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Referencing: A best practices list

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Referencing is one of the most important parts of academia, but if you’re new to research or just rusty it can be complicated. Knowing when to use references, which style to use and how to compile a bibliography are skills that ensure your work is academically sound and reliable. Even more importantly, referencing can protect you from accusations of plagiarism.

Here are ten tips to improve your referencing.

  1. Reference to avoid plagiarism: The first reason to reference is to make sure that you’re not taking credit for other people’s research and ideas.
  2. Reference to enhance your credibility: References give your work credibility. Academia is a field in which authors build on and respond to others’ work, and using citations shows that you are participating in that process. Also, it allows anyone who questions one of your facts, figures or quotes to verify it.
  3. Cite ideas: Any time you’re referencing a theory, conclusion or idea published by another researcher, cite it. It’s good to include sentences like “Many researchers believe,” or “One researcher argues,” in your academic work, but make sure that these are all properly attributed.
  4. Cite all facts that aren’t “common knowledge”: This line can seem blurry, but any time a fact is in dispute or relatively unknown – so that another researcher would have to do research to produce the fact – cite where you found it. If someone is questioning your information, you want to show them your source.
  5. Cite a variety of works: Cite some articles and some books, and cite works with a variety of theses and conclusions. Also, make sure to cite at least three or four different authors instead of relying on works from one individual. Doing so ensures that your paper will be academically rigorous, addressing as many viewpoints as possible.
  6. Never draw a conclusion from uncited facts: Any time you make an argument, draw a conclusion or even raise a question, cite the facts that led you to that thought.
  7. What should I title my bibliography page?: Some style guides dictate that you title your bibliography page “Bibliography,” and others choose “References.” Consult your chosen style guide to decide which to use.
  8. Different subjects use different style guides: The style guide you choose will be based on the subject area you’re writing in.
  9. Use academic databases to find sound sources: Almost as bad as not citing sources is citing bad ones. Use an academic database like the Web of Science to ensure you’re only citing reputable research.
  10. Factor in time for your citations: There’s nothing worse than getting close to a deadline and still needing to do your citations.