Writing Better University Essays/Referencing
By referencing the sources you use in your essay, you do a number of things. First of all, you comply with an academic convention. Secondly, you make your essay look more professional. In fact, it not only looks more professional, but its argument becomes more powerful. Thirdly, you allow others to check your sources. This is often only a hypothetical issue, but a look through the list of your references will allow others to judge your argument quickly. Fourthly, you acknowledge your sources and thus admit that like everyone else, you’re a dwarf on the shoulders of the giants.
The essential bits of referencing require you to provide enough information to others so that they can identify the source. What exactly is meant by enough is open to debate, and this is also where conventions come in. Essential is that you do provide references. Ideally, you would do so properly. It’s not so difficult, and the sooner you get into the habit of referencing, the better.
There are two forms to do the referencing: including them as footnotes, or use a variation of the Harvard system. Your institution may have a preference, or even a house style. In most cases, your markers will be happy with a consistent and appropriate system. The Harvard system is also known as author/date, and will be described here in more detail.
Inside the Text
Within your essay, whenever you make a statement that is essentially based on somebody else’s work, you should attribute the source. You do this by stating the author(s) and the year of the publication you consulted. Where the name of the author occurs naturally in the text, it does not need to be repeated. The references are usually included at the end of a sentence, or where inappropriate in a place where the text flow is not interrupted too much, such as in front of a comma. This may be necessary, for example, if only the first half of your sentence is based on someone else’s work.
- Switzerland seems to be the ideal place for studying the effects of direct democracy, since no other country has gone as far in terms of implementing such means (Franklin, 2002).
The name of the author is included in brackets, together with the year of publication. Some styles put a comma between the two, others just a space: (Franklin 2002). Where there are two authors, both names are included: (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Some styles prefer the word and, others prefer the ampersand (& symbol). Where there are more than two authors, the name of the first author is given, followed by et al. (which literally means and others): (Almeder et al., 2001). Some styles put et al. into italics, others don’t.
If you have two or more references for the same argument, you should separate the references with a semicolon (; symbol): (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994; Steinberg, 1999). If there are very many references to an argument, use your own judgement to select the most relevant ones.
What should you reference? Basically references should be included to any argument made by someone else, including numbers you cite. However, statements of general nature need not be attributed to anyone. A statement that the sky is blue alone does not require a reference. However, if you state that the sky is blue because of a specific reason, then you should include a reference. If you use the exact words of an author (quotation), you’ll need to give the number of the page where you copy from. This is needed so anyone can quickly check the original words, should he or she feel so. See the separate section on quotes.
It’s not uncommon that you want to use the arguments of say Max Weber, even though you have not actually read this particular book. Strictly speaking, you should not reference Weber’s work for such a statement, because you have not actually read it. Can you really be sure this is what Weber said or meant? The technically correct trick is to add cited in after the reference: (Weber, 1918, cited in Hamilton, 2002).
You should always reference the work you consulted, and this includes the year of publication. Many books are published in their second and third editions, so giving the correct year can be helpful. Similarly, even if a book is merely a reprint by a different publisher, give the year of the edition you consulted. The page numbers may differ. If it’s just a second print of the exact same book, use the original date. Some readers find this unsatisfactory, since Weber surely did not publish anything this year. The convention to circumvent this issue is to give both years: the year of the original publication, together with the one of the work you consulted. Sometimes slashes are used between the dates (/ sign), others prefer the used of square brackets ([ and ] sign): Burke (2004/1774) or Burke (2004 ).
Another small issue occurs where an author published more than one book or article in a single year, and you want to cite more than one of them. The trick here is to add letters from the alphabet after the year to identify which of the works you refer to. Use the letter a for the first of your references, the letter b for the second and so on: (McManus, 1994a) and (McManus, 1994b) are two different works.
To sum it up, inside the text, you give the family name of the author, followed by the year of the publication. Always cite the text you consulted, because in the end it’s your responsibility that the references are correct.
At the End
At the end of your essay you should include a list of references. Such a list of references provides more details than just the name of the author and the year of publication. It’s this list that allows identifying the work cited. Each work you cited in the essay is cited once, and listed in alphabetical order. Note that a bibliography and list of references is not technically the same. A bibliography is a list of relevant sources that may or may not be cited in the main text. References are the sources you cited, even if they are rather trivial. Use the heading references for your references.
