Answered By: APUS Librarians
Last Updated: May 15, 2023     Views: 72

When you have a mysterious citation that you just can't find referenced anywhere else, it can be a red flag. 

If you found the reference on a non-scholarly web page or social media, for example, it's possible that the person who wrote the content made a mistake when they listed their sources.  If they typed in the wrong author, date or title, for example, that could explain why you're having problems finding it.

Or, if you found the reference through an AI tool like ChatGPT, the reference could even be fake!  Read more about how generative AI can provide misleading references:  Why does ChatGPT generate fake references?

What can you do?

It helps to know what kind of source it is that you're looking for.  Check here for tips, if you're not sure: How can I tell what kind of citation I have?

It may take a few tries to get at the correct source when you have incorrect information, but you can:

  • Google the title. 
    • If it is an article title, try searching first for the article title. If that doesn't work, try Googling the journal title, then browse or search the journal's website.  Sometimes, you will need to find the "archive" link and click to the year/volume/issue that you believe the article was published in.  
  • If the title brings no results - or not an exact match for the source you're looking for - try adding the name of one or more authors to the search box and relaunch the search.
  • If you still have no luck, try searching for just the key terms in the title, with the authors' names.  Add the date, or a journal title (if it's an article) - any other pieces of information that might help pinpoint the source  you're looing for.

Once you've found a source that seems like the one you need, take a moment to scan it for the correct citation information. Then you can check our library for the full text. These FAQs may help:

If none of those search strategies turn up the source you're looking for, it may be that it simply doesn't exist.  The librarians can help you double-check!

How to avoid problematic references:

First, if you rely on scholarly sources when doing research, you can feel sure that the information (including references) that you see there are accurate.  Learn how to find scholarly sources in our library.

Importantly,  avoid relying on AI tools to do research or write. While they may seem like a way to save time, the risks outweigh the benefit:

  • Fake references can lead you down a time-wasting rabbit-hole.
  • AI search tools can't always tell the difference between accurate and fake information.
  • Turnitin, which is used in AMU and APU classrooms, can detect AI-generated text and flag it as plagiarism.


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