Citation in Technical Writing: When It’s Needed and How to Cite Without Interrupting the Flow of Your Document

In most cases, you will be using the APA (American Psychological Association) Style for technical citation. If you are directly quoting a book or PDF, list the author, date, and page number in parentheses (paragraph numbers are used for online sources). Purdue OWL states that if you are referring to but not quoting a source, put the author and year of publication in parentheses. APA also commonly uses a reference page, which is a separate page that lists the sources you used. Most technical documents do not require a reference page. Use resources such as Purdue OWL for accurate information on how to cite using the APA Style.

When and How to Use Citation

When should you use citations in a technical document? This is a trick question because all documents require some sort of citation. Technical writers are constantly researching and learning about new topics, and therefore pull from many different sources. While you do not need citations for your own original ideas, the sources you use will need to be cited. When in doubt, it is always better to cite.

However, not all documents need to be cited in the same way. For some documents (such as this blog), it may be inappropriate to include standard in-text citations. Instead, use what BCcampus calls “signal phrases.” In a signal phrase, you cite the title or author (or both) in the introductory phrase. It acknowledges that the information is not your own but comes from another source. The following example uses a signal phrase:

According to the MATC Group blog “Citation in Technical Writing,” you will be using the APA style…

Compare this to the next example, which uses standard in-text citation:

In most cases, you will be using the APA style of technical citation (Murphy, 2021, p. 1). If you are ….

As you see, in-text citations can interrupt the flow of the document. It breaks the sentences up, making the reader pause between sentences. Using signal phrases instead allows you to give credit to sources without interrupting the flow of your document. In addition, signal phrases are an excellent option for documents like blogs or manuals, where inserting a parenthesis would look awkward. The kind of document you are writing will dictate whether you can include standard in-text citations. However, you can incorporate signal phrases in any technical document.


Technical writers are constantly researching topics and pulling from new sources during the writing process. Therefore, it is paramount that they know how to cite properly. Technical writing commonly uses the APA style of citation. Depending on the document you are writing, you can use standard in-text citations, signal phrases, or both of these options. Signal phrases are excellent when you want to avoid disrupting the flow of your document. Either way, becoming familiar with APA citations is a must for avoiding plagiarism and properly incorporating outside sources into your technical documents.

Do you need technical writers but don’t want to hire full-time staff? MATC Group can help! Contact us to learn how our writers can augment your staff and save you both time and money.


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