Copy and pasteSomething many students struggle with, referencing can be fiddly at first but something you should get the hang of with practice. This series of blog entries begins by giving an overview of referencing and the key points to remember before going on to explore the most common styles in some detail.

Number of Sources

For undergraduate work, for every 1,000 words you should aim to use around five sources. Some guides suggest a correlation between the number of sources used and the grade you’ll be able to achieve, with an essay using less sources scoring, on average, less well than essays which use more. This can certainly be true – the more you refer to other authors the more you show a developed understanding of your subject – but inversely an essay can be so packed full of references that it is unable to fully develop any argument.

Selecting Sources

Remember that the purpose of using sources in your essay is to develop and enhance your work. You may be making an argument and using another author’s work to support it, or you may be using one academic in order to rubbish another who you don’t agree with. Whenever you quote anything, check it’s relevant not only to the point you’re making but also to the aims set out in your introduction.

Using a Range of Sources

Don’t write an essay which only uses books as source material, yet don’t write one which relies on web-based sources entirely either. Your essay should contain sources from books and at least one journal article and web source, but may also refer to newspapers, magazines, interviews, press releases, Acts of Parliament, maps, images, blogs, youtube videos, song lyrics or even a piece of graffiti. Don’t overlook these because you may struggle to reference them correctly; see the guides which follow, search the internet or ask your lecturer or a librarian if you’re not sure. Similarly, if you have adopted a common sense approach to referencing a source you’re unfamiliar with, it is unlikely you will be penalised the first time you make any mistakes.

Quoting and Paraphrasing

Many arguments for and against using direct quotes and paraphrasing exist. Some suggest quoting long passages of text is akin to padding an essay (filling up space) whereas others might argue a direct quote is the best way to accurately reflect an author’s viewpoint. By contrast it might be suggested that when an author’s work is rephrased using your own words or paraphrased, their ideas become diluted or can be interpreted in ways never intended. Largely, choosing whether to use direct quotations or whether to paraphrase depends on personal preference and your judgement as to what is most appropriate. Try to do both in your essays and remember never to use any very long quotes. If you need to, you can insert […] in a quotation to show where you’ve omitted part of it.

Don’t Forget the Bibliography

As well as having intext references within your essay, you will also need to include a bibliography – a list of all the sources you’ve used in preparing for your essay, even ones which you didn’t use in the end. Furthermore, styles such as Harvard Referencing also require an additional references list, included at the end of your essay before the bibliography, and these list all the sources you’ve used in preparing for your essay (Ieaving out any you didn’t use).

Click here to view guides to some common referencing styles.

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