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How to reference in an essay: APA and MLA style with Examples
29 Jan 2019
If you were asked to write an APA or MLA essay, don’t worry, it’s not as terrifying as it might seem at first. Before preparing an APA essay, it’s necessary to summarize the information you about this style. The same rule concerns another essay format, called MLA. APA format is an official publication style of the American Psychological Association and is used in different subjects. It differs from other formats not only by its unique type of content structuring but also reference standards.
The following tips offer some useful guidelines that will help you create a properly formatted paper and get the desired A grade!
How to reference an essay in APA?
A citation is an essential phase in completing any paper. But except its importance, this may also turn out to be very difficult. To ease your writing process, follow a couple of simple tips.
The initial step students should make is to choose a perfect topic for their academic writing. It needs to be specific enough, but not too specific, unless you want to turn your research into the next part of “Mission: Impossible”. In case you take something easy to work with because the Internet is filled with information about your subject, it can happen that everything has already been told earlier.
After beginning the process, the traditional question may arise, “ How to start an essay? ” But don’t worry, we have your back. In the introduction, get your readers acquainted with what your work is about. This only seems hard at the beginning, but as soon as you start, the work shall go smoothly.
Next comes the interesting part, and that is – the research. Start your research as early as possible. Reference correctly in your essay, quote a website, book, article – any source you’ve used to complete your piece. But be careful using internet resources as they can contain untruthful facts and terminology.
According to the rules from the custom essay writing service , your essay should contain a reference list. The reference list is where you state all links and works you have used in your essay. References should be listed alphabetically by the last name of a writer, and placed at the end of your document.
If you want to memorize how to reference in an essay, follow this format: Authors, Date, Title, Publication Information. The main writer(s) of the cited material should be placed before the date and title. If there is more than one author, put them in the same order found on the resource. Put the first and middle initials and the entire last name. The reference in essay examples below gives an image of how your reference list should look and help you avoid some common mistakes. So let’s get down to them!
Smith, J. K. (Date). Title.
Smith, J. K., & Sampson, T. (Date). Title.
Smith, J. K., Sampson, T., & Hubbard, A. J. (Date). Title.
When the contributor is unknown:
If the citation has no an author, write down the resource by its title or use a word or two in brackets. Titles should be highlighted in italics or underlined – put titles of articles and sections in quotes.
Sometimes you can use "Anonymous" to represent the main and only writer. Consider it to be the name of the writer (Anonymous, 2001). Use it in your reference list as you do with other items.
How to reference an essay in MLA?
The main divergence of MLA referenced essays in comparison to other essay formats is referring to the other authors’ work using what is known as parenthetical citation. This technique includes placing a relevant piece of information in parentheses after a quote.
According to the law essay writing service , if the creator is an organization or a governmental agency, put it in the signal phrase or a parenthetical quotation when citing for the first time. If you’re lucky enough and there exists an abbreviation of the quoted organization, include it in brackets during the initial time you cited the piece, and further, keep using the abbreviations only.
First time referring: (Federation for American Immigration Reform [FAIR], 2000)
Further referring: (FAIR, 2000)
Contributors with the same surname:
To prevent confusion, use the initials with the authors’ surnames.
(E. Stevens, 2001; L. Stevens, 1998)
More than two works of the same writer in the same year:
If you need to image two sources produced by the same writer in the same year, put the lower-case letters (a, b, c) with the year to order them. It’s very convenient to lower-case letters in the in-text citation.
The research by Mierzwiak (2004a) illustrated that…
Introductions, prefaces and afterwards:
When referring to one of these pieces in your composition, state the corresponding writer and year.
(Funk & Kolln, 1992)
When it’s necessary to use an abstract of an interview or personal speech, refer the respondents’ names, the fact confirming it was a friendly conversation and the date it happened. Although since this is not a reliable source, do not include it in your list of references.
Earlier it seemed to be hard referring to electronic documents, but no more. You can refer the same as any other document by using the author-date style.
Kenneth (2000) explained…
Undisclosed writer and undisclosed date:
If you don’t have neither details about the creator, nor date, use the title in your signal phrase and the abbreviation "n.d." (for "no date").
It goes without saying that students are perfect in tutoring ("Tutoring and APA," n.d.).
So, as you see, writing a reference list is not a problem if you know what to do and where to look. Use this guide to write your papers, and enjoy your high grades right away!
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How to Reference in an Essay (9 Strategies of Top Students)
Are you feeling overwhelmed by referencing?
When you’re first asked to do referencing in an essay it can be hard to get your head around it. If it’s been a while since you were first taught how to reference, it can be intimidating to ask again how to do it!
I have so many students who consistently lose marks just because they didn’t get referencing right! They’re either embarrassed to ask for extra help or too lazy to learn how to solve the issues.
So, here’s a post that will help you solve the issues on your own.
Already think you’re good at referencing? No worries. This post goes through some surprising and advanced strategies for anyone to improve no matter what level you are at!
In this post I’m going to show you exactly how to reference in an essay. I’ll explain why we do it and I’ll show you 9 actionable tips on getting referencing right that I’m sure you will not have heard anywhere else!
The post is split into three parts:
- What is a Reference and What is a Citation?
- Why Reference? (4 Things you Should Know)
- How to Reference (9 Strategies of Top Students)
If you think you’ve already got a good understanding of the basics, you can jump to our 9 Advanced Strategies section.
Part 1: What is a Reference and What is a Citation?
What is a citation.
An in-text mention of your source. A citation is a short mention of the source you got the information from, usually in the middle or end of a sentence in the body of your paragraph. It is usually abbreviated so as not to distract the reader too much from your own writing. Here’s two examples of citations. The first is in APA format. The second is in MLA format:
- APA: Archaeological records trace the original human being to equatorial Africa about 250,000–350,000 years ago (Schlebusch & Jakobsson, 2018) .
- MLA: Archaeological records trace the original human being to equatorial Africa about 250,000–350,000 years ago (Schlebusch and Jakobsson 1) .
In APA format, you’ve got the authors and year of publication listed. In MLA format, you’ve got the authors and page number listed. If you keep reading, I’ll give some more tips on formatting further down in this article.
And a Reference is:
What is a Reference?
A reference is the full details of a source that you list at the end of the article. For every citation (see above) there needs to be a corresponding reference at the end of the essay showing more details about that source. The idea is that the reader can see the source in-text (i.e. they can look at the citation) and if they want more information they can jump to the end of the page and find out exactly how to go about finding the source.
Here’s how you would go about referencing the Schlebusch and Jakobsson source in a list at the end of the essay. Again, I will show you how to do it in APA and MLA formats:
- APA: Schlebusch, C. & Jakobsson, M. (2018). Tales of Human Migration, Admixture, and Selection in Africa. Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics , 11 (33), 1–24.
