Five necessary tips for perfect referencing for essays

As a history student “Referencing” became one of those nasty buzzwords which I associated with losing marks regardless of the quality of my argument. However, correct referencing is essential for validating all references, and with these 5 necessary tips you will stay on top of your referencing and not lose any extra marks.

I have used the Harvard System, the Chicago system, and the specific Stirling History systems of referencing. The tips which I will give you today will be applicable for all referencing strategies, with the common condition that the reader is aiming to be absolutely thorough in their referencing.

Cite in-text immediately:

  • The most important tip is when you’ve written a point containing evidence is to cite the evidence immediately, while it is still in your head.
  • The biggest mistake which I made with referencing was to say that I would do it when my essay was finished. My style of researching, writing and editing meant that I never finished before that day that an assignment was due.
  • If you balance the interesting tasks with the more mundane tasks then it will all work out a lot easier.

Cite in bibliography immediately:

  • If you have cited a source in-text or in a footnotes then immediately put it into your bibliography or check to see that it has already been put in.
  • Also double check when you are finished that every source included in your in-text citations or footnotes has been put in your bibliography. I have missed a few at the last minute before and been penalised, for the mistake and for the sheer obviousness with which the marker could spot it.

Use keyword search on your PC (#lifesaver):

  • Hit ctrl + f on the keyboard of your PC and it will allow you to highlight every use of any letter, number, or symbol, as well as combinations of all of them. It was recommended to me by my friend Liam and it is a lifesaver when you are double crossing references for spelling, style, and composition.
  • If your referencing system requires you to have a shorter version of the reference after the first time that you cite it, then this will allow you to locate the first time that a particular source has been cited.
  • An added benefit of this system is that it allows you to notice if you’ve cited two articles the same way (e.g. Smith, 2016). It is quite common for a prolific academic or an academic with a common surname to have multiple texts in one year. Then check how your referencing system specifies how to distinguish them.

Double-check when you use referencing software:

  • If you use referencing software such as RefWorks then do not make the mistake of assuming that you can rely on it 100%. Always review it afterwards with a study guide.

Stick to ONE referencing guide:

  • For my undergraduate degree, all history students were fortunate enough to be given a style guide by the department. As long as we studied and stuck to the rules contained within it we would not lose any marks from it.
  • However, for my postgraduate degree we were told what style to use and to find a guide ourselves, even though the most popular guides on the particular referencing style had slight differences. But the important condition which we were all given was that the referencing style should be consistent throughout an individual essay, which would mean that we were not penalised, except for major errors.



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