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I was editing a friend's manuscript and I noticed that they do something similar to what I have been told not to do when referring to previous work done in the field of interest being discussed. I would often refer to the citation i.e. the study and then go on to say what they found in the study For example, I would sometimes say:

Smith et al. (2020) modeled how the life history of species x was affected by environmental pressure, they concluded that increased pressure would also lead to earlier maturation.

I have been told by different advisors that this is considered "bad writing", in that it is generally preferred to refer to the work at the end of a sentence as opposed to the beginning. However, no-one has explained why this is the case. I passed this information onto my friend as well, but I am curious as to why?

An example of how my advisors edited the above sentence:

Modelling of the life history of species x showed that increased environmental pressure would also lead to earlier maturation (Smith et al. 2020)

I understand that technically the edited version sounds better, my question is why specifically it is considered bad form to mention your citation/reference at the beginning of the sentence?

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    Might need a more concrete example; yes, the one you have here is a bit clunky and not great writing, but it's hard to know whether that's just because it's an abstract example without any real meaning. – Bryan Krause Apr 20 at 16:44
  • @BryanKrause edited, hopefully this makes more sense now – watermineporcupine Apr 20 at 16:51
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    What I find strange in the quoted sentence is the lack of a conjunction after the comma. That is, I'd write "Smith et al. (2020) modeled how the life history of species x was affected by environmental pressure, and [...]" or "Smith et al. (2020) modeled how the life history of species x was affected by environmental pressure. They concluded [...]" – Massimo Ortolano Apr 20 at 16:54
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    "Smith et al. (2020) concluded that increased pressure would also lead to earlier maturation." conveys essentially the same information concisely. The "would also" is a bit clunky but maybe makes sense in context, otherwise "would also lead" could just be "leads". "Modeled" is probably too vague to be useful in describing their approach; if their approach is important, it should be discussed more explicitly. – Bryan Krause Apr 20 at 16:59
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    Have edited to clarify my question, it seems that in my attempt to be brief I completely messed up! – watermineporcupine Apr 20 at 18:06
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Neither alternative is good or bad.

I would put the citation first if the author or the history is important:

Darwin [On the Origin of Species, 1859] argued that natural selection ...

but the citation last if you just want to tell your reader where they can look to check your facts:

Darwin's finches continue to evolve [J. Wiener, The Beak of the Finch, 1995 (reprint)].

So it's a case by case choice. In this case I think your advisor is right.

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I see nothing wrong with putting the reference at the beginning, and in fact I see some situations where that placement would be necessary. Putting the reference at the beginning or the end makes no difference provided you agree with the statement you're citing. But if you disagree (or even if you're undecided), then putting the reference at the end doesn't work. For example, it's OK to write "Smith (2020) wrote that the moon is made of green cheese, but the evidence doesn't justify that assertion." It's not OK (in my opinion) to write "The moon is made of green cheese (Smith 2020), but the evidence doesn't justify that assertion."

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