- MLA: Schlebusch, Carina and Mattias Jakobsson. “Tales of Human Migration, Admixture, and Selection in Africa.” Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics , vol. 11, no. 33, 2018, pp. 1–24.
In strategy 1 below I’ll show you the easiest and fool proof way to write these references perfectly every time.
One last quick note: sometimes we say ‘reference’ when we mean ‘citation’. That’s pretty normal. Just roll with the punches. It’s usually pretty easy to pick up on what our teacher means regardless of whether they use the word ‘reference’ or ‘citation’.
Part 2: Why Reference in an Essay? (4 Things you Should Know)
Referencing in an essay is important. By the time you start doing 200-level courses, you probably won’t pass the course unless you reference appropriately. So, the biggest answer to ‘why reference?’ is simple: Because you Have To!
Okay let’s be serious though … here’s the four top ‘real’ reasons to reference:
1. Referencing shows you Got an Expert’s Opinion
You can’t just write an essay on what you think you know. This is a huge mistake of beginning students. Instead this is what you need to do:
Top Tip: Essays at university are supposed to show off that you’ve learned new information by reading the opinions of experts.
Every time you place a citation in your paragraph, you’re showing that the information you’re presenting in that paragraph was provided to you by an expert. In other words, it means you consulted an expert’s opinion to build your knowledge.
If you have citations throughout the essay with links to a variety of different expert opinions, you’ll show your marker that you did actually genuinely look at what the experts said with an open mind and considered their ideas.
This will help you to grow your grades.
2. Referencing shows you read your Assigned Readings
Your teacher will most likely give you scholarly journal articles or book chapters to read for homework between classes. You might have even talked about those assigned readings in your seminars and tutorials.
Great! The assigned readings are very important to you.
You should definitely cite the assigned readings relevant to your essay topic in your evaluative essay (unless your teacher tells you not to). Why? I’ll explain below.
- Firstly, the assigned readings were selected by your teacher because your teacher (you know, the person who’s going to mark your essay) believes they’re the best quality articles on the topic. Translation: your teacher gave you the best source you’re going to find. Make sure you use it!
- Secondly, by citing the assigned readings you are showing your teacher that you have been paying attention throughout the course. You are showing your teacher that you have done your homework, read those assigned readings and paid attention to them. When my students submit an essay that has references to websites, blogs, wikis and magazines I get very frustrated. Why would you cite low quality non-expert sources like websites when I gave you the expert’s article!? Really, it frustrates me so, so much.
So, cite the assigned readings to show your teacher you read the scholarly articles your teacher gave to you. It’ll help you grow your marks.
3. Referencing deepens your Knowledge
Okay, so you understand that you need to use referencing to show you got experts’ opinions on the topic.
But there’s more to it than that. There’s actually a real benefit for your learning.
If you force yourself to cite two expert sources per paragraph, you’re actually forcing yourself to get two separate pieces of expert knowledge. This will deepen your knowledge!
So, don’t treat referencing like a vanity exercise to help you gain more marks. Actually view it as an opportunity to develop deeper understandings of the topic!
When you read expert sources, aim to pick up on some new gems of knowledge that you can discuss in your essays. Some things you should look out for when finding sources to reference:
- Examples that link ideas to real life. Do the experts provide real-life examples that you can mention in your essay?
- Facts and figures. Usually experts have conducted research on a topic and provide you with facts and figures from their research. Use those facts and figures to deepen your essay!
- Short Quotes. Did your source say something in a really interesting, concise or surprising way? Great! You can quote that source in your essay .
- New Perspectives. Your source might give you another perspective, angle or piece of information that you can add to your paragraph so that it’s a deep, detailed and interesting paragraph.
So, the reason we ask you to reference is at the end of the day because it’s good for you: it helps you learn!
4. Referencing backs up your Claims
You might think you already know a ton of information about the topic and be ready to share your mountains of knowledge with your teacher. Great!
So, should you still reference?
You need to show that you’re not the only person with your opinion. You need to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants.’ Show what other sources have said about your points to prove that experts agree with you.
You should be saying: this is my opinion and it’s based on facts, expert opinions and deep, close scrutiny of all the arguments that exist out there .
If you make a claim that no one else has made, your teacher is going to be like “Have you even been reading the evidence on this topic?” The answer, if there are no citations is likely: No. You haven’t.
Even if you totally disagree with the experts, you still need to say what their opinions are! You’ll need to say: “This is the experts’ opinions. And this is why I disagree.”
So, yes, you need to reference to back up every claim. Try to reference twice in every paragraph to achieve this.
Part 3: Strategies for How to Reference in an Essay (9 Strategies of Top Students)
Let’s get going with our top strategies for how to reference in an essay! These are strategies that you probably haven’t heard elsewhere. They work for everyone – from beginner to advanced! Let’s get started:
1. Print out your Reference Style Cheat Sheet
Referencing is hard and very specific. You need to know where to place your italics, where the commas go and whether to use an initial for full name for an author.
There are so many details to get right.
And here’s the bad news: The automated referencing apps and websites nearly always get it wrong! They tell you they can generate the citation for you. The fact of the matter is: they can’t!
Here’s the best way to get referencing right: Download a referencing cheat sheet and have it by your side while writing your essay.
Your assignment outline should tell you what type of referencing you should use. Different styles include: APA Style, MLA Style, Chicago Style, Harvard Style, Vancouver Style … and many more!
You need to find out which style you need to use and download your cheat sheet. You can jump onto google to find a cheat sheet by typing in the google bar:
Download a pdf version of the referencing style cheat sheet, print it out, and place it on your pinboard or by your side when writing your essay.
2. Only cite Experts
There are good and bad sources to cite in an essay.
You should only cite sources written, critiqued and edited by experts. This shows that you have got the skill of finding information that is authoritative. You haven’t just used information that any old person popped up on their blog. You haven’t just gotten information from your local newspaper. Instead, you got information from the person who is an absolute expert on the topic.
Here’s an infographic listing sources that you should and shouldn’t cite. Feel free to share this infographic on social media, with your teachers and your friends:
3. Always use Google Scholar
Always. Use. Google. Scholar.
Ten years ago students only had their online university search database to find articles. Those university databases suck. They rarely find the best quality sources and there’s always a big mix of completely irrelevant sources mixed in there.
Google Scholar is better at finding the sources you want. That’s because it looks through the whole article abstract and analyses it to see if it’s relevant to your search keywords. By contrast, most university search databases rely only on the titles of articles.
Use the power of the best quality search engine in the world to find scholarly sources .
Note: Google and Google Scholar are different search engines.
To use Google Scholar, go to: https://scholar.google.com
Then, search on google scholar using keywords. I’m going to search keywords for an essay on the topic: “What are the traits of a good nurse?”
If you really like the idea of that first source, I recommend copying the title and trying your University online search database. Your university may give you free access.
