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The review of literature is mandatory for generating an authentic research idea. Citing the literature that you consulted for your topic of research is yet another prerequisite to cover while scripting your research. In a grant application, the literature citation section works as a referencing list for the reviewers. It is often taken for granted by many research writers. This is because they are usually new in the field of research. They do not know the actual purpose, rules, and the potential errors of the literature citation section. So, this article exclusively addresses those research writers who are new to this field.

Purpose of Citing the Literature

To be able to cite responsibly, you first have to know the basic reasons for citing the relevant literature. The rationales behind referencing are:

Validation of Your Research

Citing serves as a backbone for your research idea and its potential outcomes. It shows the results of sampling, calculations, and evaluations that are relevant to your topic in light of previously conducted researches found in the literature (Sadaf & Patricia, 2010). It justifies your proposed aims, techniques, and outcomes.  Hence, validating your point of view with the support of literature makes your grant proposal stronger.

A Manifestation of Your Command on the Literature

When you cite, your literature surfing skills are put to the test. The reviewers scrutinize each grant application by evaluating the writer’s grip on the literature. Therefore, the literature citation serves as a power-show of your competence in the literature search.

Differentiation of Your Work from Others

Without citation, the literature analysis data will get mixed in yours. Your reviewers will not be able to differentiate between the consulted data and the new one. Hence, literature citation is necessary for separating the background research analysis from your research.

Ethical Consideration

Claiming someone else’s research work as yours is known as plagiarism and is considered a crime in the field of research. Acknowledging the research work conducted by others. If you do not quote properly, it will cause a major ethical breach in your research. Your application will be rejected without proper citation.

Basic Principles of Literature Citation

Several definite principles are there to govern the literature citation section of your grant application. These are:

  • All the referred literature in the text should be mentioned in the literature citation section.
  • All authors’ last names should be mentioned in alphabetical order as in the literature.
  • Use ‘et al’ when there are too many authors for a citation.
  • Cite the title of research and the name of the journal clearly from which it was extracted.
  • Mention the volume and page numbers along with the publication year while citing the literature.
  • For further facilitation in the citation format, find the instructions for authors given on the website of the National Institutes of Health. (Nicoll et al., 2018)

Frequent Mistakes Observed in the Literature Citation Section

The literature citation is the main differentiating feature that makes your scripture different from other pieces of writing. It raises the level of your publication from a normal to an authentic one. Similarly, you have to be extra cautious while writing a research grant application, as well. Scripting an error-free citation section should be the topmost priority of any research writer. Commonly seen errors in the literature citation section of most of the applications are:

Spelling Error

This is one of the commonest mistakes found in the citation. The writers are in a hurry to cite the literature and do not review this section thoroughly. This results in a major blunder in the form of misspelling. The information provided in your reference linked is inaccessible if you cite the author’s name with wrong spellings.

Rectification Rules

Any sorts of writing typos are unacceptable in research writing. Writing and typing mistakes can only be rectified via continuous review of whatever you are scripting. Another basic way to avoid such type of gross error is to practice writing and typing. The more you write, the better.

Missing Information

Another error in the citation is missing the names of authors, the relevant volume number, or title of the journal from which reference information was extracted. This incomplete referencing is of no use to the reviewers, nor does it fully acknowledge the rightful owners. This can be the cause of concern for the reviewers as improper citation may breach the code of conduct.

Rectification Rules

While citing references in the text, one has to be very cautious and detail-oriented (Jason, Karim & Robert, 2013). Similarly, the literature citation section needs a full description of the title of the journal and its volume along with the issue number. Any credible online literature should be accompanied by its respective online journal links. All these are essentials of the citation section and should be fulfilled.

Sequencing Error via Automatic Extractors

Nowadays, researchers can easily extract literature from the internet. Several databases provide direct access to the literature. The known popular databases that are freely accessible are PubMed, MedlinePlus, Embase & PsycInfo (Xiaochun & Cheng, 2016). These electronic portals of literature have a special feature of automatic citation extraction. The citation can be extracted in any of the specified referencing styles. But, these extracted references usually have sequencing errors. There is no alphabetical arrangement of authors’ names and lack proper online links. Hence, being dependent on these citation extractors can risk your application approval.

Rectification Rules

The database extractors surely save your time but always prefer reviewing each citation after each extraction. This will ensure that the cited author names are properly sequenced in alphabetical order, and the prescribed pattern of citation is followed.

