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In my master’s thesis in inorganic characterization, I have a theory chapter about X-ray (powder) diffraction. This technique is almost 100 years old, and have been described in a vast number of books, articles, and web-pages.

I could easily take any book about X-ray diffraction and just cite that book, but I don’t want to keep citing the same book every four sentences for basic knowledge. So I was thinking that something like the following might be suited:

The principles of X-ray diffraction are described in a number of books [1-4], articles [5-9], and web-pages [10-13]. The theory presented in this section is just a brief summary of what one might encounter in published works, such as those cited above.

This way I give some sources of the principles of X-ray diffraction, and I explain that what I present could be found in the cited sources. Thus, I don’t need to cite anything in-text, and the reading is easier.

Is this approach acceptable?

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The real question is whether you need to cite anything at all. In your field, if this information is considered undergraduate-level material that every practitioner should be familiar with, then you can simply assume that all readers will be able to reference their favorite textbook if they care, and launch right into the relevant review.

If you are speaking to an audience that may not be so familiar, however, you definitely do need to cite. You don't need to put in lots of citations, however: you can simply say that this is well-established information and give one citation to a good textbook:

The principles of X-ray diffraction are well-known (see, e.g., [textbook]).

For example, when I am writing to a computer science audience and need to say something about the NP-completeness of constraint satisfaction, I would probably not include a citation, since this is such a foundational concept to the field at this point. When I write to a biology audience about the same problem, however, I explicitly note that these are long-established facts and include citations to basic textbooks.

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  • Good answer. I'd recommend going for a more specialized book than a textbook, though. And I'd have a chat with fellow students/supervisors/look at recent theses what the local culture says about the level of basics that should be discussed. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jan 22 '15 at 11:45
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X-ray diffraction is such a common technique that you do not need to cite sources. At most I would cite a single review of the technique once at the beginning of your chapter. If you want to give a historical perspective, you could either cite a historically-oriented review of the technique, or mention+cite important discoveries made with the technique (e.g. the DNA double helix).

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