Documentation in research is critical because it allows people reading a finished work to trace points and information back to their original sources and to discern what ideas belong solely to the author. This is particularly important for individuals active in similar fields, both for their future research and for engagement in constructive mutual criticism.
In addition to creating a map for fellow researchers to follow, documentation is also the primary method through which writers acknowledge their borrowing or citing the works of others. Scholarly and scientific traditions are built upon the open sharing of information, concepts and insights, making it imperative that intellectual debts are properly identified. This is why methods for documentation are always rigidly formalized, though characteristics and requirements may vary depending on the specific citation style.
In legal terms, proper documentation also helps writers avoid such transgressions as plagiarism and theft of intellectual property. The dangers of committing these acts has unfortunately grown larger, particularly due to the Internet, where ever more information seems freely available, often with little to no attribution. Ultimately, in facing these challenges, writers must become increasingly efficient at digesting information, keeping careful notes identifying sources, and in expressing borrowed concepts in their own words, not just cut and pasted quotations.