It Makes You Sic: How to Use “Sic” in Academic Writing

Despite the best efforts of proofreaders, some books are published with typographical errors. These are mostly minor errors that don’t affect clarity, but they can be annoying if you want to quote a source in your paper. Don’t panic, though, as this is where “sic” comes in.

What Does “Sic” Mean?

The literal meaning of the Latin term “sic” is “thus.” Nowadays, we mostly use this term alongside quotations that contain an error. For example:

According to Cameron (2013), “We must spell wurds [sic] correctly.”

Here, we have added “[sic]” to the quote because “wurds” (i.e., “words”) is spelled incorrectly. This shows the reader that the error is from the original text, not something we’ve added by mistake!

When Should I Use “Sic”?

The short answer is “not at all if you can avoid it.” With minor errors, the best approach is to correct the mistake using [square brackets] to indicate the edited text. We could present the above example, for instance, as:

According to Cameron (2013), “It’s important to spell [words] correctly.”

We use “sic” only when we want to reproduce the original text exactly, complete with errors. One example where we could do this is when quoting a source that use archaic spellings:

Wittgenstein (1953, p. 87) aimed “to shew [sic] the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.”

Another common use of “sic” is to poke fun at a writer by preserving (yet pointing out) their mistakes or use of poor grammar. But this wouldn’t be appropriate in academic writing.

How to Use “Sic”

Like all edits to quoted text, the general rule is to enclose “sic” in square brackets when inserting it into a quote, as shown above.

A more controversial issue is whether or not to italicize “[sic].” Many style guides recommend using italics for non-English words, including Latin terms. But “sic” is common enough that some consider it a part of English, meaning it shouldn’t be italicized (like with “e.g.” and “etc.”).

The best thing to do is check your school’s style guide for advice about italicizing Latin terms, as well as for tips on how to use “sic” in your work.

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