It’s dissertation season, in the UK at least, and so I thought I’d talk a little bit about some topics that are important to students, whether you’re doing your undergraduate dissertation or a postgraduate Master’s dissertation or PhD. I’ll cover referencing this time, and then something on planning, structuring and handy hints. If you’ve been through the process and have any hints and tips to share, do get in touch so I can weave them together into a useful document.
So: referencing. We reference (or cite) what we’ve read when writing an essay or thesis in order to avoid plagiarism and demonstrate that we’ve read around the subject and know what we’re talking about. There are two aspects to referencing:
- recording what you’ve read and referred to
- referring to it appropriately in the text and bibliography of your dissertation
Recording what you’ve read
Putting together your references and bibliography is so much simpler if you keep a note of what you’ve read and consulted as you go along. In the days of my Library and Information Studies post-grad, it was all done on card index cards. Now there are lots of different options, including software like EndNote and Reference Manager. For my research project, I’m just keeping a list on a spreadsheet in Excel.
The information you need to note:
- Author’s full name. Editor(s) if appropriate
- For books: full title of the book. Full publisher information for the book (you can find this on the bottom of the title page, or the back of the title page), including publisher name, location and date published
- For chapters in books: Full title of the chapter and a full citation for the book, too (see above)
- For articles in journals: Full title of the article. Full title of the journal. Page numbers for the article
- For everything: page numbers for any direct quotations or sections you are going to refer to heavily
- For websites: full URL and date you accessed the web page
Obviously, this is easy to do at the time; just note down the details and off you go. Much, much harder to reconstruct after the event.
Referring to what you’ve read / citing
Now we’re talking about how you refer to what you’ve read and quoted in the text of the document you’re writing. The most important thing to do here is …
- CHECK WHICH REFERENCING SYSTEM YOUR ORGANISATION PREFERS YOU TO USE!
This is hugely important. Get it right first time, and you’ll pop all the references in easily. Get it wrong, or don’t bother to check, and you’ll be going through and through the thing, fiddling around with the references, when you should be spending your time refining your arguments and putting your thoughts across. Or you’ll be paying someone like me £x an hour to sort it out for you!
Referencing systems include Harvard Referencing, APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association). They all differ in how they ask you to present the information you collected above within your text.
For example, you could be expected to add a footnote number to each quotation in the text, with either a full bibliographical citation in the footnote section or a shortened reference there and a full bibliographical citation in the bibliography. Or you could be expected to put Smith (2001) in the text and supply a full reference in the bibliography. Or you might be putting a number in the text, referring to a numbered list in the bibliography.
A full bibliographical citation looks something like this:
Smith, J.L. (2001) The correct way to do referencing. Birmingham: Libro Publications.
Jones, A.B. (2001) “Me and my essay”, in Smith, J.L. The correct way to do referencing. Birmingham: Libro Publications.
Robinson, X. (2009) The different forms of citation. American Journal of Footnotes 33 (1): 202-204.
But it doesn’t always, and the citation method does affect how this looks.
Always, though: ALWAYS, the bibliography is in alphabetical order by author’s surname. It can take ages to sort this out if it isn’t!
How to conform to each referencing system? That’s a long, long post that no one would want to read! Your academic institution should provide you with links to reference materials about their preferred system, and, if not, the dreaded Wikipedia does do a good summary of most of the common ones.
Good luck – and happy referencing!