July 3, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Placing citations, Use/Usage/Utilize

Posted in citations, usage, use, utilize at 5:01 pm by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Using Citations

I had an email dialogue this week about the use of citations, which inspired this week’s WLUT:

A reader writes:

I am generally confused about whether it is appropriate to use ‘in text’ citations (especially superscripted numbers) WITHIN a sentence or at the end of the sentence. I always prefer at the end of the sentence, because it looks “nicer” but it can be complicated, especially when there is a series of citations/facts to reference.

For example,

The University of Pittsburgh is a great institution (1), well liked by researchers (2), and growing (3).


The University of Pittsburgh is a great institution, well liked by researchers, and growing. (1-3)

Any initial thoughts?

DLS: I put the citation at the end of the sentence (after the period) if the reference refers to the whole sentence and after a clause if the reference just refers to that clause. In the case of multiple references, I’d follow the appropriate clauses.

Reader: Hmmm. I differ from you. I’d prefer it all to be at the end of the sentence. It get’s really messy when you have a long sentence, with multiple clauses…

DLS: Okay, but I’m right about this. I’ll get into it next week. You could put it at the end of the sentence if you separated the references (e.g., 6, 8, 9-12) but that’s not the preferred use. I haven’t looked this up so if you’re right, I’ll definitely do a mea culpa.

Reader: Great. I am torn because editors/publishers differ in this – frustrating….!

End of Dialogue.

I really was planning to do a mea culpa if I was wrong (although, to be honest, I was pretty sure of myself). By the way, “mea culpa” is a Latin phrase that means “my blame” or “my fault”.  Its use originated in the Catholic Mass. It is now generally used to indicate, “I am mistaken though my own fault.” But, no mea culpa for me today.

Endnotes are indicated by consecutively-numbered superscript arabic numbers in the main text after the punctuation of the phrase or clause the note refers to:

Some have argued that such an investigation would be fruitless.6

Scholars have argued for years that this claim has no basis,7 so we would do well to ignore it.

However, note references appear before dashes:

For years, scholars have failed to address this point8—a fact that suggests their cowardice more than their carelessness.

Do not use asterisks, daggers, or other symbols for note references. 1


1 Adapted from: <http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/557/05/>

Tip 2:  Use, Usage, and Utilize

“Use” is both a noun and a verb

Use and Usage

As a noun, “use” means utilization, function, custom, or the act or state of employing, putting into service. Usage refers to the way in which something is used or the rules surrounding something’s proper use.

The true value of a dictionary is in its frequent use.

English language usage is not entirely arbitrary although it seems so at times.

The two are not interchangeable. While “usage” is often used as synonymous with “use,” it is probably because the writer believes that the larger the word used, the more impressed the reader.  (See “utilize” below.)

Use and Utilize

As a verb, “use” means employ, put into service, avail oneself of, take, or consume. “Utilize” means use.

I’m going to use Markov Modeling to find the solution to my research question.

I’m going to utilize Markov Modeling to find the solution to my research question.

The two are interchangeable. While “utilize” is often used in formal writing, it is probably because the writer believes that the larger the word used, the more impressed the reader.  (See “usage” above.)

CAVEAT: By the way, “caveat” comes from the Latin “cavere” which means “let him beware.” In the sense used here “caveat” means a cautionary or modifying detail. So, CAVEAT: there is one way in which “utilize” has a different usage than “use.”

He can’t use the new cell phone.

He can’t utilize the new cell phone.

The former sentence means he doesn’t know how to use the phone; the latter sentence means he has no use for the phone.



  1. dlseltzer said,

    From alan:

    Whilst, amongst etc are still the predominant forms in British English, which is another good reason to avoid them.

  2. david said,

    I’ll be able to utilize a lot of these tips very affectively in my next paper.

  3. ann said,

    I will use your comments as fuel. I won’t need to utilize them.

  4. lancethruster said,

    Additional observations and another caveat –

    When needing to utilize use frequently within the text, my usage alternates according to whatever slight nuance I feel works best. This is not to sound sophisticated as much as avoiding needless repetition.

    My caveat on when to choose not to use “use” or “used” is when it can potentially be misinterpreted as “taking advantage of” in reference to another person (i.e. “I used Mary’s contacts” vs “my usage of Mary’s contacts” vs “I utilized Mary’s contacts”) and also when it might erroneously carry the connotation of “expended” rather than “employed” (i.e. “use your ammo sparingly” vs “we utilized our ammo to prop the lid open a crack”)

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