4. Cite at least 50% sources you found on your Own Research
Okay, so I’ve told you that you should cite both assigned readings and readings you find from Google Scholar.
Here’s the ideal mix of assigned sources and sources that you found yourself: 50/50.
Your teacher will want to see that you can use both assigned readings and do your own additional research to write a top essay . This shows you’ve got great research skills but also pay attention to what is provided in class.
I recommend that you start with the assigned readings and try to get as much information out of them, then find your own additional sources beyond that using Google Scholar.
So, if your essay has 10 citations, a good mix is 5 assigned readings and 5 readings you found by yourself.
5. Cite Newer Sources
As a general rule, the newer the source the better .
The best rule of thumb that most teachers follow is that you should aim to mostly cite sources from the past 10 years . I usually accept sources from the past 15 years when marking essays.
However, sometimes you have a really great source that’s 20, 30 or 40 years old. You should only cite these sources if they’re what we call ‘seminal texts’. A seminal text is one that was written by an absolute giant in your field and revolutionized the subject.
Here’s some examples of seminal authors whose old articles you would be able to cite despite the fact that they’re old:
- Education: Vygotsky, Friere, Piaget
- Sociology: Weber, Marx, C. Wright Mills
- Psychology: Freud, Rogers, Jung
Even if I cite seminal authors, I always aim for at least 80% of my sources to have been written in the past 10 years.
6. Reference twice per Paragraph
How much should you reference?
Here’s a good strategy: Provide two citations in every paragraph in the body of the essay.
It’s not compulsory to reference in the introduction and conclusion . However, in all the other paragraphs, aim for two citations.
Let’s go over the key strategies for achieving this:
- These two citations should be to different sources, not the same sources twice;
- Two citations per paragraph shows your points are backed up by not one, but two expert sources;
- Place one citation in the first half of the paragraph and one in the second half. This will indicate to your marker that all the points in the whole paragraph are backed up by your citations.
This is a good rule of thumb for you when you’re not sure when and how often to reference. When you get more confident with your referencing, you can mix this up a little.
7. The sum total of your sources should be minimum 1 per 150 words
You can, of course, cite one source more than once throughout the essay. You might cite the same source in the second, fourth and fifth paragraphs. That’s okay.
But, you don’t want your whole essay to be based on a narrow range of sources. You want your marker to see that you have consulted multiple sources to get a wide range of information on the topic. Your marker wants to know that you’ve seen a range of different opinions when coming to your conclusions.
When you get to the end of your essay, check to see how many sources are listed in the end-text reference list. A good rule of thumb is 1 source listed in the reference list per 150 words. Here’s how that breaks down by essay size:
- 1500 word essay: 10 sources (or more) listed in the reference list
- 2000 word essay: 13 sources (or more) listed in the reference list
- 3000 word essay: 20 sources (or more) listed in the reference list
- 5000 word essay: 33 sources (or more) listed in the reference list
8. Instantly improve your Reference List with these Three Tips
Here’s two things you can do to instantly improve your reference list. It takes less than 20 seconds and gives your reference list a strong professional finish:
a) Ensure the font size and style are the same
You will usually find that your whole reference list ends up being in different font sizes and styles. This is because you tend to copy and paste the titles and names in the citations from other sources. If you submit the reference list with font sizes and styles that are not the same as the rest of the essay, the piece looks really unprofessional.
So, quickly highlight the whole reference list and change its font to the same font size and style as the rest of your essay. The screencast at the end of Step 8 walks you through this if you need a hand!
b) List your sources in alphabetical order.
Nearly every referencing style insists that references be listed in alphabetical order. It’s a simple thing to do before submitting and makes the piece look far more professional.
If you’re using Microsoft Word, simply highlight your whole reference list and click the A>Z button in the toolbar. If you can’t see it, you need to be under the ‘home’ tab (circled below):
You’ve probably never heard of a hanging indent. It’s a style where the second line of the reference list is indented further from the left-hand side of the page than the first line. It’s a strategy that’s usually used in reference lists provided in professional publications.
If you use the hanging indent, your reference list will look far more professional.
Here’s a quick video of me doing it for you:
9. Do one special edit especially for Referencing Style
The top students edit their essays three to five times spaced out over a week or more before submitting. One of those edits should be specifically for ensuring your reference list adheres to the referencing style that your teacher requires.
To do this, I recommend you get that cheat sheet printout that I mentioned in Step 1 and have it by your side while you read through the piece. Pay special attention to the use of commas, capital letters, brackets and page numbers for all citations. Also pay attention to the reference list: correct formatting of the reference list can be the difference between getting the top mark in the class and the fifth mark in the class. At the higher end of the marking range, things get competitive and formatting of the reference list counts.
A Quick Summary of the 9 Top Strategies…
Follow the rules of your referencing style guide (and that cheat sheet I recommended!) and use the top 9 tips above to improve your referencing and get top marks. Not only will your referencing look more professional, you’ll probably increase the quality of the content of your piece as well when you follow these tips!
Here’s a final summary of the 9 top tips:
Strategies for How to Reference in an Essay (9 Strategies of Top Students)
- Print out your Reference Style Cheat Sheet
- Only cite Experts
- Always use Google Scholar
- Cite at least 50% sources you found on your Own Research
- Cite Newer Sources
- Reference twice per Paragraph
- The sum total of your sources should be minimum 1 per 150 words
- Instantly improve your Reference List with these Three Tips
- Do one special edit especially for Referencing Style
Chris Drew (PhD)
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ Referent Power: Definition & 15 Key Traits (French & Raven)
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 15 Referent Power Examples
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 50 Influence Examples
- Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 13 Effective Classroom Management Theories
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Writing Better University Essays/Referencing
By referencing the sources you use in your essay, you do a number of things. First of all, you comply with an academic convention. Secondly, you make your essay look more professional. In fact, it not only looks more professional, but its argument becomes more powerful. Thirdly, you allow others to check your sources. This is often only a hypothetical issue, but a look through the list of your references will allow others to judge your argument quickly. Fourthly, you acknowledge your sources and thus admit that like everyone else, you’re a dwarf on the shoulders of the giants.
The essential bits of referencing require you to provide enough information to others so that they can identify the source. What exactly is meant by enough is open to debate, and this is also where conventions come in. Essential is that you do provide references. Ideally, you would do so properly. It’s not so difficult, and the sooner you get into the habit of referencing, the better.
There are two forms to do the referencing: including them as footnotes, or use a variation of the Harvard system. Your institution may have a preference, or even a house style. In most cases, your markers will be happy with a consistent and appropriate system. The Harvard system is also known as author/date, and will be described here in more detail.