For books, you put the family name of the author(s) and their initials, followed by the year of publication in brackets, the title in italics, the place of publication, and finally the name of the publisher. If there are editors, give their names instead of the authors’. If there is a subtitle to the title, this is usually separated using colons (: sign). Where there are more than four authors, it’s common to use et al. after the first three, but some styles insist on citing all authors. Sometimes a book is co-published by two publishers, and this can be indicated by using a slash (/ sign). Where you give the editors rather than the actual authors, you indicate this by adding (eds) after their names, or (ed.) if there is only one. The title is capitalized. For example:
- Anderson, C. & Zelle, C. (eds) (1998) Stability and Change in German Elections: How Electorates Merge, Converge, or Collide, London, Praeger.
- Granovetter, M. (1974) Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and Careers, Chicago, Chicago University Press.
- Grass, G. (1963) Katz und Maus, Neuwied am Rhein, Rowolth/Hermann Leuchterhand.
- Hall, S. (ed.) (1997) Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, London, Sage.
- Halsey, A., Heath, A. & Ridge, J. (1980) Origins and Destinations, Oxford, Clarendon Press.
Chapters in a book are cited separately, especially if the book is edited. You give the family name of the author and his or her initial, the year, the name of the chapter in single speech marks (‘ and ’ sign; not capitalized), followed by the word in, and the name and year of the editor(s). If you cite only one chapter, you can give the whole reference at the end; otherwise it’s enough to give the name and year of the editor. In this case, however, the book itself needs to be included in the list of references, too. For example:
- Allen, J. (1995) ‘Global worlds’ in Allen, J. & Massey, D. (eds) (1995).
- Hardin, R. (1990) ‘Public choice versus democracy’ in Chapman, J. & Wertheimer, A. (eds) (1990).
- Leroy, P. & Verhagen, K. (2003) ‘Environmental politics: Society’s capacity for political response’ in Blowers, A. & Hinchliffe, S. (eds) (2003) Environmental Responses, Chichester, Wiley.
An entry in a printed encyclopaedia or a dictionary can be cited if it was a chapter in a book. The editors are often given on the front of the reference book. For example:
- Jackman, R. (2001) ‘Social capital’ in Smelser, N. & Baltes, P. (eds) (2004).
Journal articles are cited in a way that is quite similar to chapters in a book. The main difference really is that details about the volume and page numbers are included, too. The reference starts with the name and initial of the author, the year in brackets, the title of the article in single speech marks (not capitalized), followed by the name of the journal in italics (capitalized), and further details. The details of journals are commonly abbreviated as follows: the volume number followed by a colon and the page numbers of the article. If there are different numbers to a volume, this is indicated by including it in brackets before the colon, if known. Online journals may not have page numbers. For example:
- Burt, R. (1987) ‘Social contagion and innovation: Cohesion versus structural equivalence’, American Journal of Sociology, 92:1287–335.
- Thoits, P. & Hewitt, L. (2001) ‘Volunteer work and well-being’, Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, 42(2):115–31.
- Small, C. (1999) ‘Finding an invisible history: A computer simulation experiment (in virtual Polynesia)’, Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 2(3).
- Valente, T. (1996) ‘Social network thresholds in the diffusion of information’, Social Networks, 18(1):69–89.
Pages on the internet should be cited where used. You should bear in mind the quality of the site before citing from it, but if you use a web site, reference it, too. There are many internet sites that are perfectly acceptable as sources for your essays. The reference includes the name of the author and initial, the year in brackets, the title of the document in italics, the word online in square brackets, the place of publication, the publisher, the words available from: followed by the URL, and the date when the document was accessed in brackets. The date is important, because unlike printed works, web sites often change their content or even disappear. Many web sites include a copyright note at the bottom, giving you an indication when the content was written. For example:
- Moser, P. (2005) Politik im Kanton Zürich—eine Synthese [online], Zürich, Statistisches Amt des Kantons Zürich, available from: http://web.archive.org/web/20051224111845/http://www.statistik.zh.ch/statistik.info/pdf/2005_15.pdf [accessed 27th October 2005].
- Chan, T. & Goldthorpe, J. (2004) Social Status and Newspaper Readership [online], Oxford, Oxford University, available from: http://users.ox.ac.uk/~sfos0006/papers/news4.pdf [accessed 31st March 2005].
