Why Reference When to Reference Bibliography or Reference List References Home Page

Writing a Thesis: Referencing

"Academic work is not limited to your own views and opinions, but is developed by thinking about ideas put forward by others. It is legitimate and appropriate to synthesise the work of others, providing you acknowledge the sources accurately." (University of Sussex, 2007)

This is about the whys and wherefores of referencing. It will cover the use and methods of citation as well as the provision of a reference list.

But First - Why Reference?

There are several good reasons why any academic report, from assignment to thesis, needs references. References are used to:

•  Identify Sources

"Identify sources. Provide people reading your report with a comprehensive list of related work that they can use to study your topic" (Dawson, 2000: 131).

Quotations such as those above are by definition the intellectual property of the authors and so must be referenced. Each quotation will need a citation (reference in the text) at the end of its occurrence, and details including author date etc. in the reference list at the end of the report.

•  Support

References are there to show the sources of authors who support and therefore help to authenticate your work. It is of course acceptable to provide references to authors who oppose your view. You would then balance opposing views with supporting views so that you can justify your conclusions.

•  Validate

When you make a claim, propose an idea, or discuss your view support references will help to validate your work. It is one of the factors showing that your work has academic credibility.

•  Verify

Referencing can be used to verify the value of your research. You need to show that it answers a question and satisfies a need. Referencing can help to provide this by showing that other authors have also noted the need and posed the question

•  Show Context

Your referenced sources, places your work in context, with relation to other researchers in the field. It shows how your work is extending that of others.

•  Avoid Plagiarism

Possibly the most important reason must be to ensure that you are not violating any other author's intellectual rights. By referencing all authors and works that you use to help formulate your own ideas, you are avoiding any possible claim of plagiarism within your dissertation. Plagiarism can be accidental, or even deliberate. However even accidental plagiarism is considered a serious academic offence.

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When to Reference

A common misconception is that referencing is only needed for a direct quote. It is certainly true that all quotations will need to be referenced. It is also true that a reference is required every time that a view or idea is used that has been read during the (extensive) reading of the researcher. So include references to:

•  Direct quotations
•  Summaries of ideas in your own words
•  Illustrations graphs or diagrams etc. that are 'borrowed' from other sources to clarify your text must be referenced.

However it is not necessary to reference:

•  Statements that are common knowledge e.g. 'The appearance of the rainbow is the result of the rainfall and sunshine.'
•  Your own ideas and arguments while developing the thesis.
•  Your analysis or criticism of other people's work

(turner et al.)

Correct referencing of sources does not make a report appear to be simply an amalgam of references, but rather shows that is well researched. Loads of references are expected. You ensure that it is of value as your own work through the analyses, the critical reviews, and particularly the conclusion. The conclusion and recommendations will have arisen logically from the summation of ideas throughout the thesis building up to the concluding arguments.

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Bibliography or Reference List?

A reference list includes all the sources that have been cited throughout the report. A bibliography should contain any sources that have been used to augment the research, but have not been cited within the text. Some authorities would argue that is possible to put everything into one list and then that list should be a reference list. This would not be a perfect solution, but it may be practical.


Dawson, C. (2000) The Essence of Computing Projects: A Students Guide. Harlow England: Pearson Education

Turner, J. Referencing [online] available from
<> [18-02-08]

University of Sussex (2007) Why Reference: Definitions [online] from 'Referencing' an Information Literacy Tutorial, available at
<> [18-04-08]

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