- 1 Inside the Text
- 2 At the End
- 3 Problem Cases
- 4 Plagiarism
- 5 Citations and Quotations
- 6 When to Put the References
Inside the Text [ edit | edit source ]
Within your essay, whenever you make a statement that is essentially based on somebody else’s work, you should attribute the source. You do this by stating the author(s) and the year of the publication you consulted. Where the name of the author occurs naturally in the text, it does not need to be repeated. The references are usually included at the end of a sentence, or where inappropriate in a place where the text flow is not interrupted too much, such as in front of a comma. This may be necessary, for example, if only the first half of your sentence is based on someone else’s work.
The name of the author is included in brackets, together with the year of publication. Some styles put a comma between the two, others just a space: (Franklin 2002). Where there are two authors, both names are included: (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Some styles prefer the word and , others prefer the ampersand (& symbol). Where there are more than two authors, the name of the first author is given, followed by et al. (which literally means and others ): (Almeder et al. , 2001). Some styles put et al. into italics, others don’t.
If you have two or more references for the same argument, you should separate the references with a semicolon (; symbol): (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994; Steinberg, 1999). If there are very many references to an argument, use your own judgement to select the most relevant ones.
What should you reference? Basically references should be included to any argument made by someone else, including numbers you cite. However, statements of general nature need not be attributed to anyone. A statement that the sky is blue alone does not require a reference. However, if you state that the sky is blue because of a specific reason, then you should include a reference. If you use the exact words of an author (quotation), you’ll need to give the number of the page where you copy from. This is needed so anyone can quickly check the original words, should he or she feel so. See the separate section on quotes.
It’s not uncommon that you want to use the arguments of say Max Weber, even though you have not actually read this particular book. Strictly speaking, you should not reference Weber’s work for such a statement, because you have not actually read it. Can you really be sure this is what Weber said or meant? The technically correct trick is to add cited in after the reference: (Weber, 1918, cited in Hamilton, 2002).
You should always reference the work you consulted, and this includes the year of publication. Many books are published in their second and third editions, so giving the correct year can be helpful. Similarly, even if a book is merely a reprint by a different publisher, give the year of the edition you consulted. The page numbers may differ. If it’s just a second print of the exact same book, use the original date. Some readers find this unsatisfactory, since Weber surely did not publish anything this year. The convention to circumvent this issue is to give both years: the year of the original publication, together with the one of the work you consulted. Sometimes slashes are used between the dates (/ sign), others prefer the used of square brackets ([ and ] sign): Burke (2004/1774) or Burke (2004 ).
Another small issue occurs where an author published more than one book or article in a single year, and you want to cite more than one of them. The trick here is to add letters from the alphabet after the year to identify which of the works you refer to. Use the letter a for the first of your references, the letter b for the second and so on: (McManus, 1994a) and (McManus, 1994b) are two different works.
To sum it up, inside the text, you give the family name of the author, followed by the year of the publication. Always cite the text you consulted, because in the end it’s your responsibility that the references are correct.
At the End [ edit | edit source ]
At the end of your essay you should include a list of references. Such a list of references provides more details than just the name of the author and the year of publication. It’s this list that allows identifying the work cited. Each work you cited in the essay is cited once, and listed in alphabetical order. Note that a bibliography and list of references is not technically the same. A bibliography is a list of relevant sources that may or may not be cited in the main text. References are the sources you cited, even if they are rather trivial. Use the heading references for your references.
For books, you put the family name of the author(s) and their initials, followed by the year of publication in brackets, the title in italics, the place of publication, and finally the name of the publisher. If there are editors, give their names instead of the authors’. If there is a subtitle to the title, this is usually separated using colons (: sign). Where there are more than four authors, it’s common to use et al. after the first three, but some styles insist on citing all authors. Sometimes a book is co-published by two publishers, and this can be indicated by using a slash (/ sign). Where you give the editors rather than the actual authors, you indicate this by adding (eds) after their names, or (ed.) if there is only one. The title is capitalized. For example:
Chapters in a book are cited separately, especially if the book is edited. You give the family name of the author and his or her initial, the year, the name of the chapter in single speech marks (‘ and ’ sign; not capitalized), followed by the word in , and the name and year of the editor(s). If you cite only one chapter, you can give the whole reference at the end; otherwise it’s enough to give the name and year of the editor. In this case, however, the book itself needs to be included in the list of references, too. For example:
An entry in a printed encyclopaedia or a dictionary can be cited if it was a chapter in a book. The editors are often given on the front of the reference book. For example:
Journal articles are cited in a way that is quite similar to chapters in a book. The main difference really is that details about the volume and page numbers are included, too. The reference starts with the name and initial of the author, the year in brackets, the title of the article in single speech marks (not capitalized), followed by the name of the journal in italics (capitalized), and further details. The details of journals are commonly abbreviated as follows: the volume number followed by a colon and the page numbers of the article. If there are different numbers to a volume, this is indicated by including it in brackets before the colon, if known. Online journals may not have page numbers. For example:
Pages on the internet should be cited where used. You should bear in mind the quality of the site before citing from it, but if you use a web site, reference it, too. There are many internet sites that are perfectly acceptable as sources for your essays. The reference includes the name of the author and initial, the year in brackets, the title of the document in italics, the word online in square brackets, the place of publication, the publisher, the words available from : followed by the URL, and the date when the document was accessed in brackets. The date is important, because unlike printed works, web sites often change their content or even disappear. Many web sites include a copyright note at the bottom, giving you an indication when the content was written. For example:
Newspaper articles are very similar to journal articles in the way they are cited. The key difference is that rather than the volume, the date is given. The reference therefore includes the name and initial of the author, the year of publication in brackets, the title in single speech marks, the name of the newspaper in italics (capitalized), the date, and finally the page where the article was found. For one page it’s customary to use the abbreviation p. , for articles running over two or more pages, the abbreviation pp. is common. For example:
Handouts from a lecture can be referenced and should be referenced if they are used as the basis of what you write. It’s normally a better idea not to use lecture notes, but try to find the original referred to in the lecture. Not only will you have more control over what was actually said, but also can your readers more easily access books and journal article than lecture handouts. The reference to a lecture handout includes the name and initial of the lecturer, the year in bracket, the title of the handout in single speech marks, the words lecture notes distributed in followed by the name of the course in italics, the word at and the name of your institution, the place, and date of the lecture. For example:
Personal conversations are not commonly considered good sources, but if they are what you use as the basis of your essay, you should include such conversations. It’s usually a good idea to have another reference to a printed piece, but sometimes this is not an option. In terms of giving the reference, personal conversations are very easy: the name of the person you spoke to, the year in brackets, the words conversation with the author and the date of the conversation. For example:
The same format can also be used for personal e-mail, or instant messengers. Once again, bear in mind the credibility of your sources. With e-mail messages it’s customary to include the e-mail address of the sender in brackets after the name, but it’s essential that you obtain consent from the author. The subject line of the e-mail is often included as the title. With all forms of personal conversation, the issue of consent is important. It’s always a very good idea to check with the author first.
