Why I Never Cite Sources Anymore

Why an ex-PhD researcher stopped writing like a scholar

e“A book with a magnifying glass on top of it, next to a pen, and globes on a desk in Cianorte” by João Silas on Unsplash

I used to measure the success of my writing by how many sources would be in the bibliography. I was a thorough scholar who enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, spending hours in the library or endlessly searching on google scholar for the *perfect* citation to put in a footnote.

Those days are long gone.

Now, if you’ll notice, I hardly ever cite sources and rarely do I include hypertext links to support my ideas with external evidence. Occasionally I will let my readers know which books and thinkers have influenced me. But I actually make a conscious effort to not include references to other sources in my writings.

Why? It’s not that I lost faith in the merits of evidence-based thinking. It’s not that I don’t do research anymore.

Rather, it’s about how I envision myself connecting to the reader.

I am not a journalist. I am no longer a practicing scholar. I am not a scientist. What am I?

I am an essayist. And although my essays are written in prose, I really see them as a kind of poetry. A way to tell stories and create narratives. Which is merely to say, they are about connecting to the human experience, capturing my own inner life and that of others in every detail I can muster and connecting it to the broader world of ideas, culture, and people.

For my Master’s degree, I was obsessed with the philosophical tradition of phenomenology, specifically the work of Martin Heidegger, who I wrote my thesis on. Phenomenology is simply the study of experience. But it involves a certain technique called bracketing. What you want to do is attempt to bracket all assumptions and expectations about your experience and try to capture the experience as it is really happening to you. You want to capture the experience in and of itself and not just the filter your brain applies to the experience to make sense of it.

But phenomenology is also a study of the filters, the ways in which our experience is shaped by unconscious biases, filters, beliefs, concepts, narratives, etc., etc. In some respects the process of bracketing is merely an ideal and not actually possible in practice, because the act of bracketing itself must be bracketed, and we can never truly escape. But we can be obsessive in our attention to detail. And that’s how I aim to write.

I don’t regret all those years spent writing like a scholar. They taught me many skills and made me a better thinker and thus a better writer. But now I see my writing as more akin to an art form, which is merely to say I don’t do it merely to inform people of facts or persuade them to believe what I am saying, but rather, I do it to connect with them as fellow humans, to reach deep down into their minds and say “Hello. I see you. I am with you. I love you.”

Rachel Anne Williams

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Author & writer, ex-academic philosopher. Author of Transgressive: A Trans Woman on Gender, Feminism, and Politics with @JKPBooks — Out now!