Part III: References and Quotations: Using and Documenting Sources

Chapter 7: References: Using and Documenting Sources Effectively and Accurately 

Providing references for a piece of academic or scientific writing is a process often dreaded by scholars, and many advanced academics and scientists will pass the task of recording references on to their postgraduate students and other research assistants. While this can provide a little extra (and generally much-needed) funding for doctoral candidates, those candidates rarely have the opportunity to recruit similar assistance while recording the references in their own theses. This is probably a good thing, because it is absolutely essential that scholarly authors thoroughly understand the principles of referencing, know when and how to provide references and recognise the importance of complete accuracy in individual references and of consistency across all references of similar kinds. It is your responsibility as an academic or scientific author to acknowledge the sources you use with absolute integrity and precision, and getting your references right is well worth the effort, not only because sound referencing is a quality of sound scholarship, but also because the consequences can be unpleasant if the bibliographical details in your thesis are incorrect and, worse yet, if your intellectual use of sources is unacknowledged or misrepresented. If you are planning on enjoying an academic or scientific career (and the fact that you are pursuing a doctoral degree certainly suggests that you may be), you will be using and acknowledging sources throughout your working life, so you need to know how to do so well, even if at some point you cease to construct references yourself and your knowledge serves only to enable you to direct, check and correct the efforts of your own postgraduate students and research assistants. This chapter lays out the basics of providing complete, accurate and consistent references for the sources used in your thesis, thereby establishing the groundwork for effective referencing practices in your future scholarly writing and publications, but do be sure to check, prioritise and follow to the letter any guidelines on and examples of references provided by your university, department or thesis committee.

7.1 Why, When and Where References Should Be Provided

Whenever you borrow from or refer to the work or ideas of others in your own writing, you need to provide a reference to the source you used. You may adopt the methods of another researcher, summarise the results gained in a trial conducted by another scholar or quote the words of another author; you may refer your readers to a particular study, review the information you found in an article or argue against the conclusions reported in another thesis. However you choose to refer in your own writing to the work of another academic, scientist or author, you must provide an appropriate reference to the source you have used regardless of the age and nature of the source (fresh off the press or a thousand years old, and textual, oral, audio, visual, printed, digital, electronic, online etc.). This is more than a courtesy, though it is certainly that as well; it is a necessity of sound scholarship, and not acknowledging your sources appropriately can result in charges of plagiarism, which can in the worst of scenarios put a stop to your doctoral pursuits. Your department or university library may well provide detailed information on plagiarism, including the necessity of avoiding it and effective techniques for doing so; it is therefore necessary to consult whatever resources and listen carefully to any advice that might be available to you, especially if you are unsure of exactly what constitutes plagiarism (you may also find the information on plagiarism presented by several pages in the Purdue Online Writing Lab, 1995–2015 useful). Generally speaking, taking very careful notes when conducting your research and accurately recording the bibliographical information for all sources you consult (see Sections 2.1.2 and 2.1.3) will help you avoid plagiarism when it comes time to draft your thesis and provide references, but properly acknowledging sources is also a matter of personal integrity and sensitivity to the needs of your readers, who will in many cases want to consult those sources themselves.

If you are certain or suspect that the ideas of others have influenced your thinking and research, you should acknowledge that influence in a manner that makes it absolutely clear to your readers exactly what information has been borrowed, exactly what the original source is and often exactly where in that source the relevant information can be found. The last is especially important when quoting directly from a source, in which case a page number (or other precise indicator of the location of the quoted passage) is generally provided, and quotation marks or other formatting details should mark the borrowed material precisely (on quoting sources directly, see Section 7.2 and Chapter 8). It remains important, however, to place the reference close to (usually immediately after) the quotation, and if material is not quoted directly, the placement of a reference is the key to indicating what information has been borrowed. If, for instance, you are discussing an author’s work or using his or her ideas throughout a sentence, the end of the sentence is usually the best place for the reference: ‘The results of the first study were positive (Taylor, 1985).’ If only part of a sentence makes use of a particular source, however, the reference to that source should come immediately after the relevant material so that it is clear which part of your sentence is dependent on the source: ‘The results of the first study were positive (Taylor, 1985), but findings since then have varied.’ If part of the sentence makes use of one source and the next part borrows from another source, you should provide two citations, with the appropriate source cited after the relevant information in each case: ‘The results of the first study were positive (Taylor, 1985), but the second study produced very different findings (Brockle, 1988).’ You could also provide these two citations (or more if necessary) together at the end of the sentence; although this is most appropriate if the sentence as a whole makes use of both sources, some guidelines call for all citations in a sentence or paragraph to be clustered at the end of the sentence or paragraph, in which case your readers may need to do a little more work to determine what information comes from which source, but you should observe this practice if it is required by the guidelines you have been given. If there are no such guidelines and you make use of a source throughout a whole paragraph, it is best to provide the reference in the first sentence influenced by that source rather than waiting until the end of the paragraph, but it is also good to include a further reference to the source whenever you feel it might be appropriate to acknowledge the author again. If you are referring to more than one source by the same author, you should provide a reference to each source wherever relevant just as you would were the sources by different authors: ‘The results of the first study were positive (Taylor, 1985), but a different approach produced very different findings (Taylor, 1990).’

