Referencing in Essays

A QUICK GUIDE

Prepared by SGS Study Skills Team

Why reference?

Correct referencing is essential in university essays.  Referencing is needed so that the reader can see clearly the texts from which you have obtained ideas, quotations, paraphrases, examples and facts.  As well as it being vital to credit all your sources, and thus avoid any accusations of plagiarism, referencing also allows the reader to crosscheck with the sources and see which texts you have been consulting.  A good way to learn about referencing and to appreciate its importance is to use the referencing included in the texts that you read.  For example, a reference list is a good way to find other material on the same subject or to quickly assess the theoretical direction from which the writer is approaching things.

I’m always frustrated by and slightly suspicious of essays that have little or no referencing.  In your essays you are being asked to discuss material that you have read about a particular subject.  This means that what you should be writing about are the relevant texts that you have read and so therefore you need to reference these texts clearly and regularly.  If you are not doing this then you are presumably writing about the wrong things.

There are many variations in referencing style but most are derivations of two different methods: numbered footnotes or author/date (sometimes called the Harvard system).  Use one or the other (but don’t mix), though I prefer the Harvard system because it avoids confusion with other types of footnote that you might wish to include.  Harvard is the more commonly accepted system in anthropology.

 

Numbered footnotes

A footnote should be inserted when a source needs to be recognised e.g.:

Ingold aimed “to show that evolutionary biology is the precise inverse of microeconomics, just as natural selection is the mirror-image of rational choice.”¹

with the footnotes as follows:

¹           Ingold, 1996:26        or

Tim Ingold, 1996, “The Optimal Forager and Economic Man” in Descola, P. & Palsson, G. (eds) Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives. London: Routledge p.26.

The second type obviates the need to include a list of references at the end of your essay, although I prefer to see a list so that it’s clear what texts you’ve consulted.

 

Harvard system

This involves putting the author’s surname and the date of publication in brackets to source material.  The reader can then refer to your list of references at the end of your essay to see full details of the text e.g.:
By comparing evolutionary biology with microeconomics, Ingold (1996: 26), showed that the two subjects were mirror images of one-another.

or:        Evolutionary biology and microeconomics have been considered by some anthropologists to be mirror images of each other (Ingold, 1996).

 

Quotations

Quotations can be useful for expressing important ideas of authors, particularly if these ideas are going to be keenly examined in your essay.  Your essays should be short, concise and to the point and so should your quotations.  By picking out the most succinct bits from a text you are showing a good understanding of what is important about that text.  These short quotes should be included within the sentence and placed within quotation marks.  Longer quotes (e.g. more than one sentence or above 20 words) should only be used if you aim to analyse them at length (and not to pad out work or avoid thinking).  They need to be separated out from the text of your essay by using an indented paragraph.  All quotations and paraphrases should be referenced with the page number e.g. (Ingold, 1996: 26) so that the reader can crosscheck and contextualise the quote if they wish.  A quotation should also be exact, though you can leave out a word using three dots (. . .) or replace a word with one inserted in brackets if it helps to improve the flow or enable you to be more concise e.g.:

According to Whitehouse “[anthropologists] are normally . . . quite lazy” (2000: 4).

This quote has been derived from the following original:

“Most anthropologists are stupid and they are normally, on the whole, quite lazy.”

If you use a quote that has been quoted in another text then you should source the quote to the text where you read it and not the original i.e.:

According to Whitehouse “most anthropologists are stupid” (2000, quoted in Smith, 2001: 10).

Remember to always make it clear that a quote is a quote either by using quotation marks or by separating the text into an indented paragraph.

 

Other references

When you use ideas, facts or examples that you have encountered in texts you need to show the reader where you have read them.  Keeping good and clearly referenced notes will obviously help you to do this.  You normally just need to include the author and date of publication in brackets or in the footnote.  If you include the author’s name within the flow of the sentence then you only need to insert the date in brackets.  It is usually most convenient to include the reference or footnote at the end of the sentence or sub-clause, especially when referring to an example e.g.:

Whilst Mende have a negative view of chimpanzees, their attitude towards elephants is more complex and contradictory (Richards, 1993).

Remember that a lot of examples are mentioned in a variety of texts.  It is important that the reader knows if you have read a brief summary in a general introductory text or if you have gone to the original source.

If you are using an example or idea that has been mentioned in lectures but which you haven’t read about then cite it thus: (lecture notes).  On some occasions you may have difficulty finding the full reference for a piece.  If this happens then include as much detail as you can e.g. if you don’t have a date of publication then you obviously can’t include this but you should still include everything else.

Citations can also be used as a concise way of offering a comparison.  If you discuss one example or theory and want to show that this contrasts with something else that you have read then put this other text in a citation suffixed with ‘c.f.’ e.g. (c.f. Ingold 1999).  This concise method is particularly useful in short essays where you don’t have the space to discuss a range of texts in detail.

If you are in doubt about whether to include a citation then put it in.  You will note that I only penalise students for including too little referencing and not for including too much.  A reference is much easier to include than most people think.  You don’t have to use a direct quote or the author’s name in the sentence.  If you mention a theory, idea or example discussed in a text then just put the author’s name and date of publication in brackets at the end of the sentence or in a footnote.  It’s that simple.

