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Referencing FAQs

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As Hyland (1999) describes, referencing is central to academic writing.

"Reference to previous work is virtually mandatory in academic articles [...] as a strategy for supporting current claims" (Hyland, 1999, p. 362).

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the purpose of referencing?
When do I need a reference?
What if I use paraphrasing?
Are there other reasons to reference?
What about my own ideas?
How much referencing do I need?
What if I use an author who is mentioned by another author?
What if I can't find a reference for the exact point I want to make?
How do I do it correctly?


What is the purpose of referencing?

The simplest way to think of referencing is to imagine that your reader might want to find out more about a piece of information, or check the facts for themselves. Your reference shows them where to look.

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When do I need a reference?

It is important to provide correct references for any information which you give in your essay.  Information could include ideas, facts, phrases, or anything else.

This means that you need to include references for all information, even if it is from something which you do not consider 'academic', such as an unregulated website.  (Technically, it is probably best to avoid these sources of information anyway).

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What if I use paraphrasing?

You need to provide a reference whether or not you are using the exact words.  Even if you change the words, someone might want to find out more about the information you are referring to.

If you use the same words as the original, you need to use quotation marks around this section, followed by the reference.  If you do not use the same words, you do not need the quotation marks, you only need the reference itself.  Make sure you include a list of references at the end of your essay. See the referencing guidelines for how to do all of this.

Further reading: Beginner's Guide to Paraphrasing

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Are there other reasons to reference?

Referencing makes your point more convincing.  Your reference shows that this information has been published somewhere, and you did not just make it up.  If it is an opinion, your reference shows that other people writing in this area also share your opinion, which makes the opinion more interesting for your academic reader.

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What about my own ideas?

Sometimes you might want to think of your opinion as unique. It might be a coincidence that someone else thought of the same idea as you. Even if it is a coincidence, and you thought of the opinion by yourself, putting a reference to someone who also thought this way makes your opinion seem more valid to the academic community, as it is not simply one person's idea. Sometimes, it might be the case that you are the first person to have thought of an idea.  If that is the case, you need to show how your idea is different from another person's idea.  In all of these situations, you still need references!

Further reading: Beginner's Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism

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How much referencing do I need?

It is a good idea to have a reference for every claim you make, if possible. Do not worry about using referencing too often. As a general rule, it is better to use the references too often than not enough. This does not refer to the number of different authors/texts, but the frequency of citing those authors. It should be high-frequency overall.

You may have been given some advice not to use too many references. This advice means you don't need to have a long list of authors that you didn't read properly. Instead, it is better to use fewer texts, but read them in more detail.

You may follow the examples on this site, or you may use a slightly different format. The most important aspect is to be consistent and use the same format for all your references.

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What if I use an author who is mentioned by another author?

In this situation, you need to use 'cited in'. It is often useful to describe the secondary quotation a little more, and show how it fits in with the first author.
Here is an example. The writer had read Gray et al (2011) but wanted to mention another reference they used.

Example: Secondary citation

To further support their argument, Gray et al (2011:866) summarise a number of other studies which reported positive evaluations of coaching by coachees, including statistics such as "participants estimated return on investment of 5.7 times the initial cost" (McGovern et al, 2001, cited in Gray et al, 2011:866). Studies such as these appear to indicate that coaching can be worthwhile for the individual and the organisation.

Source: Anonymous UCL Institute of Education student (2013)

In this example, only Gray et al (2011) will appear in the reference list at the end of the assignment, as this is the only one that the student has read as a primary source.

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What if I can't find a reference for the exact point I want to make?

You can often say that something is similar to an author's point, or connected to an author's point. You can even say that something contradicts an author's point. Using a reference doesn't only mean showing exactly where the information came from. It can also mean showing how information is connected to something that is published. It could also mean showing how an author's statement may be applied in a different context.

Here is an example of something similar to this:

Example: Using a reference to show connections

As some of Bion's (1961) work has shown, groups can be particularly resistant to learning, preferring (if we can speak of a group as having a "preference") to preserve itself. As learning often means movement and change, it can be resisted by a group. Whether or not an 'organisation' can be considered equivalent to a 'group' in this context is outside the scope of this discussion, but insights such as those from Bion's work have been applied very usefully to analyses of the way that organisations may function in particularly conservative ways (see, for example, Armstrong, 2005). It can be useful to remember this when working with various staff members within an organisation.

Source: Anonymous UCL Institute of Education student (2013)


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How do I do it correctly?

Please refer to the links in the left hand menu for guidance.

Further reading: Reference Effectively and Avoid Plagiarism

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