Tag Archives: academic

getting your head around referencing

What’s all this about?

It’s a funny thing referencing, and one most of us need to use from time to time. We are aiming to include a number of useful topics over the next issues around all sorts of topics including how to set up a charity or social enterprise, Facebook & Twitter, email or direct mailing, publishing on Kindle and others. Hopefully these will individually be useful and certainly feel free to share and use them as a hook to get colleagues and friends reading the journal!

What do we all want (or need) to know?

You could write books (referenced of course!) on this – you could almost run a certificate course on it. Think generally most of us want a bit on the ‘why’ and chunk on the ‘how’ – so let’s do that!

Astoundingly I’d reached page 8 on Google before anyone really addressed what the point of referencing is. Essentially the first 7 1/2 pages were just what to do and how to do it. Google of course works by guessing what I’m looking for based on what others clicked on when they performed similar searches, and if I’m honest I find it slightly sad that people search only for how and not for why. As ever in Solution Focus, even in a how-to guide, perhaps I hadn’t asked Google the right questions.

OK, so what is the point, besides getting better marks?

Well, we just all do it – it’s just the way it is. Academia like it, and makes us all feel academic so we do it. It might seem like that at times, and actually there are really compelling reasons to do it, and more importantly do it well, not as an afterthought at the end. Treating it as a necessary evil to get good marks will never use it to full potential.
Queen’s University in Belfast had a great analogy of saying that referencing was a bit like the label on your clothes, it told you all about it (and I suppose it’s provenance and make-up). Taking that analogy a bit further in our Solution Focus work what could our best hopes for referencing our work be?

That we (or our teams) – i.e., the designers are presented as high quality, authoritative, and trustworthy
That we tell our readers who we are and where we come from (mede in….)
That our background research and content ( i.e., materials) were the best quality and combination for this work, and had been chosen very carefully rejecting less useful options
That our conclusions are either robust, or new and need further support (washing or care instructions)
There is usually some sort of numerical or barcode identifier too which relates to the reference of our article for citing elsewhere

While initially this seemed a slightly frivolous analogy, perhaps it’s not. The University of Reading (Google page 8) unsurprisingly takes a more academic line saying much of the same things. It’s used to show the breadth of our sources and that our work builds on that of others. They also say that it avoids accusations of plagiarism and maximises potential scores for work, acknowledging that one can score well with good referencing while our own content may be poor and score poorly.

Ok, enough of the why – I get it now! How?

Apparently Harvard referencing can be traced back to 1881 – great, so how come there are so many types, all seemingly named after different North American locations? (Harvard,Chicago,Vancouver and others). Even more oddly, Harvard referencing one of the most popular is not directly related to Harvard University and surprisingly has no identified standard so has multiple versions.

Why are there so many styles? Is it just vanity?

It might seem so, particularly when journals in the same discipline use different styles, in which case we’d say it was based on tradition! Actually there are literally hundreds of styles and sone (like Harvard) have several versions. Some are based on an agreed style within the discipline (Vancouver is one such style agreed strangely enough in Vancouver in 1978). When we think of the point of referencing, to allow readers to most easily find your source and background material, it makes sense that different disciplines differ in what they reference and so also differ in how they reference it. Some styles have ‘in-text’ brief citations with a full list at the end of the article, others footnotes on each page, some are numbered according to the position within the article, others listed alphabetically.

The material to be listed also varies between disciplines such as scientific articles or published letters. We often forget that the sources also evolve over time, including CD-ROMs when they appeared, webpages,PDFs, and recently Facebook or Twitter posts which we previously have seen as almost fleeting. How the recent changes to individuals being able to delete information relating to themselves may affect this in the future.

OK, I’ve written my article and got the best ever references – how do i write them?

Cutting and pasting and then manipulating is fraught with errors! Writing by hand is also liable to transcription errors. One relatively new method is a series of online (generally free) tools. I personally use NeilsToolBox,though there are several available and you will find one that suits you and the style you want. Others invlude Citeforme / ukessays and bibme. Essentially they act a bit like reference grinders – you set the style, put in what you have, choose the type of citation, press ‘go’, and ‘Bob’s your uncle’! Repeat for each reference.

So good luck, I hope some of this is useful.
And, no references!