Mismatched Referencing

It is frequently seen in many of the rejected applications that the cited references do not match with the referred content or do so partially. It means that the writers sometimes misinterpret the actual meaning of the literature and use them as a reference in their research. The rising trend of the sources not complementing the writer’s statements shows that many of these writers are not competent enough to correctly grasp the literature to start with. (Mertens & Baethge, 2011)

Rectification Rules

To avoid this error, the rule of thumb is to regularly read research articles to raise your level of comprehension. Exercising your mind through frequent reading will increase your knowledge-grasping ability. Only then you will be able to interpret the actual meaning of the research analysis found in the literature databases.

Disorganized Reference List

Some of the applications have a very low level of organization and esthetics. Their reference list is jammed packed with little spacing in between. Furthermore, they lack numbering of citations according to the text. This gives this section a crowded look. The reviewers will get dejected from the start of this section. Your overall impression of the application can be deeply compromised by this last section of the application.

Rectification Rules

This mistake can be corrected by following these guidelines:

  • All the references should be numbered according to the citation in the text.
  • The enlisted references should have one lined spacing in between.
  • The titles of research and journal should be written in italics.

Irrelevant References

Then there are those research writers who have the habit of giving unnecessary references. This is another major error that can compromise your impression of literature searching skills in the minds of reviewers. Everyone knows that the excess of anything is bad. The writers with the habit of excessive irrelevant cite are the worst. They belittle their research ideas under the mountains of other author’s references.

Rectification Rules

The literature databases are full of all sorts of information. You will find loads of data relating to your research question, but not to a full extent. This type of data is indirectly relevant and should be avoided for reference in your application. The key to filter such type of referencing error is to regain the equilibrium. This type of balance is achieved by observing these guidelines:

  • Cite those references that are directly relevant to your aims and objectives.
  • Dismiss all those references that are partially affecting your research outcomes.
  • If the relevant references are too many, then filter out further from them.

Lack of Contradictory Literature Referencing

Staying objective in your research application is yet another challenge for the research writers. Most of the writers are unable to pass it. They are unable to stay neutral throughout the application. They only cite the references that support their research and leave out all the reference material that contradicts their research outcome. Consequently, the literature citation section is filled with the references favoring their research idea. It gives a one-sided story impression to the reviewers who like the taste of objectivity within each application.

Rectification Rules

The reviewers always search for alternative references in your research proposal. They like the way you justify your research in front of them to prove your point. For a new investigator, it is rather difficult to stay away from biased opinions favoring your outcomes. There are two basic steps to gain neutrality in your research so that your literature citation section won’t look biased. These guidelines will help you to surpass the objectivity challenge in your research:

  • Acknowledge and give reference to the literature that contradicts your research outcomes.
  • Justify your research with the help of references that support your outcomes.


Documenting the consulted literature is an important part of constructing your research proposal. These references are mentioned inside the text briefly and in a detailed form in a separate literature citation section at the end. Literature citation is scrutinized two times, unlike the other sections of your application. Firstly, it is checked by the ethical committee and then by the reviewers’ panel. The ethical committee makes sure that all the consulted literature mentioned in your article is properly acknowledged to their original authors in the form of a literature citation. The reviewers further testify the literature citation section and in-text citation to evaluate the credibility of the proposed research idea. Making errors in this section is very dangerous for your application and your career, as well. So, beware!


  1. Aslam, S. & Emmanuel, P. (2010, January). Formulating a Researchable Question: A Critical Step for Facilitating Good Clinical Research. Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS, 31(1), 47–50.
  2. Amarasekara, S., Chinn, P.L., Conklin, J.L., McCarty, M., Nicoll, L.H. & Oermann, M.H. (2018, March). Guidance Provided to Authors on Citing and Formatting References in Nursing Journals. Journal for Nurses in Professional Development34(2), 54–59.
  3. Alavi, K., Milner, R.J. & Wiseman, J.T. (2013, December). Grant Writing 101. Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery26(4), 228–231.
  4. Qiu, X. & Wang, C. (2016). Literature Searches in the Conduct of Systematic Reviews and Evaluations. Shanghai Archives of Psychiatry, 28(3), 154–159.
  5. Baethge, C. & Mertens, S. (2011, August). The Virtues of Correct Citation: Careful Referencing is Important but is Often Neglected/Even in Peer Reviewed Articles. Deutsches Arzteblatt International108(33), 550–552.

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