Keep in mind when you are choosing and citing sources that primary sources are in almost all cases preferable to secondary sources on a topic, and some universities or departments will insist on the use of primary sources whenever possible in doctoral theses, only allowing secondary sources to be used in a primary way if comparable primary sources are lost, unavailable or inaccessible. The difference between a primary source and a secondary one is relatively straightforward: an original text from a period in history that you are studying is a primary source, for instance, while an interpretation or discussion of that text is a secondary source. Translations of original texts are slightly more complicated because they are both primary and secondary – primary in that they present the original texts in different languages, and secondary in that they provide interpretations of those texts in introductions, notes and even the ways in which the original texts are construed in translation. This does not mean that you should not make use of translations and other secondary sources, but that you should always return to the primary source of information while citing and quoting a document in your thesis. You may, for instance, read a medieval Latin text in translation, but quote the original Latin in your thesis, and you can also include the relevant passage from the translation to be sure that your readers will understand the text (see Section 8.4 below). On the other hand, if in consultation with your supervisor or thesis committee you decide that either the original or the translation alone will suffice, you can include a reference to the other so that your readers will be able to find it as well. Secondary sources can, of course, be used alongside primary sources in a thesis to enhance your own analyses and interpretations of primary sources, and they will certainly play a role in a literature review and in setting the stage for new research that grows from earlier work, but it is best not to use them as substitutes for primary sources unless absolutely necessary.

7.2 The Three Main Systems of In-Text Citation

Although the details of referencing vary considerably among disciplines, style guides and department guidelines (see Lipson, 2011 for information on a wide range of citation styles), generally speaking, there are three basic methods or systems of referring to sources in the running text of an academic or scientific document: author–date and other references based on the last names of authors (such references are often used in the physical, natural and social sciences), numerical citations (frequently the referencing choice for writing in the medical and biological sciences) and citations provided in either footnotes or endnotes (a method preferred by many scholars working in the humanities). These three methods of in-text citation along with the kind of complete references each requires are discussed separately in the following three sections of this book. More general information on the basic requirements of complete bibliographical references can be found in Section 7.3.

Why PhD Success?

To Graduate Successfully

This article is part of a book called "PhD Success" which focuses on the writing process of a phd thesis, with its aim being to provide sound practices and principles for reporting and formatting in text the methods, results and discussion of even the most innovative and unique research in ways that are clear, correct, professional and persuasive.

The assumption of the book is that the doctoral candidate reading it is both eager to write and more than capable of doing so, but nonetheless requires information and guidance on exactly what he or she should be writing and how best to approach the task. The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples.

The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples. PhD Success provides guidance for students familiar with English and the procedures of English universities, but it also acknowledges that many theses in the English language are now written by candidates whose first language is not English, so it carefully explains the scholarly styles, conventions and standards expected of a successful doctoral thesis in the English language.

Individual chapters of this book address reflective and critical writing early in the thesis process; working successfully with thesis supervisors and benefiting from commentary and criticism; drafting and revising effective thesis chapters and developing an academic or scientific argument; writing and formatting a thesis in clear and correct scholarly English; citing, quoting and documenting sources thoroughly and accurately; and preparing for and excelling in thesis meetings and examinations. 

Completing a doctoral thesis successfully requires long and penetrating thought, intellectual rigour and creativity, original research and sound methods (whether established or innovative), precision in recording detail and a wide-ranging thoroughness, as much perseverance and mental toughness as insight and brilliance, and, no matter how many helpful writing guides are consulted, a great deal of hard work over a significant period of time. Writing a thesis can be an enjoyable as well as a challenging experience, however, and even if it is not always so, the personal and professional rewards of achieving such an enormous goal are considerable, as all doctoral candidates no doubt realise, and will last a great deal longer than any problems that may be encountered during the process.

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