Referencing: what to reference?

What is Referencing Exercises PDF

Have a look at this:

A case of never letting the source spoil a good story

Perhaps it’s too embarrassing for some writers to risk linking to primary sources that readers can check for themselves
Wind farms have been blamed for the stranding of whales, according to a distorted story in the Daily Telegraph which was later retracted. Photograph: Christopher Thomond
Ben Goldacre

The Guardian, Sat 19 Mar 2011 08.00 GMT


Why don’t journalists link to primary sources? Whether it’s a press release, an academic journal article, a formal report or perhaps (if everyone’s feeling brave) the full transcript of an interview, the primary source contains more information for interested readers, it shows your working, and it allows people to check whether what you wrote was true. Perhaps linking to primary sources would just be too embarrassing. Here are three short stories.
This week the Telegraph ran the headline “Wind farms blamed for stranding of whales”. It continued: “Offshore wind farms are one of the main reasons why whales strand themselves on beaches, according to scientists studying the problem.” Lady Warsi even cited this as fact on the BBC’s Question Time this week, while arguing against wind farms.
But anyone who read the open-access academic paper in PLoS One, titled “Beaked whales respond to simulated and actual navy sonar”, would see that the study looked at sonar and didn’t mention wind farms at all. At our most generous, the Telegraph story was a spectacular and bizarre exaggeration of a brief contextual aside about general levels of manmade sound in the ocean by one author at the end of the press release (titled “Whales ‘scared’ by sonars”). Now, I have higher expectations of academic institutions than media ones, but this release didn’t mention wind farms, certainly didn’t say they were “one of the main reasons why whales strand themselves on beaches”, and anyone reading the press release could see that the study was about naval sonar.
The Telegraph article was a distortion (now retracted), perhaps driven by its odder editorial lines on the environment, but my point is this: if we had a culture of linking to primary sources, if they were a click away, then any sensible journalist would be too embarrassed to see this article go online. Distortions like this are only possible, or plausible, or worth risking, in an environment where the reader is actively deprived of information.
Sometimes the examples are sillier. Professor Anna Ahn published a paper recently showing that people with shorter heels have larger calves. For the Telegraph this became “Why stilettos are the secret to shapely legs”, for the Mail “Stilettos give women shapelier legs than flats”, for the Express “Stilettos tone up your legs”.
Yet anybody who read even just the press release would immediately see that this study had nothing whatsoever to do with shoes. It didn’t look at shoe heel height, it looked at anatomical heel length, the distance from the back of your ankle joint to the insertion of the achilles tendon. It was just an interesting, nerdy insight into how the human body is engineered: if you have a shorter lever at the back of your foot, you need a bigger muscle in your calf. The participants were barefoot.
Once more this story was a concoction by journalists, but no journalist would have risked writing that the study was about stilettos if they’d had to link to the press release – they’d have looked like idiots, and fantasists, to anyone who bothered to click.
Lastly, on Wednesday the Daily Mail ran with the scare headline “Swimming too often in chlorinated water ‘could increase risk of developing bladder cancer’, claim scientists”. There’s little point in documenting the shortcomings of Mail health stories any more, but suffice to say, while the story purported to describe a study in the journal Environmental Health, anyone who read the original paper, or even the press release, would see immediately that bladder cancer wasn’t measured, and the Mail’s story was a simple distortion.
Of course, this is a problem that generalises well beyond science. Over and again, you read comment pieces that purport to be responding to an earlier piece, but distort the earlier arguments, or miss out the most important ones: they count on it being inconvenient for you to check. There’s also an interesting difference between different media: most bloggers have no institutional credibility, so they must build it by linking transparently and allowing you to double-check their work easily.
But more than anything, because linking to sources is such an easy thing to do and the motivations for avoiding links are so dubious, I’ve detected myself using a new rule of thumb: if you don’t link to primary sources, I just don’t trust you.


Referencing: what to reference?

When you write an essay, your argument must be backed up by evidence from other sources. This, after all is what distinguishes an academic argument from an opinion. These sources can be referred to as primary text and secondary text sources.

  • A primary text source will be the main text or texts you’re using around which the essay’s written. So if, for example, you are a design student working on a design and postmodernism essay, your primary sources might be No More Rules by Rick Poynor.
  • Your secondary text sources will be works by critics who have written on design and postmodernism, or works by theorists whose approaches you want to follow – Marxist, feminist, structuralism, etc.