 

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is passing someone else’s words or ideas off as your own.  This can be the work of another student as well as a published author, something from the Internet or someone you have paid to write an essay for you.  Plagiarism is normally easy to spot because the marker has usually read most of the texts that are likely to be plagiarised and because the style will usually jar with the writer’s normal style.  Obviously essays that are poorly referenced will come under greatest suspicion of plagiarism.  So long as you follow the rules about referencing discussed above, then you should avoid this problem.  There are a few important points worth making about plagiarism:

  1. If you do not include any referencing then you are saying to the reader, “these are all my own words”.  This is obviously a problem if they turn out to be somebody else’s.  Therefore, the line between poor referencing and plagiarism is a very thin one.
  2. If you do not include a citation then you are still plagiarising even if you slightly change the words that you copy from a text.  Putting words and phrases in a vaguely different order or missing out the odd word does not mean that these are your own words.  For example, the following is a quote from Laughlin:
    When faced with environmental deprivation so that goods of greatest and immediate utility become scarce for a prolonged period, people change the strategies common in exchange with close kinsmen. (Laughlin: 382)I then write in my essay the following:People change the strategies common in exchange amongst close kinsmen when they are faced with environmental deprivation, so that goods of great and immediate utility become scarce for prolonged periods.“Most anthropologists are stupid and they are normally, on the whole, quite lazy.”

    If you use a quote that has been quoted in another text then you should source the quote to the text where you read it and not the original i.e.:

    According to Whitehouse “most anthropologists are stupid” (2000, quoted in Smith, 2001: 10).

Remember to always make it clear that a quote is a quote either by using quotation marks or by separating the text into an indented paragraph.

Other references

When you use ideas, facts or examples that you have encountered in texts you need to show the reader where you have read them.  Keeping good and clearly referenced notes will obviously help you to do this.  You normally just need to include the author and date of publication in brackets or in the footnote.  If you include the author’s name within the flow of the sentence then you only need to insert the date in brackets.  It is usually most convenient to include the reference or footnote at the end of the sentence or sub-clause, especially when referring to an example e.g.:

Whilst Mende have a negative view of chimpanzees, their attitude towards elephants is more complex and contradictory (Richards, 1993).

Remember that a lot of examples are mentioned in a variety of texts.  It is important that the reader knows if you have read a brief summary in a general introductory text or if you have gone to the original source.

If you are using an example or idea that has been mentioned in lectures but which you haven’t read about then cite it thus: (lecture notes).  On some occasions you may have difficulty finding the full reference for a piece.  If this happens then include as much detail as you can e.g. if you don’t have a date of publication then you obviously can’t include this but you should still include everything else.

Citations can also be used as a concise way of offering a comparison.  If you discuss one example or theory and want to show that this contrasts with something else that you have read then put this other text in a citation suffixed with ‘c.f.’ e.g. (c.f. Ingold 1999).  This concise method is particularly useful in short essays where you don’t have the space to discuss a range of texts in detail.

If you are in doubt about whether to include a citation then put it in.  You will note that I only penalise students for including too little referencing and not for including too much.  A reference is much easier to include than most people think.  You don’t have to use a direct quote or the author’s name in the sentence.  If you mention a theory, idea or example discussed in a text then just put the author’s name and date of publication in brackets at the end of the sentence or in a footnote.  It’s that simple.

 

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is passing someone else’s words or ideas off as your own.  This can be the work of another student as well as a published author, something from the Internet or someone you have paid to write an essay for you.  Plagiarism is normally easy to spot because the marker has usually read most of the texts that are likely to be plagiarised and because the style will usually jar with the writer’s normal style.  Obviously essays that are poorly referenced will come under greatest suspicion of plagiarism.  So long as you follow the rules about referencing discussed above, then you should avoid this problem.  There are a few important points worth making about plagiarism:

 

  1. If you do not include any referencing then you are saying to the reader, “these are all my own words”.  This is obviously a problem if they turn out to be somebody else’s.  Therefore, the line between poor referencing and plagiarism is a very thin one.
  2. If you do not include a citation then you are still plagiarising even if you slightly change the words that you copy from a text.  Putting words and phrases in a vaguely different order or missing out the odd word does not mean that these are your own words.  For example, the following is a quote from Laughlin:
  3. When faced with environmental deprivation so that goods of greatest and immediate utility become scarce for a prolonged period, people change the strategies common in exchange with close kinsmen. (Laughlin: 382)I then write in my essay the following:People change the strategies common in exchange amongst close kinsmen when they are faced with environmental deprivation, so that goods of great and immediate utility become scarce for prolonged periods.I think you would all agree that the above does not constitute my own words but is instead a very close paraphrasing of Laughlin.  If this is not cited then this means that I would be trying to claim Laughlin’s words as my own and this constitutes plagiarism.
  4. If you copy much of your essay from texts but include proper referencing all or most of the time then whilst this may not be considered as plagiarism it is still not looked upon favourably.  People have been failed for doing this.  When you put your name at the top of your essay the marker has a reasonable expectation that the essay will largely be written in your own words.
  5. We want you to consider other people’s ideas in your essay.  What is essential is that you make clear when you are using other people’s ideas and words.  This is one of the main purposes of referencing.  So long as students reference properly then they will avoid accusations of plagiarism.

 

Bibliographies and reference lists

A bibliography is a list of the works that you have consulted in preparing the essay.  A reference list is similar but includes only those works that you have directly cited in the essay.  I prefer to see a reference list because if you have consulted a work and found the ideas to be relevant to the essay then you should be referring to it.  This also offers some proof that you have read something, rather than just sticking it in a bibliography because you know a text is important but haven’t bothered to consult it.  The reference list allows the reader to see clearly what you’ve read and also gives further details of the texts so that the reader can locate them if they wish.  Please entitle your reference list thus: References.

A reference list needs to be in alphabetical order of author’s surname.  The usual order of details in a reference is as follows:

Author’s surname, first name or initials, date of publication, title (underlined or italicised if a book, in quotation marks if an article), publication details (place of publication and publisher).

Example:  Ingold, Tim, 1996, “The Optimal Forager and Economic Man” in Descola, P. & Palsson, G. (eds.) Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives. London: Routledge.

This example is a chapter from an edited volume.  Remember to reference such articles under the author’s name and not under the name of an editor.