Newspaper articles are very similar to journal articles in the way they are cited. The key difference is that rather than the volume, the date is given. The reference therefore includes the name and initial of the author, the year of publication in brackets, the title in single speech marks, the name of the newspaper in italics (capitalized), the date, and finally the page where the article was found. For one page it’s customary to use the abbreviation p., for articles running over two or more pages, the abbreviation pp. is common. For example:
- Cockburn, P. & Usborne, D. (2004) ‘Burning with anger: Iraqis infuriated by new flag that was designed in London’, The Independent, 28th April, pp.2–3.
Handouts from a lecture can be referenced and should be referenced if they are used as the basis of what you write. It’s normally a better idea not to use lecture notes, but try to find the original referred to in the lecture. Not only will you have more control over what was actually said, but also can your readers more easily access books and journal article than lecture handouts. The reference to a lecture handout includes the name and initial of the lecturer, the year in bracket, the title of the handout in single speech marks, the words lecture notes distributed in followed by the name of the course in italics, the word at and the name of your institution, the place, and date of the lecture. For example:
- Burt, S. (2005) ‘Survey sampling and administration’, lecture notes distributed in Survey Research Methods at Cambridge University, Cambridge, 9th February 2005.
Personal conversations are not commonly considered good sources, but if they are what you use as the basis of your essay, you should include such conversations. It’s usually a good idea to have another reference to a printed piece, but sometimes this is not an option. In terms of giving the reference, personal conversations are very easy: the name of the person you spoke to, the year in brackets, the words conversation with the author and the date of the conversation. For example:
- Smith, E. (2004) conversation with the author 6th July 2004.
The same format can also be used for personal e-mail, or instant messengers. Once again, bear in mind the credibility of your sources. With e-mail messages it’s customary to include the e-mail address of the sender in brackets after the name, but it’s essential that you obtain consent from the author. The subject line of the e-mail is often included as the title. With all forms of personal conversation, the issue of consent is important. It’s always a very good idea to check with the author first.
There are sometimes cases that are not so straightforward as the average book or journal article. For everything there is a solution in the academic conventions. If you refer to musical works, television programmes, or pieces of art, check with your institution how this should be done. If everything else fails, remember the function of referencing, and provide a reasonable amount of information for others to chase the work. Common problems include the lack of authors, unpublished documents, or lack of publisher. Where there is no author, often there is an organization. Put the name of the organization. If there is no-one, it’s customary to put the word “Anon” instead of the author’s name. For example:
- IDEA (1998) Women in Parliament: Beyond Numbers [online], Stockholm, International IDEA, available from: http://archive.idea.int/women/parl/toc.htm [accessed 28th February 2006].
- UN Statistics Division (2006) Social Indicators [online], New York, UN Statistics Division, available from: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/socind/inc-eco.htm [accessed 20th February 2006].
Sometimes the year of a document is not known. Where you have a rough idea, you can put a c before the date, such as in (c.1999). Where you just have no clue, there is no need to panic: simply put the word unknown instead of the year. Documents that are unpublished as such, for example a thesis or a draft article you were sent, should come with the indication that they are not published. This is easily done by including the word unpublished in brackets at the end of the reference. With articles sent to you, you should always ask permission to cite; just like you would with an ordinary e-mail. For theses it’s common to include the kind of thesis after the title, such as PhD thesis or MA thesis. Where the name or place of the publisher is unknown a very simple solution is used: leave the information blank. This is particularly an issue with internet sites. Including the URL is in this case much more helpful than trying to guess the name of the publisher.
Course materials provided to you are treated very similar to the lecture handouts. Give the name of the author, the year in brackets, the course code if there is one, the course title in italics (capitalized), the kind of material and its title in single speech marks, place of publication, and publisher. For example:
- Peake, S. (2003) U216 Environment, Video 4 ‘Shanghai Boom’, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
- The Open University (2004) DD305 Personal Lives and Social Policy, CD-ROM 2 ‘Interviews and Interviewing’, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
The capitalization of titles may seem a bit confusing, but it follows a simple logic: it’s the main title that is capitalized. In the case of a book, the main title is that of the book. In the case of journal articles, on the other hand, the main title is thought to be that of the journal itself. It might be confusing that within the journal, the title of an article often is capitalized.
Capitalization is not very hard to achieve. Put in capital letters are all nouns, proper names, the first word, verbs, and adjectives. This is in fact almost everything. Not put in capital letters are words like and, in, or, or with. Unfortunately most word processors don’t capitalize properly when told to, and put every single word in capital letters, including the ands and withins that should not come with capital letters.
