What is academic referencing? (and how to do it) – OurWarwick

What is academic referencing? (and how to do it)

Referencing (or citing) is one of the vital aspects of a university essay, but unless you’ve done an EPQ in school it’s unlikely that you’ve had any experience doing it, yet alone to the standard expected by universities.

So what is referencing? In short, it’s a way of acknowledging that you’ve used someone else’s work in your own. You may quote directly from another piece of work, or simply use the ideas from another source. You have to reference everything you use, including both primary and secondary sources.

Academia is like one big discussion. Your essay responds to someone else’s ideas, offering a new perspective to the debate. Someone, in turn, may quote you and respond to your argument. Referencing allows this to happen.

Referencing correctly is important so that anyone can find the source that you have used. There are many different kinds of sources, from books to articles in journals and periodicals, to websites and digital media like films and music. All are things you could refer to in an essay, so it’s important you cite them.

There are many different referencing formats in use today, but your course will specify which one it expects you to use. For my course, English Literature, I’m expected to use the MLA (Modern Language Association) format.

This website is my go-to for how to use MLA: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_and_style_guide.html

There are two central components to referencing in an essay: the bibliography (or works-cited page), and in-text citations:

A bibliography comes at the end of an essay, and is a list of all the sources you have used, in alphabetical order. Each bibliography entry will say the name or title of the source, its publication date and publisher. If it’s an article in a journal or book chapter, it will also name the wider publication the article or chapter is part of, and the page numbers. Here’s an example:

Eliot, George. Adam Bede. Oxford University Press, 2008.

In-text citations are used when you quote from a specific passage or page. In its simplest format, an in-text citation will look like this: “…[quote]…” (Morley 36). In brackets, the citation will give the author’s surname, followed by the page number you’ve taken the quote from. This will direct the reader to the source in the bibliography, where more information is listed about it.

When I write essays, I make sure I add to my bibliography and do my citations as I go, in order to not miss anything, especially when I’ve used lots of sources. Keeping them organised is really helpful.

I should add that not referencing is BAD. I say that in capitals, because if you don’t reference a source you have used, it’s considered plagiarism. Plagiarism is where you pass off some else’s ideas as your own. It’s basically stealing, and you could get into lots of trouble for it, even if it was accidental. Therefore referencing is important for maintaining academic integrity, as well as preventing you from being penalised or kicked off your course. (Risk of plagiarism is scary, but so long as you check you’ve referenced everything you used, there’s no need to worry).  

And be sure to check the handbook for your course, which should contain information about academic writing and how to format essays and referencing.

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