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2.1 Introduction to Referencing

Using references and citations in academic writing is accepted as fundamental to a rich academic discourse.

“When you cite a source, you show how your voice enters into an intellectual conversation and you demonstrate your link to the community within which you work. Working with sources can inspire your own ideas and enrich them, and your citation of these sources is the visible trace of that debt.” (http://www.yale.edu/bass/writing/sources/why.html)

A reference serves two general purposes:

  • To acknowledge the work and ideas of others
  • To describe or identify a resource to the extent a copy of the resource can be discovered by others

There is no real limit to the types of resource that you might reference, but when working in an academic environment typical resources could be:

  • Course materials
  • Web sites
  • Books (electronic or print)
  • Articles (electronic or print)
  • Journals (electronic or print)

In order to ensure consistency in the format and layout of references, it is usual for an author to use a defined referencing and citation style. At a high level, there are two approaches to including citations in a piece of writing. ‘Parenthetical referencing’ is the approach of including a brief reference in parentheses within a piece of text. The alternative approach to parenthetical referencing is to use a numbered footnote or endnote to point from the in-text citation to the full reference.

Probably the most widely used form of parenthetical referencing is the Harvard system, which uses the author name and date of publication in parentheses as the in-text citation, and then lists the full details for all references at the end of the text, ordered alphabetically by author name.

Within these two broad approaches there are a huge number of defined styles which dictate the formatting and layout that should be used for different types of reference. As a simple example the following two references are to the same book, but in two differing reference styles:

Gash, S. Effective Literature Searching for Research (Gower Publishing Limited, Aldershot, 2000). [‘Nature’ reference style as produced by RefWorks 26/02/2010]

Gash, Sarah. Effective Literature Searching for Research. Second ed. Aldershot: Gower Publishing Limited, 2000. [MLA reference style as produced by RefWorks 26/02/2010]

The purpose of a referencing style is to bring consistency and make it easy for the reader to understand what is being referenced. However, the rules governing a reference style tend to be complex as they have to be able to deal with any material that may be referenced in a consistent manner.

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