How, and Why, to Use References

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Overview

Using references for your assessments, notably essays, is an important skill at university, and there are three aspects to consider: WHAT, WHY, and HOW.

Mostly, the sources you will use to find information will come from books, book chapters, and journal articles. However, you can also obtain useful information from additional sources, such as websites, official reports, newspapers, TV interviews, and even blogs. The sources you use will depend in part on the discipline you’re writing for, so ask your teacher if in doubt. But in the main, just seek out the books, book chapters, and journal articles that are relevant for your assessment, read them, and then decide which aspects, if any, you wish to refer to in your essay. Don’t be afraid, though, to seek out additional sources that might work well also. For example, if you’re studying linguistics and you’re writing about the language of teenagers, accessing online blogs to obtain samples of authentic “teen speak” would make a solid accompaniment to the more academic sources such as a journal article on the subject. Likewise, if you’re researching current policy on adoption, then accessing an official government report on the subject, as well as books and journal articles, would add depth.

We refer to the work of others, regardless of the source, to provide support for our own views; define concepts and theories; set up our own arguments; and provide an overview of information on a given topic. Each of these “whys” will be illustrated in turn within this Skill.

Finally, in terms of how to use quotes to maximum effect, this Skill will discuss one of four strategies you can use once you’ve chosen your quotations: agree, disagree, illustrate, and explain.

Upon completion of this Skill, you should be able to:

  • Identify the various reasons for choosing quotations and references to literature in the first place
  • Employ quotations to make them work for you, as a means to demonstrate your critical understanding of them
  • Use paraphrase effectively, in order to present your own take on someone else’s text and avoid plagiarism at the same time
  • Interpret the gist of someone else’s text as part of a summary

Suggested Readings

Caulfield, J. (2020, June 22). A quick guide to Harvard referencing. Scribbr.
Click Studies. (2019). Types of academic writing. ClickStudies.
Skills You Need. (2021). Academic referencing. Skills You Need.
The University of Adelaide. (2014). To paraphrase or to quote?