Problem Cases [ edit | edit source ]
There are sometimes cases that are not so straightforward as the average book or journal article. For everything there is a solution in the academic conventions. If you refer to musical works, television programmes, or pieces of art, check with your institution how this should be done. If everything else fails, remember the function of referencing, and provide a reasonable amount of information for others to chase the work. Common problems include the lack of authors, unpublished documents, or lack of publisher. Where there is no author, often there is an organization. Put the name of the organization. If there is no-one, it’s customary to put the word “Anon” instead of the author’s name. For example:
Sometimes the year of a document is not known. Where you have a rough idea, you can put a c before the date, such as in (c.1999). Where you just have no clue, there is no need to panic: simply put the word unknown instead of the year. Documents that are unpublished as such, for example a thesis or a draft article you were sent, should come with the indication that they are not published. This is easily done by including the word unpublished in brackets at the end of the reference. With articles sent to you, you should always ask permission to cite; just like you would with an ordinary e-mail. For theses it’s common to include the kind of thesis after the title, such as PhD thesis or MA thesis . Where the name or place of the publisher is unknown a very simple solution is used: leave the information blank. This is particularly an issue with internet sites. Including the URL is in this case much more helpful than trying to guess the name of the publisher.
Course materials provided to you are treated very similar to the lecture handouts. Give the name of the author, the year in brackets, the course code if there is one, the course title in italics (capitalized), the kind of material and its title in single speech marks, place of publication, and publisher. For example:
The capitalization of titles may seem a bit confusing, but it follows a simple logic: it’s the main title that is capitalized. In the case of a book, the main title is that of the book. In the case of journal articles, on the other hand, the main title is thought to be that of the journal itself. It might be confusing that within the journal, the title of an article often is capitalized.
Capitalization is not very hard to achieve. Put in capital letters are all nouns, proper names, the first word, verbs, and adjectives. This is in fact almost everything. Not put in capital letters are words like and , in , or , or with . Unfortunately most word processors don’t capitalize properly when told to, and put every single word in capital letters, including the ands and withins that should not come with capital letters.
Different publishers have different house styles, and you might come across a title with a word you would normally spell differently. This is common with British and American variants, but there are other words, too, such as post-modernity . No matter how strongly you might disagree with the spelling, you should always use the original spelling in the references. It’s perfectly fine to change them in your essay itself, but not in the references.
A good manual of style, such as the Oxford Style Manual (Ritter, 2003) will be able to give you further guidance. Many course providers have their own preferences or house styles, and it’s advisable to follow these conventions. Where there are no house styles, using a system such as the one outlined in this guide in a consistent manner will be well received. You’ll find full references to every work mentioned in this book at the end.
Plagiarism [ edit | edit source ]
It’s difficult to write about referencing without mentioning plagiarism. Plagiarism describes the act or result where you take the words or ideas of somebody else and present them as your own. Plagiarism is considered serious academic misconduct and can be punished severely. Most importantly, however, your reputation is on the line.
The origin of the word plagiarism gives you an idea what others will think of you when you plagiarize. The word goes back to the Latin plagiārius , a thief and kidnapper—in particular a child snatcher and somebody abducting slaves. The modern use in academia brands you a literary thief (OED, 2005).
There are a number of reasons why plagiarism occurs. The worst case is deliberate plagiarism (for whatever reason). Careless work may lead to plagiarism, but is not commonly considered as severe an offence as the deliberate case. Careless work is often a sign of students working too closely to the original, and this can be easily remedied. Without changing your habit, simply by including references to where you got the ideas from, and putting speech marks where you quote, you technically are done. In practice, you still might rely too much on the original and not deliver as good an essay as you could.
Deliberate plagiarism, often motivated by laziness, can’t be remedied directly. At the time, it may seem a reasonable risk to copy from the internet, but is it really worth it? Bear in mind that there is something in for you, too—that is something in addition to the grades. The more you write, the easier it gets.
If you work too closely to the original, there is a simple solution: don’t write the essay with the books in front of you. By so doing, there is very little danger that you copy word by word. In a way, you force yourself to make the material your own: and that is a good thing—it makes a better argument, your essay will be more original, and not least, you’ll also get better grades. Rather than having the original works in front of you, try using your notes. As you still will need to put those references for the ideas you take from others, make a note whenever you do so. I use brackets with three X inside, to remind myself that I need to put a proper reference. Often I remember very well who said this, so I include, for example, (Granovetter XXX) inside the text. When checking the essay, it’s hard not to notice the triple X; and there is always the search facility in the word processor. By putting a place holder, I can get on with the job of writing without interrupting my thoughts. Equally important, I leave some traces indicating to myself that there is some more work to be done: finding the proper reference, for example.
If you think plagiarism is hard to detect by your marker, think again. There are a great number of signs that give plagiarized work away. Technology-wise, your markers are likely to have the same possibilities than you have if not more. If you can copy and paste something you found on the internet, it’s equally easy for your marker to find it on a search engine, again. It would, of course, be possible, to change plagiarized work to the extent that the deed is no longer easy to spot. Usually, however, this is just as much work as writing the essay yourself.
Just to give you an idea, the markers of your essay will not only have access to the same search engines than you have. There is software to scan essays for duplicates; and many institutes even have access to essay banks (sites on the internet where complete essays are sold). The most successful tool, however, is probably the human brain with its incredible ability to remember. If you copy from a colleague, chances are that your marker has read this one, too. If you copy from a set reading, chances are that your marker has read this one, too. Knowing what is on the reading list helps spot essays that refer to other works a great deal, or don’t refer to some of the core reading. Your marker can estimate how many readings you had time to read, or whether you’re likely to have read a great number of papers on the Belgian perspective of whatever issues is set in the question. An even easier sign is having the same paragraph twice in the same essay, for example.
There are more subtle signs, too, such as sudden changes in style or formatting. Many people are unaware of how idiosyncratic one’s writing style is. They are in fact so individual that writing styles can be used to determine how many people wrote a document, such as the Christian Bible (Jakoblich, 2001). Writing style includes the tenses we use, the level of formality, our own choice of words, the kinds of metaphors we put, whether we use American or British English, choices over punctuation, the length of sentences, or the use of specialist terms. Typographic signs include font size, choices of where to break paragraphs, spaces in between lines, and things like proper m- and n-dashes (when copying from electronic articles).
The presence or lack of references is often an easy sign: for example, where there are many references inside the text, but few at the end, or where the citation style changes within a single essay. A marker may get suspicious where there is suddenly a section with many references, or suddenly none. Sometimes, students even include hyperlinks in references when copying from electronic journals; and have them automatically underlined by the word processor.
Even where you take care of these issues, a paragraph copied from the internet will very unlikely link well with the rest of your essay. The style may be inappropriate, or just different. Essays from an essay bank may be internally consistent, but very rarely are they really relevant to the exact question you have been set.
