makes the numbers on the left stand out in a highly readable format.


[1] M. Ogot and G. Kremer, Engineering Design: A Practical Guide, Pittsburgh: Togo Press, 2004.
[2] A. B. Brown, P. D. Adams and J. A. Smith, “Improved procedure for error detection,” Can. J. of Elec. Engineers, vol. 9, pp. 545-588, Nov. 1979.
[3] S. McCahan, P. Anderson, M. Kortschot, P. E. Weiss, and K. A. Woodhouse, “Working in Teams,” in Designing Engineers:  An Introductory Text, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2015, pp. 219-260.
[4] “IEEE Style: A guide to referencing style for Murdoch University students and staff,” Murdoch University Library, 6 July, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://libguides.murdoch.edu.au/IEEE


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Technical Writing Essentials Copyright © 2019 by Suzan Last is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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