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The Dos and Dont's of Referencing

The Dos and Dont’s of Referencing

Compiling a reference list is few people’s favourite activity. Nevertheless, referencing is an academic constant and one of the utmost importance; for it serves as a blueprint for the reader to determine the scholarly foundations of the work in question. Accordingly, you should not treat referencing as an after-thought; instead, you should see it as commanding equal terms with the text body. This is certainly how your evaluator will see it. No first-rate essay ever had improperly formatted, inadequate or otherwise shoddy referencing. Of course, the rather mechanical nature of referencing makes it tempting to leave the task off until the last moment; but this would be an ill-disciplined approach. The first rule of referencing, therefore, is to do it concurrently with the essay itself. It is an unavoidable fact that referencing can be tedious and repetitive. For this reason, it is best practice to break down the monotony into bite-sized pieces thereby diffusing the repetitiveness. Insert the references and compile the bibliography as you go. This will save you undesirable chore of having to go over your entire work at the end and retrofit the references. Furthermore, this way, when you finish writing the essay, the work is truly complete. This gives the essay-writing process more of a psychological linearity, one that will lighten the mental load of academic composition.  

Now that you have got into the discipline of referencing as you write, you need to be sure you are doing so correctly. When we speak of scholarly referencing we are broadly referring to three specific things: firstly, the citation; secondly, the reference; thirdly, the bibliography. Citation denotes abridged (or shortened) extracts from other texts. For instance, George Orwell observed that “political writing” is “designed to make lies sound truthful”. Here, we have cited Orwell; the text enclosed in speech marks is the citation. The reference for this citation, if we are using Harvard style referencing, would be (Orwell, 1946: 33), which denotes the author’s name, the year of publication, and the page number. In full, the citation would be formatted like this: George Orwell observed that “political writing” is “designed to make lies sound truthful” (Orwell, 1946: 33). In the bibliography we would reference this citation thus: Orwell, G., 1946. Politics and the English Language. London: Penguin. Every time you cite another author, even if you do not do so verbatim, you need to acknowledge this intellectual debt in the above manner. If you fail to so acknowledge, you may be perceived as trying to palm off somebody else’s ideas as your own. Even if the missed acknowledgment is an innocent mistake, this kind of lapse may be interpreted as plagiarism: best to preclude this avoidable error by rigorous referencing in the first instance.

The above example utilised Harvard style referencing which is by no means exclusive. Indeed, there are numerous referencing formats, such as Chicago style, OSCOLA, MLA and many others; these can be subject, department or even teacher specific. You need to verify the correct system for the given essay. Do not take the one style for granted. Note that different modules on the same course may even require distinct referencing styles. Make sure you get hold of the relevant style guides. These are all widely available online for free. This is important because variant referencing styles can be notably different. Using the wrong style, moreover, can cost you vital marks, marks that would have been easily ensured had you exercised the minimal forethought of verifying the referencing style.

With consistent and proper formatting your scholarly prose will assume the appearance of professional work. The next step, therefore, is to get the substance in keeping with the style. You need to be discriminating with your citations. This means only including extracts that are relevant and which push your argument forward. Never waste valuable word-count with citations that are not strictly to the point. Moreover, be concise; citations should complement your own points as opposed to substituting them. Excepting with dissertations, you generally do not want citations extending beyond three lines; where they do, the convention is to indent the extract and omit speech marks. Keeping citations short means you will have more space remaining for other citations. Without doubt, a broad range of sources makes for a better essay than a few select and lengthy citations: for it indicates a more comprehensive and critical approach; in addition, it gives you access to a wider scope of scholarly thought. Follow these referencing guidelines and you will see your grades improve noticeably. 

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