Compiling a Reference List for your Dissertation

What are Dissertation References?

When writing a piece of academic work you will be researching and reading a lot of texts written by others. The work of other scholars is essential in aiding you to formulate your own ideas and arguments in your dissertation. Moreover, it is essential in lending evidential weight to your case. This is standard practice in academic writing. Thus any good dissertation will necessarily make extensive use of references. Be aware that it is imperative you acknowledge the sources of information in your text. This has the dual function of helping you to avoid plagiarism as well as crediting the person who did the original work.

In most cases, referencing systems possess two key stages. The first is citation: this is where you identify in-text (in the body of your thesis) any use of another person's words or ideas. The second is referencing: this comes in a separate section at the end of the thesis, in the form of a bibliography, an alphabetised list of works referred to and/or cited. The bibliography thus provides the reader more detailed publication information about the source, such as the title of work, publisher and city of publication. To summarise, referencing entails the practice of identifying the sources you have quoted, paraphrased or otherwise used in your work.

Conventions and Styles

There are particular conventions or rules to referencing in academic writing. These vary according to the particular referencing system. There is a wide variety of different styles of citation established by various academic and professional organisations. Common styles include Chicago, Harvard, MLA, Oxford, and OSCOLA. Each citation form has published a guide (in print and online) outlining all the details of how to use it.  Despite distinctions between the various systems, they all have the same overall objective: to allow the reader to see the connections between your work and other scholarly papers. In effect, referencing constitutes the recognition that your work builds on the research and ideas of many precursor scholarly works. Citation accordingly enables the reader to identify links between the many literature and articles which informed your work.

Practical Example

Let us consider how referencing works in practice. Here, we will use the (very common) Harvard style as an example. If you are copying a statement, transcribing it from another text, you need to put quotation marks around the abridged content, “like so”. This shows the reader that you are quoting someone else. In all events, you need to indicate the source of the information in brackets at the end of the sentence or with a footnote or endnote. The particular format of the citation will vary depending on the referencing system in use (check with your department for details). Often, though, some variety of author-name, publication date and page number is employed as with the following from Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” (Orwell, 1945: 55). These details are there to lead the reader to the full information on the appropriate text, in the bibliography at the end of the document. So, going to the bibliography, we would reference the above citation thus: Orwell, G. (1945). Animal Farm. London: Secker and Warburg.

As a final note, it is worth pointing out that the judicious use of references in your dissertation can lend serious clout to your argument. Teachers will be paying close attention to the sources you use and how you use them. If you show evidence of going above and beyond, finding elusive or rare sources, or otherwise bringing new secondary material to bear, you will impress.

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