Our top 10 essay referencing tips
(Last updated: 12 May 2021)
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We've constructed a list of our top 10 essay referencing tips to help you achieve a high-quality essay and ensure that you're following all of your universities set referencing requirements. Let's get started...
1. Familiarise yourself
...with the most popular essay referencing systems, which are most notably Oxford (footnotes) and Harvard (parenthetical). You can read more on the systems here, or use the Internet to find articles offering guidance on the notation of the major systems, and how and when to use them.
...whether you are expected to use a particular system. In higher education, most work will carry detailed specifications regarding format and referencing, as well as content. In such cases be sure to adopt the required referencing system rather than simply making up your own mind.
3. Know when
...to reference. Referencing is for more than just quotes. Direct quotation of another’s work requires a reference, but so too does paraphrasing of some else's ideas. A good rule of thumb is that whenever a part of your work is substantially dependent on other material for its content, reference must be made to that other work.
4. Be thorough
Referencing is essential for all higher-level academic work because it allows an interested reader to trace the origin of ideas and relevant external material. Incomplete information is an obstacle to this kind of research, so a thorough and meticulous approach is absolutely essential.
5. Be consistent
Determine a system and stick to it to ensure full clarity. Inconsistent use of referencing is a distraction to the reader and indicates carelessness of thought, lack of attention, and disregard for scholarly conventions. A tidy page implies a tidy mind, and this will always score more highly.
...multiple publication dates. Many books – especially the best ones – have enjoyed many reprints, so it is necessary to be sure that your references can be traced to the right pages in the right volumes. It's usually sufficient to cite the date of the publication you are using, but often it can be informative to give the original publication date also, particularly if considering the history of emerging ideas.
7. Is the text a translation?
If so, you should bear in mind the tip above, namely that the original language version was probably published at least a year earlier. Also avoid the trap of taking the translator as the name of a co-author, as this will rather diminish your scholarly credentials!
8. Pay attention to authors and editors
Edited volumes make up a huge part of many areas of academic literature. Don’t confuse author with editor, and always refer to the former rather than the latter. In your list of references you should tackle the problem, thus:
Bloggs, J. ‘How to write a list’, in Doe, J. (ed). 1997 Lists: How To and How Not To, TORG Publishing.
9. Be specific
Different essay referencing systems and different usage of material will require various levels of specificity, e.g. author, year and page number, or just author and year. There can be an element of your own judgement here, but where possible follow the established rules of your adopted system.
10. Learn from the best
The most useful tip of all: look at how published academics do it. Any decent journal article will have a long list of references likely to contain edited volumes, translated material, collaborations and reprints; simply copy the notation. Also look at the text itself to find a model for parenthetical referencing or footnotes.