3 awkward referencing questions your Librarian dreads


We get asked a lot of questions in the Library – some easy, some complex, and others downright bizarre – but if you’ve ever wanted to strike fear into the heart of a Librarian, this is one way to go about it. And all because we hate that crestfallen look on your face when we start answering what you think is a simple question with “Well, that sort of depends…”  by Karina Beck

How many references should I have at the end of my assignment?

What you’d like to hear: 15 is fine, you may as well stop reading at that point.

What we’d really say:

What you’re actually asking here and, crucially, what your marker will be asking is…

Have I read enough to have a thorough understanding of this area?

Have I provided the right amount of evidence to support my discussion?

Have I put enough of my own thoughts and ideas into this essay?

In order to answer these you need to think carefully about the appropriate balance between your own voice and the voices of those you’ve been using to inform your thinking. A lot of things will impact on the “right” number of sources, including the research topic of your assignment (well-established, broad, niche?) and the length and format of the assessment (lab report, literature review, business pitch, thesis?). You might also find that there are established trends in your subject area – the more you read, the more you’ll get a feel for it.

Ultimately though, you’re going to have to make the judgement call on this…

How many marks will I lose if I reference incorrectly?

What you’d like to hear: None.

What we’d really say:

The short answer is that this really is up to your department, and the person marking your work. If you’re really keen on the specifics check your dept. handbook or support materials carefully in case they specify a maximum percentage deduction.

The longer answer is that this will depend on what you mean by “incorrectly”. If you’re talking about the odd comma in the wrong place, whilst your referencing is otherwise consistent and thorough, then stop winding yourself up and focus on those paragraphs you’ve yet to write, which could be worth far more marks. However, if you’ve consistently missed parts of references or mixed up referencing styles, it’s more likely someone will notice and penalise you. If you’ve forgotten to reference whole chunks of text, ideas and statistics, you’re in dangerous plagiarism territory and should expect consequences.

What’s the best referencing style?

What you’d like to hear: This one right here…

What we’d really say: 

There are a number of styles in use at Warwick. Some departments will specify a particular style and direct you to a preferred guide for this, e.g. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. If this applies to you, relax in the knowledge that as long as you follow the templates provided, you can’t go far wrong.

Other depts. will recommend a couple you can choose from, or suggest that as long as you’re consistent, they’ll be happy. Be warned – this isn’t your department saying “we don’t really care about your referencing” – they definitely do.  My advice? Pick a style, stick to it like moss. The nice thing is that you can pick one you’re comfortable using.

If you can’t find any guidance on how you should reference, seek advice from a tutor or supervisor before you start writing – you’ll save yourself a lot of time in the long run.

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