You are probably aware of the fact that you should account for the sources you use in your academic thesis. When you do this, you show that you have taken part of relevant research in your field, you give your readers the possibility study your topic more closely, and you minimize the risk of plagiarizing someone else. Concerning common knowledge, and knowledge that is seen as common within your field, you do not need to refer to any sources. Examples of cases when you do not need to write references are found in Refero – an Anti-plagiarism Tutorial.
Make sure that you, already from the beginning, gather enough information about the source you are going to refer to. To assist you, there are built-in functions in library catalogues and databases, but you can also use reference management software, where you work with your own library of references.
Here you will find definitions of some terms that we use in the Writing guide:
The source is where you got your information from. Sources can be printed or electronic texts like books, articles and reports.
In your text, you should indicate when you have used a source. You do this with an in-text reference, which is often interwoven with the text. It is common to use the author’s name and a year in the in-text reference.
The source you mention in your in-text reference should be described more completely in the reference.
List of references
The list of references can also be named Works cited or Bibliography, and it is a list of your references.
In your text, you should refer to your sources clearly by using in-text references, often with the author’s name and a year.
Sometimes there is cause for naming from which page in your source you got the information, e.g. if you make a quotation.
You may also want to refer to several sources at the same time.
Another common way to make an in-text reference is to use numbering, which refers to the reference in the list of references.
The in-text reference can also be written like a footnote.
At the end of your thesis you should write a list of references, which can also be called works cited or bibliography. In your list, you should include all sources that you refer to in your text and it should be easy to go from the in-text reference to the more complete information in the list. Each source gets its own reference, and in order to make it easy to navigate in the list you write all references in alphabetical order or number the references (in order of appearance) and enter them in numerical order in the list.
It is important that you include enough information for the readers to be able to find their way from the reference to the books, articles, etc. that you have used as sources. Author, title and year are examples of information that should be included. What else to include depends on what type of source you are referring to. In some disciplines it is common to separate oral and written sources in the list of references. The list should be placed at the end of your work, but before any appendices.
When you write an academic text, you must choose a so called style, which determines how in-text references, references and lists of references should be written. Which style you should use depends on the practice of your institution. Some styles that are used are Harvard, IEEE, Oxford, and APA. Check with your tutor to find out which style is used in your field of study.
This guide from the Anglia Ruskin University shows you how to use the Harvard style.
This document contains examples of how to write references according to IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). IEEE Citation Guidelines (pdf file 5 p.)
In the Oxford referencing style you use footnotes, see this guide from The University of Western Australia.
The American psychological association has created a style called APA. Karolinska Institutet University Library has made a Reference guide for APA. In the guide you get examples of how to refer to very many different types of materials. APA has also made their own tutorial about the style consisting of short films.
In most databases and catalogues you can get suggestions of how to write references in different styles. Then you can import the reference, or simply copy and paste it into your own document. The reference style you have chosen may not be included as an alternative, but at least you will get some idea of what information you should include. Always check the quality of the reference before using it. Is all the necessary information included?
Reference management software
When you are going to write an academic/scholarly text, you may need help to keep track of the references to the material you want to refer to. You may also need help to write in-text references, references, and lists of references correctly.
A reference management program can help you to manage your references during the whole writing process, from information seeking, to the publishing of your completed text.
There are several different programs, but they can all help you during the process of:
- gathering information
All programs have this in common, that you create a database with your references. You can enter the references manually, or import the information, for example from databases and library catalogues. In the database, the references are searchable, and you can add information such as for example key words and notes. The actual texts, e.g. articles, can also be added to the database as PDF files or in other formats.
When you write, you can insert in-text references by collecting the information from your database. You can also insert a list of references to your document. If you rearrange text in the document the references will follow, and the list of references will adjust itself continually as you make changes in the text.
The reference management software will help you to automatically process the information you entered into the database, so that it is presented in the style you have chosen.
There are several different reference management tools to choose from. To find out which would suit you best, you can check with others who have started using reference management software, watch introductory films, and consider which features are the most important for you.
Watch this slideshow to learn more about one of the free reference management tools, Zotero.