Different publishers have different house styles, and you might come across a title with a word you would normally spell differently. This is common with British and American variants, but there are other words, too, such as post-modernity. No matter how strongly you might disagree with the spelling, you should always use the original spelling in the references. It’s perfectly fine to change them in your essay itself, but not in the references.
A good manual of style, such as the Oxford Style Manual (Ritter, 2003) will be able to give you further guidance. Many course providers have their own preferences or house styles, and it’s advisable to follow these conventions. Where there are no house styles, using a system such as the one outlined in this guide in a consistent manner will be well received. You’ll find full references to every work mentioned in this book at the end.
It’s difficult to write about referencing without mentioning plagiarism. Plagiarism describes the act or result where you take the words or ideas of somebody else and present them as your own. Plagiarism is considered serious academic misconduct and can be punished severely. Most importantly, however, your reputation is on the line.
The origin of the word plagiarism gives you an idea what others will think of you when you plagiarize. The word goes back to the Latin plagiārius, a thief and kidnapper—in particular a child snatcher and somebody abducting slaves. The modern use in academia brands you a literary thief (OED, 2005).
There are a number of reasons why plagiarism occurs. The worst case is deliberate plagiarism (for whatever reason). Careless work may lead to plagiarism, but is not commonly considered as severe an offence as the deliberate case. Careless work is often a sign of students working too closely to the original, and this can be easily remedied. Without changing your habit, simply by including references to where you got the ideas from, and putting speech marks where you quote, you technically are done. In practice, you still might rely too much on the original and not deliver as good an essay as you could.
Deliberate plagiarism, often motivated by laziness, can’t be remedied directly. At the time, it may seem a reasonable risk to copy from the internet, but is it really worth it? Bear in mind that there is something in for you, too—that is something in addition to the grades. The more you write, the easier it gets.
If you work too closely to the original, there is a simple solution: don’t write the essay with the books in front of you. By so doing, there is very little danger that you copy word by word. In a way, you force yourself to make the material your own: and that is a good thing—it makes a better argument, your essay will be more original, and not least, you’ll also get better grades. Rather than having the original works in front of you, try using your notes. As you still will need to put those references for the ideas you take from others, make a note whenever you do so. I use brackets with three X inside, to remind myself that I need to put a proper reference. Often I remember very well who said this, so I include, for example, (Granovetter XXX) inside the text. When checking the essay, it’s hard not to notice the triple X; and there is always the search facility in the word processor. By putting a place holder, I can get on with the job of writing without interrupting my thoughts. Equally important, I leave some traces indicating to myself that there is some more work to be done: finding the proper reference, for example.
If you think plagiarism is hard to detect by your marker, think again. There are a great number of signs that give plagiarized work away. Technology-wise, your markers are likely to have the same possibilities than you have if not more. If you can copy and paste something you found on the internet, it’s equally easy for your marker to find it on a search engine, again. It would, of course, be possible, to change plagiarized work to the extent that the deed is no longer easy to spot. Usually, however, this is just as much work as writing the essay yourself.
Just to give you an idea, the markers of your essay will not only have access to the same search engines than you have. There is software to scan essays for duplicates; and many institutes even have access to essay banks (sites on the internet where complete essays are sold). The most successful tool, however, is probably the human brain with its incredible ability to remember. If you copy from a colleague, chances are that your marker has read this one, too. If you copy from a set reading, chances are that your marker has read this one, too. Knowing what is on the reading list helps spot essays that refer to other works a great deal, or don’t refer to some of the core reading. Your marker can estimate how many readings you had time to read, or whether you’re likely to have read a great number of papers on the Belgian perspective of whatever issues is set in the question. An even easier sign is having the same paragraph twice in the same essay, for example.
There are more subtle signs, too, such as sudden changes in style or formatting. Many people are unaware of how idiosyncratic one’s writing style is. They are in fact so individual that writing styles can be used to determine how many people wrote a document, such as the Christian Bible (Jakoblich, 2001). Writing style includes the tenses we use, the level of formality, our own choice of words, the kinds of metaphors we put, whether we use American or British English, choices over punctuation, the length of sentences, or the use of specialist terms. Typographic signs include font size, choices of where to break paragraphs, spaces in between lines, and things like proper m- and n-dashes (when copying from electronic articles).