Every time you use a quotation from either primary or secondary sources, or an idea or paraphrase from secondary material, you must credit that quotation or idea. Although it’s sometimes difficult to know how to show this debt in your work, you have to learn to do it.

Whilst referencing should be just as rigorously applied in all areas of study, there are some differences in method and expectations between different disciplines.

When you use the quotation or idea , you must put its source in brackets immediately following the quote or your statement. You may also wish to add a footnote (at the bottom of the page) giving further information about the quote or idea, but not giving the full reference. This should be at the end of the essay.

  • As well as this, you must provide a bibliography at the end of your work.
  • A bibliography is a list of books you have consulted to do the essay.
  • You will give the author, date of publication, book title and the publisher, along with the place of publication. Details of how to do this follow.

We use the Harvard System of Referencing. This uses brackets within the text of the essay to give the source of borrowed information.

Beware Plagiarism

What happens if you don’t credit the sources you’ve used? This is plagiarism and it is STEALING.

The University takes the offense of plagiarism very seriously indeed and you need to be aware of the University’s regulations regarding the use of unfair means in non-invigilated examinations. The basic principle underlying the preparation of an assessed essay is that the essay submitted must be the student’s own work. You can, of course, discuss the subject of your essay with others, and quote material from other sources in your essays, so long as it is clearly referenced. However, plagiarism and collusion are not allowed because they violate the basic principle above.
It is of immense importance that you do not plagiarise others’ work.

  • Sometimes, it’s hard to work out what ideas you have used. You could have read a book and decided not to quote from it, but it could have given you an idea.
  • If you genuinely forget to credit the source, and it’s a minor point, don’t worry too much, but it’s better to be scrupulous and credit it.
  • The way to avoid problems is to take careful notes.
  • If a lecturer tells you of a source, and gives its title and author, write it down carefully, look it up in the library catalogue and take publication and edition details from it.
  • If the lecturer reads out a quotation for you to write down, copy it carefully.
  • If a quotation’s going into your essay in inverted commas, it must be the actual quotation as it appears in the source text, with identical wording, spelling, capitalisation and punctuation.
  • You can use paraphrases if you like. So if a quotation from Smith said “Dickens expresses a humanitarian viewpoint – he cares about the individual more than the mass”, your paraphrase might read ‘Smith feels that Dickens concentrates on a character’s separate experience rather than making generalisations about society.
  • However, just because it is not a direct quotation, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to credit Smith – you do.

Referencing Exercises

Accurate referencing enhances your credibility and authority as a writer.

Referencing your sources acknowledges the work of the original authors; it helps others to locate the same sources for their own learning purposes; and it also helps you to assert your ‘own voice’ in assignments, as you can use sources to lend support to your own ideas or arguments.

Test your knowledge of referencing with one or more the following four exercises. The answers and comments are to be found at the end of the worksheet.

Exercise 1: Is a Reference Needed?

When is a reference necessary in an assignment?  Decide if a reference to a source is needed in the following situations.

Situation Yes No

  1. When quoting directly from a published source.

  1. When using statistics or other data that is freely available from a publicly accessible website.

  1. When summarizing the cause of undisputed past events and where there is agreement by most commentators on cause and effect.

  1. When paraphrasing a definition found on a website and when no writer, editor or author’s name is shown.

  1. When summarizing or paraphrasing the ideas of a key commentator or author, but taken from a secondary source, e.g. general reference book.
Situation Yes No

  1. When summarizing in a concluding paragraph of your assignment what you discussed and referenced earlier in your text.

  1. When including in your assignment photographs or graphics that are freely available on the Internet and where no named photographer or originator is shown.

  1. When emphasizing an idea you have read that you feel makes an important contribution to the points made in your assignment.



  1. When summarizing undisputed and commonplace facts about the world.



  1. When using aphorisms, such as: “Pennywise, pound


Exercise 2: Where Should the Citations Go?

Citations are the full or partial references that you place into the text of your assignment to identify the source of evidence presented.

For example, with the Harvard and APA referencing styles the citations used are the last names of authors or originators of the source in question, followed by the year of its publication, e.g. (Handy 1996).

