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Beginner's guide to referencing

14th March 2019

Text: Did you know?

Beginner's guide to referencing

What every student should know

What every student should know

Worried about referencing? It’s easy to be intimidated when the words used to discuss referencing are unfamiliar. Learning a few key terms can make it easier to understand your tutor’s feedback and improve referencing in your next assignment. Here are some of the most frequent words and what they really mean:

Citation: A citation is how you acknowledge the author of an idea or a quote from a book, journal article or other source. Sometimes we talk about using in-text citations, or about citing an author/book. The citation is what tells your reader where to look in the reference list for the full details of the source. Occasionally we refer to this as a reference, too. In Cite Them Right Harvard and APA, citations are (Author, Date). In MHRA, footnotes are used.

Direct quote/quotation: A quotation or direct quote is when you repeat the source word for word. You must use a citation to tell the reader where those words have come from, and use double quotation marks (“…”) to show where those words begin and end. Quotes should be used sparingly. In Harvard and APA you give the page number where you found the quote: (Author, Date, p. ??), on in the footnote for MHRA.

Paraphrase: A paraphrase is when you use a source’s ideas, but changes the words and structure of the original. It is taking someone else’s idea and putting it into your own writing style in a way that flows with the rest of your essay. It is not just changing a few words. The paraphrase is the rewording/restructuring of the source’s ideas, and you must also use a citation (Author, Date, p. ??) to tell your reader where the idea came from originally. Paraphrasing is preferred over quoting, as it shows your understanding of the subject.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the use of someone else’s words or ideas without appropriate credit. It may be intentional or accidental, but is an academic offence with serious consequences.

Types of plagiarism include: collusion (working with another person when you shouldn't, for example copying their work and submitting their work as if it was your own); word-switching (just changing a couple of words and not citing your source); and sham paraphrasing (forgetting to put the quotation marks in for direct quotes).  Remember: if in doubt, ask for help.

Reference list: A reference list is a list of items that you have cited in your work. It will be arranged in alphabetical order by the author's surname. It is not normally split up into source types (unless you are using OSCOLA, but that’s a whole other blog post!), or displayed as a bulleted list. It goes at the end of your work, after the main essay. If you are using MHRA, check with your lecturer if you need a reference list, or whether just footnotes are enough.

Secondary referencing: If you can’t read the original source of an idea you need to secondary reference. For example, you may find that author (A) cites the work of another person (B). If you want to cite B’s work as well, but you are not able to locate B’s writing, then you will have to cite it through A. This is known as secondary referencing. Your citation will often be written in a way which reflects ‘B as cited by A’, or ‘A cites B’. In your reference list, you only need to include author (A), whose work you actually read.

Visit our referencing page for examples and more support with referencing.

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