In summary, you can avoid plagiarism easily. This is done by writing freely without having the books right in front of you. Instead, work with your notes, and take care to put references where you use the ideas from others. Don’t use the internet to copy from, no matter how tempting it is. It will hardly ever be worth it.
Citations and Quotations [ edit | edit source ]
There is an important difference between citations and quotations. Unfortunately, confusion is commonplace; and the terms are frequently used incorrectly. Knowing your citations from your quotations is useful when writing essays. It’s essential, in fact, if you want to reference properly.
Citations are about ideas you take from others. Quotations are about the exact words used by others. This is really the whole distinction. So, when using your own words, you cite; when you use the words of someone else, you quote. “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?” (Blankenhorn, 1995, p.117) is a quotation, because I use the exact same words Blankenhorn did. However, when stating that families in the US are increasingly defined by the absence of a father (Blankenhorn, 1995), I only use the idea, not the exact words.
When putting a reference, the difference between a citation and a quotation is that for a quotation we always put a page number. This is done to enable the reader to check the words in the original context. In the list of references at the end of the text, there is no difference.
Short quotations are included in the text, and enclosed by speech marks. Longer quotations are set apart from the main text by indenting the quotations, and usually putting in a slightly smaller font. Longer means about 3 to 4 lines or more. For example:
When quoting someone else, you should take great care to copy the words exactly. Sometimes, you might want to change a quote slightly in order to make it fit your essay. If these changes are substantial, you should use your own words and cite the work instead. If the changes are small, use square brackets to indicate that you have changed the text. For example, you might quote Rawls (1999, p.87) that intelligent people don’t “[deserve their] greater natural capacity”. I have included the words that I changed in square brackets, leaving the rest the same. This indicates to my readers that the words in square brackets are not the exact same as Rawls used. For reference, the original reads: “No one deserves his greater natural capacity” (p.87). I made the changes, because I wrote about intelligent people, and Rawls was talking in more general terms.
Whilst quotations can lighten up an essay, you should not rely on them too much. Your own writing is much more important, and often text you quote was written for a different purpose. The consequence is that the quotations may be relevant in content (what is being said), but in terms of style don’t fit well with what you wrote. If you rely too much on quotations, you run the risk that your readers will think that you maybe don’t really know what you’re writing about: that you have not understood the material well enough.
When to Put the References [ edit | edit source ]
When writing an essay, particularly when writing an extended essay, it’s easiest to put the references whilst you write. This is the case, because you still know where you got the idea from. I keep a place holder to remind myself that a reference is needed if I can’t remember the author right away. Often, I will know at least some of it, and write this down. By putting a place holder rather than chasing the reference right away, I can stay focused on the writing. However, I also indicate that the essay is not completed. Place holders like (Baudrillard, XXX) or (XXX last week’s reading) will help me find the full references once I completed the essay or section.
References are needed whenever you write an academic piece of writing. Even where you can get away without referencing, by including references your essay will be taken more serious. It’s a good habit to put references all the time, so when you really need to—such as in your thesis—you’ll not struggle, or spend days trying to find out how to reference a chapter in a book.
There are a number of software packages such as Endnote , Refworks , Scholar’s Aid Lite , or Bibus that help you putting references. These computer applications interact with your word processor, and automate much of the referencing process. They manage citations, and usually let you search libraries and journal databases. Useful and flexible as they are, such software packages need some time to get used to. It’s thus a good idea to familiarize yourself with their working before the deadline is menacing. For example, make sure you know how to put page numbers for quotations.
Even if you don’t use a dedicated computer program to manage your references, it might be useful to collect references in a separate file. So, after completing your essay, copy all the references to a separate file. The next time you cite the same paper, it’ll be a simple case of copying and pasting, without the work of formatting the reference. Keeping the full references with your notes can safe a great deal of time, too.
Next: Exam essays
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- Finding sources
- Integrating sources
Tools and resources, a quick guide to working with sources.
Working with sources is an important skill that you’ll need throughout your academic career.
It includes knowing how to find relevant sources, assessing their authority and credibility, and understanding how to integrate sources into your work with proper referencing.
This quick guide will help you get started!
Finding relevant sources
Sources commonly used in academic writing include academic journals, scholarly books, websites, newspapers, and encyclopedias. There are three main places to look for such sources:
- Research databases: Databases can be general or subject-specific. To get started, check out this list of databases by academic discipline . Another good starting point is Google Scholar .
- Your institution’s library: Use your library’s database to narrow down your search using keywords to find relevant articles, books, and newspapers matching your topic.
- Other online resources: Consult popular online sources like websites, blogs, or Wikipedia to find background information. Be sure to carefully evaluate the credibility of those online sources.
When using academic databases or search engines, you can use Boolean operators to refine your results.
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In academic writing, your sources should be credible, up to date, and relevant to your research topic. Useful approaches to evaluating sources include the CRAAP test and lateral reading.
CRAAP is an abbreviation that reminds you of a set of questions to ask yourself when evaluating information.
- Currency: Does the source reflect recent research?
- Relevance: Is the source related to your research topic?
- Authority: Is it a respected publication? Is the author an expert in their field?
- Accuracy: Does the source support its arguments and conclusions with evidence?
- Purpose: What is the author’s intention?
Lateral reading means comparing your source to other sources. This allows you to:
- Verify evidence
- Contextualize information
- Find potential weaknesses
If a source is using methods or drawing conclusions that are incompatible with other research in its field, it may not be reliable.
Integrating sources into your work
Once you have found information that you want to include in your paper, signal phrases can help you to introduce it. Here are a few examples:
Following the signal phrase, you can choose to quote, paraphrase or summarize the source.
- Quoting : This means including the exact words of another source in your paper. The quoted text must be enclosed in quotation marks or (for longer quotes) presented as a block quote . Quote a source when the meaning is difficult to convey in different words or when you want to analyze the language itself.
- Paraphrasing : This means putting another person’s ideas into your own words. It allows you to integrate sources more smoothly into your text, maintaining a consistent voice. It also shows that you have understood the meaning of the source.
- Summarizing : This means giving an overview of the essential points of a source. Summaries should be much shorter than the original text. You should describe the key points in your own words and not quote from the original text.
Whenever you quote, paraphrase, or summarize a source, you must include a citation crediting the original author.
Citing your sources is important because it:
- Allows you to avoid plagiarism
- Establishes the credentials of your sources
- Backs up your arguments with evidence
- Allows your reader to verify the legitimacy of your conclusions
The most common citation styles are APA, MLA, and Chicago style. Each citation style has specific rules for formatting citations.
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How to Reference Essays
Last Updated: May 19, 2023 References
This article was co-authored by Alexander Peterman, MA . Alexander Peterman is a Private Tutor in Florida. He received his MA in Education from the University of Florida in 2017. There are 14 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 341,972 times.