These citations should connect with the full detail of the source contained in the alphabetical list of references at the end of the assignment. For example, the following essay paragraph contains two citations that help the reader to identify the source of the definition used (i.e. Coleman and Chiva 1991) and the hypothesis presented (i.e. Hopson and Scaly 1999).

Life planning is a process to encourage people to review their lives, identify life priorities, consider options and make plans to implement choices (Coleman and Chiva 1991). It is an idea that started in the USA, but has found its way to Britain and the rest of Europe in recent years. Hopson and Scally (1999) suggest the process is built on seven life management skills: knowing yourself; learning from experience; research and information retrieval skills; setting objectives and making action plans; making decisions; looking after yourself; and communicating with others.

Look at the following three brief extracts from assignments and decide if a citation is necessary, and, if so, where it should go. Mark the relevant point in the text with a X.

  1. A major study of British school leavers concluded that parents had a major influence on the kind of work entered by their children.    The children were influenced over a long period of time by the values and ideas about work of their parents.  A later study reached the same conclusion, and showed a link between the social and economic status of parents and the work attitudes and aspirations of their teenage children.
  1. Climatologists generally agree that the five warmest years since the late nineteenth century have been within the decade, 1995-2005, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), ranking 2005 as the second warmest year behind 1998.
  1. It has been argued that federalism is a way of making sense of large organisations and that the power and responsibility that drives federalism is a feature of developed societies and can be extended into a way forward for managing modern business: “authority must be earned from those whom it is exercised”.

Exercise 3: “I Didn’t Reference the Source Because…”

Below are six statements that might be made by students for not referencing a particular source in an assignment. They all start with “I didn’t reference the source because…”

However, imagine you were a tutor what would you say in response to these statements?  Six likely tutor responses are shown. Match the likely response to the statement. Write the most likely response number in the right hand column below.

Statements Response Number:
  1. a. I didn’t reference the source in the text of the assignment because I put the source in the bibliography.
  1. b. I didn’t reference the source because I found this theory on a Wiki Internet site; anyone can contribute to these, and no particular author is named.
  1. c. I didn’t reference the source because the statistics were taken from a government website, which are there for the whole world to see and use.
  1. d. I didn’t reference the source because it just gave me ideas to use in my assignment; I changed most of words in the article to my own.
  1. e. I didn’t reference the source of the definition because it was from a tutor handout; everyone in class was given a copy.
  1. f. I didn’t reference the source because no author or writer’s name was shown on the website.



Match each statement shown above with the appropriate tutor response from the list below.

  1. If no named author or writer is shown, you should cite and reference the name of the originator of the source, which can be a name of an organization, or other source.
  2. Readers need to match in-text citations with the full details of sources in a list of references.  This enables readers to find and use the sources for themselves, if required.
  3. The source of all data like this must be fully referenced. Readers may, for example, want to learn or examine the methodology for the research and data collection.
  4. It is advisable, wherever possible, to use primary sources in an assignment, rather than secondary sources. A primary source, in this example, would be the originator of the theory.  Secondary sources may not always be reliable. However, if you do use a secondary source, it needs to be properly referenced.
  5. Any source that has played a significant contribution to your assignment must be fully referenced. By doing this you acknowledge the part another person has played in the development of your own ideas.
  6. This came from work produced by someone else and not by you.  It also contributes to the reader’s understanding of terms you have used in your assignment and so needs to be properly referenced.

Exercise 4: Referencing Errors

A number of the sources below, presented in the Harvard Style of referencing, contain one or more errors. Identify and summarise in the right hand column below the nature of any errors that you spot.

References Error(s)? [Accessed 09/08/2004].

BUSINESS STRATEGIES (2000). Tomorrow’s Call Centres: a Research Study.

DEPARTMENT FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY (2004). The UK Contact Centre Industry: a Study’. [Report]. London: Department for Trade and Industry.

HEALTH and SAFETY EXECUTIVE. Psychosocial Working Conditions in Great Britain in 2004.

HUWS, U (1999). Virtually There: the Evolution of Call Centres. [Report]. London:  Mitel Telecom Ltd.

HUWS, U (1993). Teleworking in Britain: a Report to the Employment Department. Research Series No 18, Oct 1993. London: Department of Employment.

HUWS, U (1996). eWorking: an Overview of the Research. [Report]. London: Department of Trade and Industry.

© Colin Neville    July 2008


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