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#9 Getting the referencing right

‘Referencing’ – is there a word more likely than this to strike despair into the heart of the average essay writer? Referencing appears complex, and thus people tend to procrastinate over it and often do a poor job. But really, once you have your head around how referencing works, it’s pretty straightforward. This Bite will explain why referencing is so important in academia, as well as breaking down the mechanics of how referencing works, regardless of the system employed. Work through this Bite and you need never fear referencing again!

Whilst the main focus of Essay Bites is the content, structure and style of an academic essay, it would be remiss of us to talk about this kind of assignment without mentioning referencing. This isn’t the place for a full exploration of the technical details of referencing, or to look at the various different systems you might encounter – for that, start by checking out the excellent Cite Them Right on the LLC website – but there are a few broad things that you should bear in mind about referencing when writing your essay.

Why reference?

Whilst it’s easy to think of referencing as a chore, or as something that’s used to check up on you, it is in fact an important academic convention that’s serves a number of purposes:

  • It allows you to acknowledge the work of others that you’ve drawn upon in writing the essay
  • It displays the depth and breadth of your research
  • It adds weight and evidence to your own ideas and argument
  • It helps you to include a wide range of arguments and points of view
  • It places your research in the wider context
  • It allows your reader to further research the topic

What system?

The specific system you need to use will usually be determined by the conventions in your own discipline. You should be able to find clear instructions on this in the assessment brief, or in your module handbook. If you are unsure, ask your tutor – it’s important that you get this detail right.

The mechanics of referencing

Whatever system you use, the mechanics are the same:

  1. Citation within the text
  2. Reference at the end of the work

The citation will either be in the text – such as (Smith 2018) – or in a footnote depending on the referencing system. You should never have a mixture of in-text and footnote citations. The exact format of the citation will again depend on the specific referencing system you are using.

The reference gives full details of the material cited and comes at the end of your essay. Depending on the referencing system that will either be in a Reference List or a Bibliography. The distinction between the two is that whilst a Reference List contains only entries which correspond to material cited in your essay, a Bibliography additionally contains material you have drawn upon as part of your wider research but which you haven’t cited in the body of the essay. Again, the referencing system you are using will determine which of the two you need to include, as well as the specific format the entries should follow.

Whilst it can appear complex, referencing is fairly straightforward and is something that with a little care and attention you can get right, adding to the overall quality of your essay (and your grade). Of course, there’s much more to the process than we’ve been able to discuss here, so you may find it useful to look at the Cite Them Right resource.

Updated on 30/08/2021

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