Posted: May 11, 2017
By: Chris Thompson
Academic Referencing 101
I can hear the groans already. For many of you, I suspect that this topic brings back memories of late nights poring over books in your dorm room, library, or kitchen table, desperate to hit print (or send) on that final term paper. Academic referencing is usually a bothersome afterthought to hours upon hours of research, but it serves an incredibly important purpose, not just in academia, but in society.
We all know the phrase, give credit where credit is due, and that is the fundamental principle of academic referencing. Responsible research involves providing our reader with the appropriate amount of information so that they may seek out the book, article, website, image, etc. (there are referencing requirements for just about everything) on his or her own. By referencing our source materials appropriately, we fulfill our ethical and legal obligations as writers, and this helps to avoid any accusation of plagiarism.
At the most basic level, two elements are required: a citation included in the body of your work to indicate the presence (direct or indirect) of someone else’s ideas, and publication information for each source. Depending on your discipline, the way in which these are documented will vary according to the corresponding style guide; American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Languages Association (MLA), and Chicago are most common. Each style varies in formatting, structure, and terminology, and yes, many of the requirements are quite finicky, but with practice it can become second nature.
In my first year of undergrad, we were required to purchase the APA Style Guide, expected to bring it to class, and tested on its contents. Today, we have access to countless online tools, from style guides (my go-to is Purdue OWL) to free reference generators. Western Libraries provides an excellent list of style guides and citation management tools on its website.
If you are new to the concept of academic referencing, or are returning to the classroom after a hiatus, here are my top three tips:
- Track your resources as you go. That way, you won’t be scrambling to recall and record your reference information at the eleventh hour. Online tools such as Diigo can help organize your information.
- Don’t trust the tools alone. This is especially important if you are being graded on your academic referencing techniques. Online tools and word processors are a great start, but it’s important that you review both your citations and publication information to ensure they meet the current, correct standards.
- Ask your instructor. In some courses, you will be required to use a specific reference style, usually APA at Western Continuing Studies. Some instructors may allow you to choose your preferred style, so long as it is used consistently throughout your assignments. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for direction or help.