How Often Should you Reference in Undergraduate Essays?

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  • We take a look at the correct referencing techniques when quoting, paraphrasing and summarising and provide guidance as to how many references you should use.  

    Referencing is one aspect of an undergraduate course new students can take a little time to acclimatise to. You should all have some experience of referencing in essays written at A Level, but at undergraduate level you’re expected to be so much more precise.

    There are three dominant referencing styles: the Harvard, Oxford and Chicago system. Of these, the Harvard system is the most common in universities in the UK. This system dictates that sources cited within the text should include the name of the author, date of the source, and, if necessary, the page numbers used. The rest of the source information, such as the title and publication details, should be included in full in the bibliography. 

    When should you reference?

    There are five basic principles to guide you in the referencing of your undergraduate work. As a general rule to follow however, if you’re in doubt, cite. You’ll never get yourself in trouble for acknowledging a source when it’s not absolutely necessary, so always err on the side of caution. Better still, ask your tutor or lecturer so you can get it just right.

    The basic principles:

    1. Quotations – Any source you quote verbatim (word-for-word) must be placed in quotation marks. This quotation must be accompanied by an in-text citation, including the author, the date of the publication and the page numbers you used. Even if the phrase is only a word or two, you should still use quotation marks to differentiate the text from your own work, and cite the source.
    2. Paraphrase – Paraphrasing is simply reworking the ideas or thoughts you find in your own words. You don’t need to use quotation marks but you must always cite the source.
    3. Summary – A summary is a concise statement that condenses another person’s thoughts and ideas. Again, if you’re summarising someone’s arguments, ideas or conclusions, you must cite your source. Taking accurate notes as you go will help you attribute the ideas to the right author.
    4. Facts and figures – In an undergraduate essay, you’ll often be asked to support your argument with facts, figures and other data. If that information is found exclusively in one source, you should clearly reference the source. This will typically take the form of a scientific journal or a website. If a fact is generally well known it does not need to be cited. As a general rule to remember the difference between the two: ideas always need to be cited; facts may not.
    5. Supplementary Information – If you’re unable to fit all the information you have into a piece of work, you may need to insert a note offering supplementary information. This should include additional information to support your argument and show the breadth of your research. Again, any such information should be accompanied by an in-text citation and incorporated into your bibliography. 

    How often should you reference

    The requirements for the number of references, sources and citations you should include will change for each subject. We asked Oxbridge Essays, a team of professional essay writers for their views on this, and they recommended at least two references for every point you make. So a 2,000 word essay could have anywhere between 10 and 20 references.    

    If you need more referencing pointers check out this Harvard Referencing tutorial from Cardiff University, or take a look at the Oxbridge Essay social page for regular referencing and essay writing tips.   

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