The fine (and frustrating) art of referencing

“Referencing is the best, most enjoyable part of any assignment… ” (No One Ever, 1983, p. never-ever).

Referencing. Your favourite thing in the world, right?  I know – I get it – referencing can be tedious. Taxing. Tiring. It’s either the final challenge at the end of an assignment, or the perfect-productive-procrastination-pastime when actually doing an assignment is too unappealing and you’d rather start formatting that bibliography. Or reference list. Is there a difference?

Apparently there is! Don’t worry – you’re not the only one surprised. Join me as I learn all these things with you, after fumbling through five years of university, crossing my fingers at every submission, hoping that I wouldn’t lose marks on my citation skills. Hopefully, the tips below will help you avoid feeling the same!

Now, you might be thinking, “what is the actual point in all of this? Why can’t I just do my research in peace, without having to worry about sources and authors and all the rest of it?!”  I used to have the same questions.  But having gone through the process quite a few times has made me realise that referencing correctly has actually been good for my own clarity-of-mind.  It helps me revisit key sources without forgetting what they were, or which pages were important to me, and it helps me keep track of the types of sources I’m using, and whether I need to diversify these (for example, looking at more books instead of mostly websites). Most importantly though, it gives authors – the people who have put all the groundwork into providing us with the research that shapes our understanding of the world – the credit they deserve. Academic fraud and plagiarism are taken extremely seriously by the University, which is why all students have to complete the Academic Integrity Module.

Basically, a bibliography should include all the sources you have used in your research, even if you have not mentioned them in your work – for example, that book that just gave you a good understanding on ancient cities but didn’t end up in your essay in the form of quotes, facts or figures. A reference list, however, need only include the sources of things like quotes and text that have actually ended up in your work

Make sense? Oh, and in case you’re wondering where citations fit into all this, ‘citation’ is just another word for ‘reference’. Hang in there!

So, the next question on my mind is: how do you know whether to use a bibliography or a reference list at the end of your work? And what about the references required within the work itself (commonly called in-text citations)? And what’s the deal with footnotes?! Okay, so that was three questions.

Well, an easy way to look at it, is to realise that the art of referencing comprises these four main ingredients:

  • in-text citations/references (references made within the body of text)
  • footnotes (additional information given at the bottom of a page)
  • reference list (you now know what this is!)
  • bibliography (you also now know what this is!).

It then depends on what your prescribed ‘referencing style’ (yes, there are many!) requires.  Some, like APA, require in-text citations and a reference list, whereas some may require footnotes and a bibliography, and others may require a different combination!  The referencing style for an assessment is usually prescribed by your lecturer.

If you’re unsure of what style you should be using, check your course outline, or ask your lecturers or tutors themselves.  It often helps to have a conversation about things you aren’t sure about, as talking about things allows your academic staff to give you advice from their experience, and may also help other students who have the same questions.

Again, make sure you’re using the right referencing style, to avoid losing easy marks in your assessments!

When it comes to referencing, we’re lucky to be living in the age of computers. This software/service has helped me with my referencing endeavours: EndNote, Microsoft’s built-in ‘References’ tools (this is my favourite for long essays where I cite the same sources multiple times, and also have several sources, as it automatically creates and manages my in-text citations and bibliography / reference list for me). You can get this free as part of the uni’s Microsoft 365 package for students, so check it out.

Nevertheless, referencing can be tricky, and this is where the Library can help.  Check out this link for the answers to all your questions, and detailed information on all the different referencing styles you may be required to use. You can even ‘book a librarian’ to discuss your questions with them! The Academic Learning Support team can also help you work on your essay writing and referencing skills.

Lastly, don’t forget to have fun with your work at university.  Amongst all the stress and pressure that comes with study, remind yourself why you have chosen this path, and explore things through your assessments that you are passionate about. University is a great time to experiment with new ideas – and do some great research! Again, have fun with it. And happy referencing!

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