When you begin writing a research essay, you must take into account the format of your writing and reference pages. There are several reference styles that may be assigned to you, including MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association), and Chicago. Each one has its own set of rules. There's no need to familiarize yourself with all 3 unless you have to, but you do need to learn at least one if you’re in any field involving academic writing. Here are summaries of each style to help you start your essay on the right track.
Referencing Essays Templates
- You will need a citation directly after every sentence (or group of sentences if you're citing the same source in multiple consecutive sentences) containing information you didn't think of yourself. These include: paraphrases, facts, statistics, quotes, and examples.
- An in-text citation using MLA will simply have the author last name (or title if no author) followed by the page number. No comma between author and page number. For example: (Richards 456) Richards is the author last name, and 456 is the page number.
- If you have an author name (or title, if no author) but no page number, simply use author last name (or title).
- The easiest way to keep track of MLA citations while doing research is to copy and paste copyright information into a word processing document as you go, or to write it down in a notebook.
- Things to include for any source are author(s), date published, publisher, page number, volume and issue number, website, date accessed, anything that appears on the copyright page or indicates how to find it again.  X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source
- As an example, the format for a standard book citation using MLA style is as follows: Last name of author, First name. Title of Book. City published: Publisher Name, Year published. Source Medium.
- An MLA website citation looks like the following. If there's no author listed, begin citation with the name of the page: Last name, first name. "Page Title." Website Title. Publisher. Date published. Source Medium. Date accessed.
- An MLA scholarly article citation looks like the following: Last name, First name. "Title of Article." Title of Journal . Volume.Issue (Year): page numbers. Source Medium.
- Write the title of the main work (book, magazine, journal, website, etc.) in italics, or underline if you’re writing references by hand.
- Chapter or article titles should be in quotation marks.
- If there is no author listed, as is common on websites, simply skip the author’s name and begin the entry with the title of the work.
- Alphabetize by the first letter that appears in the entry, whether it has an author name or not.
- The formatting should be in Times New Roman font, size 12, with “Works Cited” centered at the top of a new page.
- Each entry should have hanging indent, meaning all lines below the first line are indented by half an inch.
- Make sure there is a period after each section of the citations. A period should always end the citation.
- Place a parenthetical citation at the end of every sentence (or group of sentences if you're using the same source for multiple consecutive sentences) containing information you didn't know before doing research.
- An in-text citation using APA will simply have the author last name (or title if no author) followed by the year it was published. No comma between name and year. For example: (Richards 2005) Richards is the author last name, and 2005 is the year.
- If you have an author name (or title if no author) but no page number, simply use author last name (or title). This is common when citing websites.
- APA document formatting is very important. APA papers are divided up into 4 sections: the title page, the abstract, the main body, and the references page. The citations of a research paper using APA appear in the References section, the last portion of an APA document.  X Research source
- To form APA reference page citations, you will need such information as author name(s), date published, website URL, date you accessed the website, title of work, and so on.  X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source
- For example, the format for an APA reference of a scholarly journal article is as follows: Author last name, First initial. (Year published). Article or chapter title. Journal or book title, Issue number , page number range.  X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source
- The format for an APA book reference looks like: Last name, First name. (Year.) Title of Book: Capital letter also for subtitle . Location: Publisher.
- The format for an APA website reference looks like: Author, A.A. First name, & Author, B.B. (Date published.) Title of article. In Title of webpage or larger document or book (chapter or section number). Retrieved from URL address
- Capitalize the author's last name and first initial, followed by a period.
- Only capitalize the first word of a journal article title, unless the title contains a proper noun (called sentence case). Titles of books should preserve the published capitalization.
- Capitalize the city of publication, and use correct state abbreviations for states. Also capitalize the name of the publisher and end the reference with a period.
- The title of larger works, whether a book, journal, website, or magazine, is in italics (or underlined if handwriting), as is the issue number that appears right after the title. Titles for shorter works like articles and chapters should not have any indicative punctuation in an APA entry.  X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source
- A period should end all citations.
Using Chicago Manual of Style
- For Notes and Bibliography, you will use a superscript at the instance of each quote in the text with a corresponding footnote at the end of the page. All footnotes are compiled into endnotes at the end of the work, on the bibliography page.  X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source
- For Author Date, you will use parenthetical in-text citations that include author last name and year published, using no punctuation between name and year. The full version of each parenthetical citation is listed alphabetically on the references page. For example: (Simon 2011) Simon is the author last name, and 2011 is the year.
- You will need a citation directly after every sentence (or group of sentences if you're using the same source for multiple consecutive sentences) containing information you didn't think of yourself. These include: paraphrases, facts, statistics, quotes, and examples.
- If using a book, write down all pertinent information found on the copyright page, including the name of the publisher and the city and year of publication.
- For other sources, look for this information near the title of the piece you’re looking at. Publication date is often at the bottom of webpages.
- Title your references page “Bibliography” centered at the top of the page. Leave 2 blank lines between this title and the first entry, and one blank line between entries.
- Notes and Bibliography style uses footnotes for page endings and endnotes for chapter endings. The bibliography page will be an alphabetized list of all sources in hanging indent.
- An example format for a book is as follows: Last name, First name. Book Title . City: Publisher, Year.
- An example format for a chapter in a print scholarly journal is as follows: Author last name, first name. "Title of Chapter or Article." Book or journal Title Issue Number (Year): Page number range. (For an online scholarly journal article, tack on the following at the end: Date accessed. URL address.)
- When there is no known author, the entry should begin with the title of the document, whether it's a webpage, chapter, article, and so on.
- When there are multiple authors, the first listed author appears last name, first name, so that the citation is alphabetized by this author's last name. Subsequent authors are listed by first name, like this: Alcott, Louisa May, Charles Dickens, and Elizabeth Gaskell.
- Always end a citation with a period.
- When using Author Date style, title your references page “References” centered at the top of the page. Leave 2 blank lines between this title and the first entry, and 1 blank line between entries.
- Author Date style bibliographies should be organized alphabetically by last name (or by title if no author) in hanging indent.
- An example format for a book is as follows: Last name, first name. Year. Book Title . City Published: Publisher.
- An example format for a chapter in a print scholarly journal is as follows: Author last name, first name. Year. "Title of Chapter or Article." Book or journal title issue number: page numbers. (for an online scholarly journal article tack this onto the end: Date accessed. URL address.)
- An example format for a website is as follows: Name of Website. Year. "Page Title." Date last modified. Date accessed. URL address.
