A business plan must be grounded in solid research that is verifiable by the lenders and investors who will read it. Additionally, you’ll often use the process of writing the business plan as a tool to help you better understand your own business and product. Citing your sources is critical to establishing your credibility and for remembering how you arrived at the conclusions and figures you present in your plan.
Select reputable sources for your research. Whenever possible, use government agencies, universities, authoritative books and articles, and primary sources such as interviews with experts or direct research of your customers. Websites you use should end in .gov, .edu or occasionally .org if the organization is well respected. If you’re forced to get information from sources of questionable reliability, make sure you specify in the text of your plan that the information is an estimate at best. It's generally not a good idea to use Wikipedia as a source, so investigate the citations used on the Wikipedia article. Unless the work is considered a business classic, avoid sources over 10 years old.
Include summaries of the raw data of your research. When you’ve conducted customer research or done an analysis on market trends, include a summary of your raw data in the appendices of your business plan, and inform your audience how they can access the full raw data.
Pick an academic citation style appropriate to your business. APA style tends to be preferred for technical and scientific presentations, MLA for less technical subjects and various specific legal citation styles for law or government practices. Each style you choose will require that you list the author, title, copyright date, publisher and city, issue number, volume, page number and URL if applicable, so be sure to keep track of this information during your research.
Format citations correctly. Place citations in the bibliography section of your business plan and be sure to format them consistently. For example, a book in MLA style would be cited as follows: Ferguson, Niall. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. New York: Penguin Press, 2009. Cite a website following APA style, as follows: Hammock, Ann. (2009, December 30). The future of brain-controlled devices. CNN.com. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/12/30/brain.controlled.computers/index.html. In the text of your plan, refer to your cited sources by referencing the author or article title, such as "Michael Porter, in his 2008 article "The Seven Things That Surprise New CEOs," claims..."
Be consistent. Which style you choose is a matter of preference rather than a specific prescription, but once you’ve chosen it be sure to maintain it throughout your business plan. If possible, maintain it for all the documentation that you’ll be presenting to your lender or investor.