Can You Cite Personal Life Experience?
I am writing a paper for graduate school and would like to cite something I have specialized knowledge about because of previous academic and work experience. I no longer remember exactly where I learned it or who I learned it from, but I am sure that I am correct. Do I really have look up everything again? I’m not some world-famous scholar or anything, but I feel like my degree and life experience should count for something. Can I cite myself or my degree in my paper?
—Foggy in Fresno
Unfortunately, personal experience is not something you can cite in an academic paper. First, let’s think about this question in terms of the purpose of the reference list, which is retrievability of the source for the reader. With personal experience, there is nothing for the reader to retrieve—ergo, no citation. Likewise, if you have other nonretrievable sources (personal communications, like personal e-mail and phone calls), these do not get reference list entries either (although they do receive in-text citations, because they involve other people than just yourself).
That brings us to a second point, though: the purpose of citation in academic writing. Consider for a moment the way published authors provide citations in their articles for so many facts that are doubtless part of their personal experience and knowledge by now. They provide sources not because their experience counts for nothing but because part of academic writing is demonstrating that you understand the foundation of knowledge on which your contributions stand. Academic writing is also about weaving your contributions together with what came before into the fabric of scientific thought, for the sake of those who will come after you. Looking up the sources also allows you to verify your facts against the most up-to-date information.
So, in general, you should provide sources for specialized facts and knowledge. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t speak from personal experience or opinion in your writing. In most every paper authors should be coming to their own conclusions about the data or previous research. And certainly there are contexts (such as, say, a personal response or reflection paper) in which drawing upon your own experiences and knowledge is even encouraged.
I hope this helps clarify the “whys” of citation in academic writing!