When you write up an assignment, you need to make it absolutely clear which sections are the result of your reasoning and which originate with somebody else. Thus, whenever you draw on thoughts and ideas, whether represented in text, sound or images, that are not your own, you need to leave a clear trail for your readers to follow.
This to make it easy for your readers to
- distinguish between your own original contributions and those of others
- ascertain the source of your arguments and, if relevant, seek out that source
- determine the reliability of the sources used, and in turn your argument
Your documentation should comprise two elements:
- In-text citations that point to the references.
- A set of references, that are organized as footnotes, endnotes or bibliography.
Citations and references have to be aligned. If you fail to provide enough information in your citations or references to allow for unambiguous identification of the sources used, you risk opening yourself up to accusations pf plagiarism.
Citations and references
Your citations need to be sufficiently informative for a reader to be able to identify the source in your list of literature and in turn seek it out for verification purposes.
Whenever you draw on somebody else´s work, whether as a quotation, a paraphrase or a synthesis, you have the choice of two types of in-text citations:
This type of citation entails mentioning the original author and publication year as an integral part of the general flow of prose, as in
Giddens (1991) describes a set of conditions in late modern society.
In a 1989 article, Pao sets out the method […]
For many people, this is probably the archetypal citation. It requires that you slot in information about author, publication year (and in the case of a quotation, page number) in brackets after the quotation or the paraphrase, as in this example:
“If you cannot ascertain either the author or publisher of the page you are trying to evaluate, you are looking at information that is as anonymous as a page torn out of a book. You cannot evaluate what you cannot verify. It is unwise to use information of this nature. Look for another source” (Harris, 2001, p. 3).
NB. Neither of these citation types is better og more correct than the other. It is mostly a matter of preference and context.
References have one function only, and that is to point out into the world to the exact sources that you have used in your assignment. It is absolutely pivotal that the references are sufficiently precise for any reader to identify the sources without any ambiguity or hesitation, that for instance they are able to disambiguate and distinguish between different editions of the same book, so they do not end up wasting time on the 2nd edition of the book when it is in fact the 3rd edition that you have used.
References can appear as both footnotes or as an aggregate list at the back of your assignment.
NB. If you have collected your own empirical data, e.g. conducted interviews or run a survey, and you refer to this data in your assignment, then you must refer to them as an appendix rather than a reference. This is because readers, no matter how hard they try, would never be able to go out into the world and find the data under their own steam but are completely dependent on you for making the available to them.
Exactly how your citations and references should look and how they should be organized depends entirely on the reference style that you have opted for.
A quotation reproduces the exact wording of another work. Quoting is useful if you want to support an idea, give an example, or if the original statement is particularly distinct and to-the-point.
The length of a quotation may range from a single word to several paragraphs. Shorter quotations are wrapped in quotation marks in the running prose. Longer quotations are often flagged typographically through indentation.
Check out which styles are available in your organization.
On top of quotation marks or identation, all direct quotations need to be followed in brackets by a fixed troika of information about the original source, a citation. The exact information required depends on the specific reference style applied but in most cases it includes author last name, publication year, as well as location within the source, typically page number)
Sometimes you may need or want to quote only selected parts of a larger context or wish to correct typos in the original. You may even want to stress particular sections of the quotation through underscoring or italics or translate from one language to another. Regardless of the nature of the changes, you always need to signal them to your readers and you can use [square brackets] and ellipses … to do exactly that.
In this made-up example you can see how it would look if you were to make a few changes to a quotation
“Referencing is a true craft that requires a lot practice” (Jones, 2022, p. 3)
“Referencing is a […] craft [and] requires a lot of practice (Jones, 2022, p. 3, my emphasis)
Paraphrases and summaries
In some situations it can be useful to rephrase someone else’s words and put them into your own words, e.g. if the original is hard to understand or if you want to extract a few main points from a larger context. You can do this in two ways: either as a paraphrase or as a summary.
- A paraphrase is a reformulation of a (section of) document word-for-word – but in your own words.
- A summary is a condensed version of the main points of a document in your own words.
It makes sense to spend a little time thinking about why want to rework a document and only then decide which of the two approaches would serve the purpose better.
Writing a summary or a paraphrase correctly means using your own words and sentence structures to express someone else’s thoughts and ideas. This may sound easy but it can actually be very difficult. The best way to do it is to read the original text, put it aside and then express in your own words what you have come to understand from the original.
Even though you are using your own words it is important that you remember to reference the original source.
NB. It can be very difficult to perform a completely accurate paraphrase in a foreign language, so unless you are very familiar with the language, we recommend summarising whenever you want to rework someone else’s words.
When creating your in-text citations and references, you are expected to do so in accordance with a so-called reference style, which dictates the kind of information that should be provided for each individual source, the order in which that information should be given, and how to represent typographically the separate pieces of information. By adhering to a reference style, you are ensuring that your referencing is unambiguous and easy to understand.
Check out the formal requirements in your study programme or at your university for details about any style that you are expected to use.
The most important thing, however, is to be consistent, i.e. to make sure that all your citations and references comply with the style that you have opted for. If a reader cannot identify the sources that you have used, that may lead to accusations of plagiarism.
It might be useful for you at an early stage to create “sample references” for the types of publications that you are expecting to use in your assignment. This makes it much easier for you to double-check that your citations and references are correct.
There are literally thousands of different reference styles to choose from, including
APA Style, created by the American Psychological Association and the style most commonly used style in the social and behavioral sciences.
MLA Style by the Modern Language Association and frequently used in the humanities.
Harvard Style, the most popular style overall and worldwide. There is no central regulative body behind this style, which means that local variations do occur.
Vancouver Style by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors and particularly popular in the health sciences.
Chicago Style by Chicago University Press. Comes in two versions:
- the humanities version that uses footnotes, and
- a more traditional version based on the author-year model and uses in-text citations and end-of-document bibliographies.
For a full catalogue of reference styles, please check out the Zotero Style Repository
Reference management software
A reference management software can be a very useful tool for organizing and implementing a referencing regime in your assignments.
With a reference management software, you can
- build a personal library of your sources, either by importing them from the internet, bibliographies, article databases, library catalogues etc. or by recording them manually.
- insert in-text citations and bibliographies in the style of your choice.
The most widely used reference management software include:
EndNote by Thomson Research Soft. This software is for desktop work and requires a license.
Mendeley comes in two versions, desktop and web. Mendeley is available as a subscription-based software and in a free version. You can download the software from the Mendeley website, where you will also find plenty of useful tutorials.
RefWorks is a web-based reference management software and requires a license
Zotero is a free software from the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. You can download Zotero from the Zotero website, where you will also find a lot of useful tutorials.
Ask your library what kind of software is available at your university.