The importance of referencing in your essays

Whether you are a high school student completing a homework assignment, an academic publishing a dissertation, or a researcher compiling a white paper, referencing plays a vital role in your work.

In this article, we take a look at the reasons referencing is so important and the sources you need to reference, before introducing a powerful tool that helps to make the whole process so much easier.

The importance of referencing

Many people believe that we reference existing work to avoid accusations of plagiarism but, while that is certainly one benefit of referencing, it is by no means the most important. In fact, the significance of referencing falls into four key areas.

1. Plagiarism

An accusation of plagiarism can be devastating to any academic career, even if it was unintentional. When writing a paper, we often include thoughts, ideas, and conclusions drawn from many sources in the course of our research, and that is fine – so long as we reference it. Without proper referencing, there will be people in any discipline only too happy to levy a charge of plagiarism against you.

2. Credit

Every academic discipline is built upon the work of other members of the field. No shame comes from using the work of others as a foundation from which to draw your own conclusions – it is the entire principle of academic or scientific progress. Referencing allows us to acknowledge earlier research, the people who conducted it, and their contribution to the field.

3. Evidence

Any claims you make in your original work need to be backed up with solid evidence. Where this is not possible through experimentation, referencing experts in the field helps you to do so. It shows an awareness of your discipline, a sense of its history, and your ability to draw conclusions from existing research.

4. Persuasion

Citations make your writing much more persuasive, particularly if you intend for them to be read by the general public. They show that you have put the effort in, that you have researched your subject thoroughly, and that you have a solid grasp of the topic in hand.

What do I need to reference?

Some people think that proper referencing is only required when quoting from a published book, but this is not the case. Any information, ideas or quotations, no matter the source, need to be properly referenced.

The most common sources are books and journals, as well as magazine and newspaper articles, though pamphlets and brochures are often referenced too. However, this is far from an exhaustive list of sources: visual and audio media also needs to be referenced, including television programmes, films, documentaries, and even advertisements. In today’s digital age, we also need to consider websites, blogs, streaming videos and other online sources, not to mention emails and online forums – yes, even the dreaded comments section on a given site needs to be referenced if you wish to incorporate a specific comment in your paper. Physical letters and faxes need to be referenced, as do any charts, pictures, diagrams, or illustrations you may wish to include. Finally, any personal interviews that you conduct – whether face to face, online, or over the phone – need to be referenced too.

What do I not need to reference?

Whilst the above list covers most media, there are certain things that don’t require referencing.

Anything that is original to you and your work can be included without a reference, since the essay or paper that you are producing is, in effect, the source itself. This covers a variety of areas, including observations on an experiment and its results, your own comments, thoughts, and opinions on a given topic (as well as any conclusions drawn), and any analysis or evaluation of the facts you’re presenting. However, be aware that while your own original research or evaluation may not require referencing, if you’re discussing someone else’s work in the process, you will need to reference it appropriately.

Another area where you do not need to reference your source is what we loosely term ‘common knowledge’. This is anything that pretty much everybody knows, so including a citation would be redundant. For example, if your paper mentions the effect of gravity, you don’t need to reference Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica every time.

Are there any grey areas?

There are a couple of areas where you may or may not need to reference your source, and the decision to do so will ultimately rest with you, though you may be advised to seek further advice.

If you’re stating a fact or relaying information that is generally accepted or commonly agreed upon, referencing is not required, though this can vary somewhat depending on the specific area of study that you are engaged upon. For instance, you can state that climate change exists or that evolution is a fact without having to reference your sources, since the vast majority of academics agree.

When you wish to include information relayed to you by a lecturer or a tutor, you do not normally need to reference them directly. However, if you’re expanding on an original idea put forward by them in the course of a lecture, you may wish to ask first if they prefer to be referenced.

A general rule of thumb is: if in doubt, reference the source.

A high-quality referencing tool

The ScanMarker is a hand-held OCR (Optical Character Recognition) device that makes referencing swift, simple, and accurate. This portable and multi-functional tool is shaped like a pen and fitted with a small, high-performance scanner at its tip. This scanner is drawn across a line of printed text, which is then converted into digital data that can be used in a number of different applications. For instance, you can transfer that digital text to your essay or dissertation, pasting it into your document, no matter what program or application you’re using. For referencing purposes, this is an invaluable asset.

The digital text that you paste into your own paper is identical to the printed text in the book, newspaper, or magazine that you originally took it from. It takes just a few seconds to scan, transfer, and paste your quotes directly from the source, with no risk of misspellings, typos, or any other omissions that happen so frequently when you try to transcribe a quote manually. With the knowledge that your references are accurate and with the time you save inserting them into your work, you can maximize your research time finding the perfect reference, or making your own writing as tight as possible.

ScanMarker can help you there, too, but that’s a subject for another article.

For more information about the ScanMarker or the ScanMarker Air, visit our website today.

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