↓ Archives ↓

Quick Reference

This entry was originally posted on the Overdue Ideas blog on June 17th 2009. It is reposted here as it forms a reasonably good introduction to some aspects of the Telstar Project and also for completeness.

The Telstar Project is looking at how to integrate references to resources into a VLE, making it as easy as possible for students to access the referenced resources, while encouraging students (and teachers?) to adopt good practice in referencing and citations – e.g. Using an appropriate reference/citation style).

If you are immersed in the world of Higher education, and especially HE libraries, the above probably makes some kind of sense to you. However, as I have started to look at the problem I’ve realised that I’m not particularly consistent in the way I talk about references and resources, and that I sometimes want to make subtle distinctions between (what I see as) different types of references/resources. I want to try to establish some definitions, and air some of the distinctions I make in my own mind to see if they are really important, or whether I’m guilty of over complicating things. To start with some definitions:


I started with a rather narrow view of a resource, but after discussion on Twitter I was easily persuaded that a ‘resource’ was essentially anything. The only caveat I’d add in this context is that you must be able to reference it – although I’m not sure if this is a necessary caveat (is there anything that can’t be referenced?). So my definition is this:

A resource is something that can be referenced.

In the context of teaching and learning materials common resources will be:Books (print or electronic)Journal articles (print or electronic)Book Chapters (print or electronic)WebsitesDatabases


I think my definition of a reference is relatively straightforward.

A Reference is a description of a resource to the extent that the resource could be discovered on the basis of the description.

Essentially a reference has to be enough for ‘the reader’ to be able to go and find the relevant resource.


I struggled a bit more with the definition of a citation. This was because I was actually trying to find a word for a different concept – something I’ll expand on below. This was clearly using the term citation in a way that wasn’t consistent with the common use. So, my current definition of a citation is:

A citation is an in-context pointer to a reference.

A citation would usually appear in a body of text where you might put a reference, but for the purposes of readability you simply put a pointer to a reference usually in a footnote or endnote to the text.

Other concepts

There is another distinction I find myself wanting to make, but I’m not sure if making these fine grained distinctions is useful or necessary – I’d be interested in comments on this concept:Something that refers to a specific part (or aspect) of the thing that is referenced. A reference would tend to point at say a book or a chapter – would it be useful to have a term for when you refer to a specific part of a resource, when the reference points only at the general resource? If I directly quote from a resource, then I’m not just citing that resource, but a very specific bit of that resource. Does this make a difference?A similar but slightly different thing is that there is a difference between wanting to point to a website as a general resource, and pointing to a website for the purposes of citation – in the latter case you would want to include the date that the website was accessed for the particular piece of information you are using.Comments on the definitions, and any discussion of the latter points welcomed!


  • Aug 28th 200913:08
    by Chris Rusbridge

    Another concept worth thinking about is the state of the referenced object. It would be nice not only to hint it might have changed (by using the date) but to be able to reliably reference the cited state. Peter Buneman writes a bit about this and granularity in (Buneman, 2006).

    Buneman, P. (2006). How to cite curated databases and how to make them citable. Paper presented at the Conference on Scientific and Statistical Database Management. http://homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/opb/homepagefiles/harmarnew.pdf

  • Aug 28th 200916:08
    by ostephens

    Thanks Chris – very interesting article, and overlaps with some of the issues I’m looking at. Just to quickly pick out something that jumped out at me:

    “I believe are obvious to anyone working in traditional scholarship: there is some “thing” that is being cited; the thing should be accessible; and the thing should not change over time.”

    It seems commonly accepted that you might cite something that isn’t ‘accessible’ – e.g. a personal correspondence. I was a bit suprised, but a quick survey on Twitter confirmed that this was definitely not unheard of. I guess it is also possible with unique material you might end up citing something that is then destroyed – it wouldn’t necessarily make the citation invalid though (or mean that you would cite something that cited it?)

  • Leave a Reply

    Sorry, comments are closed.