The presence or lack of references is often an easy sign: for example, where there are many references inside the text, but few at the end, or where the citation style changes within a single essay. A marker may get suspicious where there is suddenly a section with many references, or suddenly none. Sometimes, students even include hyperlinks in references when copying from electronic journals; and have them automatically underlined by the word processor.
Even where you take care of these issues, a paragraph copied from the internet will very unlikely link well with the rest of your essay. The style may be inappropriate, or just different. Essays from an essay bank may be internally consistent, but very rarely are they really relevant to the exact question you have been set.
In summary, you can avoid plagiarism easily. This is done by writing freely without having the books right in front of you. Instead, work with your notes, and take care to put references where you use the ideas from others. Don’t use the internet to copy from, no matter how tempting it is. It will hardly ever be worth it.
Citations and Quotations
There is an important difference between citations and quotations. Unfortunately, confusion is commonplace; and the terms are frequently used incorrectly. Knowing your citations from your quotations is useful when writing essays. It’s essential, in fact, if you want to reference properly.
Citations are about ideas you take from others. Quotations are about the exact words used by others. This is really the whole distinction. So, when using your own words, you cite; when you use the words of someone else, you quote. “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?” (Blankenhorn, 1995, p.117) is a quotation, because I use the exact same words Blankenhorn did. However, when stating that families in the US are increasingly defined by the absence of a father (Blankenhorn, 1995), I only use the idea, not the exact words.
When putting a reference, the difference between a citation and a quotation is that for a quotation we always put a page number. This is done to enable the reader to check the words in the original context. In the list of references at the end of the text, there is no difference.
Short quotations are included in the text, and enclosed by speech marks. Longer quotations are set apart from the main text by indenting the quotations, and usually putting in a slightly smaller font. Longer means about 3 to 4 lines or more. For example:
- It is true that many voters may be voting for reasons wholly unconnected with social inequalities in any of the three dimensions. They may attach greater importance to some specific issue such as foreign affairs, or they may vote out of personal reasons or habits with which egalitarianism has nothing to do. (Runciman, 1966, p.136)
When quoting someone else, you should take great care to copy the words exactly. Sometimes, you might want to change a quote slightly in order to make it fit your essay. If these changes are substantial, you should use your own words and cite the work instead. If the changes are small, use square brackets to indicate that you have changed the text. For example, you might quote Rawls (1999, p.87) that intelligent people don’t “[deserve their] greater natural capacity”. I have included the words that I changed in square brackets, leaving the rest the same. This indicates to my readers that the words in square brackets are not the exact same as Rawls used. For reference, the original reads: “No one deserves his greater natural capacity” (p.87). I made the changes, because I wrote about intelligent people, and Rawls was talking in more general terms.
Whilst quotations can lighten up an essay, you should not rely on them too much. Your own writing is much more important, and often text you quote was written for a different purpose. The consequence is that the quotations may be relevant in content (what is being said), but in terms of style don’t fit well with what you wrote. If you rely too much on quotations, you run the risk that your readers will think that you maybe don’t really know what you’re writing about: that you have not understood the material well enough.
When to Put the References
When writing an essay, particularly when writing an extended essay, it’s easiest to put the references whilst you write. This is the case, because you still know where you got the idea from. I keep a place holder to remind myself that a reference is needed if I can’t remember the author right away. Often, I will know at least some of it, and write this down. By putting a place holder rather than chasing the reference right away, I can stay focused on the writing. However, I also indicate that the essay is not completed. Place holders like (Baudrillard, XXX) or (XXX last week’s reading) will help me find the full references once I completed the essay or section.
References are needed whenever you write an academic piece of writing. Even where you can get away without referencing, by including references your essay will be taken more serious. It’s a good habit to put references all the time, so when you really need to—such as in your thesis—you’ll not struggle, or spend days trying to find out how to reference a chapter in a book.
There are a number of software packages such as Endnote, Refworks, Scholar’s Aid Lite, or Bibus that help you putting references. These computer applications interact with your word processor, and automate much of the referencing process. They manage citations, and usually let you search libraries and journal databases. Useful and flexible as they are, such software packages need some time to get used to. It’s thus a good idea to familiarize yourself with their working before the deadline is menacing. For example, make sure you know how to put page numbers for quotations.
Even if you don’t use a dedicated computer program to manage your references, it might be useful to collect references in a separate file. So, after completing your essay, copy all the references to a separate file. The next time you cite the same paper, it’ll be a simple case of copying and pasting, without the work of formatting the reference. Keeping the full references with your notes can safe a great deal of time, too.
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