How And Why To Write Accurate References — Your Essay Guide

A Discussion on Referencing and How to Do It

As a principle of sound academic practice, students and scholars are expected to acknowledge any words, ideas, or work of others. The implication here is that, to produce an authentic piece of work, you will be expected to carry out research on an established subject, analyze your findings in the context of the work you intend to produce, compare existing knowledge on the issue, and present the information in an appropriate format. Most importantly, you will be expected to properly acknowledge all contributing sources using the right style. The goal of this study guide is to help you understand the importance of including references when you use other sources to support your writing. It highlights the main principles for accurately referencing sources.

Is Referencing Really Necessary?

Whether you are writing a report, term paper, essay, thesis or any other form of academic literature, your own arguments and thoughts inevitably build on those of other scholars and researchers. Referencing is a way to indicate whose ideas and works you are using. This helps your audiences understand the connection between your work and established literature. Failure to acknowledge the use of other people’s ideas and works is misleading to the reader. In fact, you may give the impression that the ideas and words are your own, whether intentionally or not, and this can be seen interpreted as plagiarism. Plagiarism is a grave scholarly offense, severely punished by all academic institutions.

In other words, proper referencing is an integral aspect of academic scholarship and intellectual collaboration.

When you reference your sources, you:

  • Demonstrate respect for others’ work;
  • Give the reader a chance to verify the validity of your information;
  • Help your audience distinguish your ideas from those of others who have contributed to your work;
  • Demonstrate the research process underlying your work;
  • Establish the authority and credibility of your ideas and knowledge;
  • Demonstrate an ability to critically analyze sources and integrate them in your work;
  • Share the blame (in case you get it wrong).

Before You Begin the Writing Process

Whether you are writing a short essay or a voluminous dissertation, make sure that before the drafting process, you take notes of the sources from which you get your information.

These notes ought to include the full publication details of each source, such as:

  • The author’s name;
  • The publication date;
  • The title of the text;
  • If it is an article, include the journal title and volume number;
  • The page from which you get the information.

Direct quotations are not ideal, and should only be used in situations where the essence of the information will likely be lost in case of a paraphrase. When you quote verbatim, make sure to include the specific page.

When Should You Use References in Your Work?

As previously noted, referencing is an integral part of academic writing. For a quality essay, your instructor will expect proof that you consulted authoritative sources. As such, references are used when you want to recognize the use of ideas and materials that are not your own. Your audience must be able to clearly distinguish between your own words, findings, illustrations and ideas, and those of other scholars. The general rule is that when in doubt, cite.

There are many style guides that offer useful advice on how to document sources, particularly in written work. However, most of these styles do not show how to recognize borrowed information with other mediums and formats. Nonetheless, we have to honest with our audiences, not only for assessment purposes but also for ethical reasons.

When presenting written work, you will be expected to cite whenever an external source is used. All sources must be recognized within the text and using a list of references or a bibliography at the end of the document. References are critical when quoting directly from a source and when paraphrasing.

When Paraphrasing Material from a Source

Sometime, the rules governing the integration of sources and plagiarism may appear confusing. Nonetheless, using direct quotes is not always ideal. Instead, you should prefer summarizing and paraphrasing as ways of effectively supporting your arguments using outside sources. This, of course, should take into consideration the purpose of your own writing and the goal behind your use of the source. Paraphrasing involves borrowing ideas using different wordings. Effective paraphrasing demands more than just altering some words to synonyms. You need to communicate the idea using your own ordering of words.

Paraphrasing gives you the chance to organize your material in line with your essay, and ought to be used to:

  • Further elaborate or simplify concepts;
  • Establish your credibility as an author;
  • Retain the flow of the text in your own unique voice;
  • Eliminate unnecessary information;
  • Communicate relevant numerical data and statistics.

When Using Directly Quotations from a Source

Direct quotes involve borrowing verbatim, the exact words used in your source. The material is indicated through the use of quote marks. There may be times when you are better placed quoting directly. Direct quotes, when used sparingly can be a powerful rhetorical tool. Avoid direct quotes that are longer than three lines.

They should be used to:

  • Provide indisputable evidence, especially if the claim is incredible;
  • Communicate an idea that is communicated in a unique and striking way;
  • Function as a passage for analysis;
  • Support the definition for a phrase or term with which you are unfamiliar.

Most importantly, while it helps to use the ideas and works of others to support your argument, any paper you write should use your own voice and organization. Do not let other people’s ideas control how and what you write. As such, it is generally better to paraphrase that to quote directly.

What Styles Should You Use to Reference?

There are many different conventions for referencing. In fact, each department will have its own preferences when it comes to the ideal format. Journals and book editors also have own ‘house rules’ in this regard. Whatever style you use, however, just make it clear what you are citing. In other words, your audience must be able to clearly distinguish between your words or work and the words or work of others. Direct quotes must be designated using indentation or quotation marks. Summary and paraphrases should also be made distinguishable from your own ideas and words.

Using a consistent style ensures that your references and citations are properly recorded.

The three main ways of citing sources in-text include:

  1. Author —Here, the in-text citation is done using introductory or parenthetical citation, providing the author’s last name and the page number from which the paraphrase or quote was taken.
  2. Author-date —You use parenthetical or introductory citation, offering the author’s last name and the year of publication.
  3. Numbered footnote —In-text citation is done using superscript note numbers following the referenced passage.

How to Effectively Format References

Effective citation and referencing demand consistency in the way the information is organized. For instance, the use of capitalization and punctuation must be consistent throughout. While the requirements vary from one style to the next, the only rule that traverses all styles is consistency.

When using footnotes and endnotes, you will be required to match the superscript number within the text with a corresponding bibliographical entry. In certain disciplines, endnotes and footnotes also contain elaborations or illustrations of the points made within the text. Consult your tutor or your departmental guidelines if you are not sure about how to integrate endnotes and footnotes in your work.

Most importantly, notwithstanding the referencing system you choose, ensure that there is a comprehensive bibliography, reference list, endnotes, or footnotes entries containing all the details of the sources you have consulted. In addition, make sure that you have used the right text formatting and punctuation marks. Consider using software programs designed to manage references.