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- You don't have to write each bibliography or reference entry on your own. You can download citation management software like Endnote  X Research source (purchase required on this one), Zotero  X Research source (it's free), or use websites like http://www.bibme.org/ and http://www.easybib.com/ . Select the name of your style manual before you begin creating citations. Copy and paste the citation into your bibliography or references list. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- If you are assigned to write a paper or other written document in one of these styles, you need to purchase the style manual. It will contain nearly every instance not only of source citation, but paper formatting as well as grammar and punctuation that is unique to that style. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- This article only lists how to cite research for each style manual. Each style has its own instructions for setting up the format of the essay, including heading, spacing, margins, font, and so on. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
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- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_in_text_citations_the_basics.html
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_and_style_guide.html
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_works_cited_page_books.html
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/in_text_citations_author_authors.html
- ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/reference_list_electronic_sources.html
- ↑ https://libguides.jcu.edu.au/apa/reference-list
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/reference_list_author_authors.html
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/reference_list_basic_rules.html
- ↑ https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/chicago_manual_17th_edition/cmos_formatting_and_style_guide/chicago_manual_of_style_17th_edition.html
- ↑ http://guides.nyu.edu/c.php?g=276562&p=1844734
- ↑ http://endnote.com
- ↑ https://www.zotero.org
About This Article
To reference an essay using MLA style, add a citation after any information you found through a source, like facts or quotes. When citing the reference, include the author’s name and the page number you pulled the information from in parenthesis, like “(Richards 456).” Once you’ve finished your essay, add a Words Cited page with all of the information you used to research your essay, like books or articles. To create a Works Cited page, list the sources in alphabetical order using the author’s last name, and include additional information, like year published and the medium. For more tips from our Writing reviewer, like how to reference an essay using APA style, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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13.2 Citing and Referencing Techniques
- Apply American Psychological Association (APA) style formatting guidelines for citations.
This section covers the nitty-gritty details of in-text citations. You will learn how to format citations for different types of source materials, whether you are citing brief quotations, paraphrasing ideas, or quoting longer passages. You will also learn techniques you can use to introduce quoted and paraphrased material effectively. Keep this section handy as a reference to consult while writing the body of your paper.
Formatting Cited Material: The Basics
As noted in previous sections of this book, in-text citations usually provide the name of the author(s) and the year the source was published. For direct quotations, the page number must also be included. Use past-tense verbs when introducing a quote—“Smith found…” and not “Smith finds.…”
Formatting Brief Quotations
For brief quotations—fewer than forty words—use quotation marks to indicate where the quoted material begins and ends, and cite the name of the author(s), the year of publication, and the page number where the quotation appears in your source. Remember to include commas to separate elements within the parenthetical citation. Also, avoid redundancy. If you name the author(s) in your sentence, do not repeat the name(s) in your parenthetical citation. Review following the examples of different ways to cite direct quotations.
Chang (2008) emphasized that “engaging in weight-bearing exercise consistently is one of the single best things women can do to maintain good health” (p. 49).
The author’s name can be included in the body of the sentence or in the parenthetical citation. Note that when a parenthetical citation appears at the end of the sentence, it comes after the closing quotation marks and before the period. The elements within parentheses are separated by commas.
Weight Training for Women (Chang, 2008) claimed that “engaging in weight-bearing exercise consistently is one of the single best things women can do to maintain good health” (p. 49).
Weight Training for Women claimed that “engaging in weight-bearing exercise consistently is one of the single best things women can do to maintain good health” (Chang, 2008, p. 49).
Including the title of a source is optional.
In Chang’s 2008 text Weight Training for Women , she asserts, “Engaging in weight-bearing exercise is one of the single best things women can do to maintain good health” (p. 49).
The author’s name, the date, and the title may appear in the body of the text. Include the page number in the parenthetical citation. Also, notice the use of the verb asserts to introduce the direct quotation.
“Engaging in weight-bearing exercise,” Chang asserts, “is one of the single best things women can do to maintain good health” (2008, p. 49).
You may begin a sentence with the direct quotation and add the author’s name and a strong verb before continuing the quotation.
Formatting Paraphrased and Summarized Material
When you paraphrase or summarize ideas from a source, you follow the same guidelines previously provided, except that you are not required to provide the page number where the ideas are located. If you are summing up the main findings of a research article, simply providing the author’s name and publication year may suffice, but if you are paraphrasing a more specific idea, consider including the page number.
Read the following examples.
Chang (2008) pointed out that weight-bearing exercise has many potential benefits for women.
Here, the writer is summarizing a major idea that recurs throughout the source material. No page reference is needed.
Chang (2008) found that weight-bearing exercise could help women maintain or even increase bone density through middle age and beyond, reducing the likelihood that they will develop osteoporosis in later life (p. 86).
Although the writer is not directly quoting the source, this passage paraphrases a specific detail, so the writer chose to include the page number where the information is located.
Although APA style guidelines do not require writers to provide page numbers for material that is not directly quoted, your instructor may wish you to do so when possible.
Check with your instructor about his or her preferences.
Formatting Longer Quotations
When you quote a longer passage from a source—forty words or more—use a different format to set off the quoted material. Instead of using quotation marks, create a block quotation by starting the quotation on a new line and indented five spaces from the margin. Note that in this case, the parenthetical citation comes after the period that ends the sentence. Here is an example:
In recent years, many writers within the fitness industry have emphasized the ways in which women can benefit from weight-bearing exercise, such as weightlifting, karate, dancing, stair climbing, hiking, and jogging. Chang (2008) found that engaging in weight-bearing exercise regularly significantly reduces women’s risk of developing osteoporosis. Additionally, these exercises help women maintain muscle mass and overall strength, and many common forms of weight-bearing exercise, such as brisk walking or stair climbing, also provide noticeable cardiovascular benefits. (p. 93)
Review the places in your paper where you cited, quoted, and paraphrased material from a source with a single author. Edit your citations to ensure that
- each citation includes the author’s name, the date of publication, and, where appropriate, a page reference;
- parenthetical citations are correctly formatted;
- longer quotations use the block-quotation format.
If you are quoting a passage that continues into a second paragraph, indent five spaces again in the first line of the second paragraph. Here is an example:
In recent years, many writers within the fitness industry have emphasized the ways in which women can benefit from weight-bearing exercise, such as weightlifting, karate, dancing, stair climbing, hiking, and jogging. Chang (2008) found that engaging in weight-bearing exercise regularly significantly reduces women’s risk of developing osteoporosis. Additionally, these exercises help women maintain muscle mass and overall strength, and many common forms of weight-bearing exercise, such as brisk walking or stair climbing, also provide noticeable cardiovascular benefits.
It is important to note that swimming cannot be considered a weight-bearing exercise, since the water supports and cushions the swimmer. That doesn’t mean swimming isn’t great exercise, but it should be considered one part of an integrated fitness program. (p. 93)
Be wary of quoting from sources at length. Remember, your ideas should drive the paper, and quotations should be used to support and enhance your points. Make sure any lengthy quotations that you include serve a clear purpose. Generally, no more than 10–15 percent of a paper should consist of quoted material.
Introducing Cited Material Effectively
Including an introductory phrase in your text, such as “Jackson wrote” or “Copeland found,” often helps you integrate source material smoothly. This citation technique also helps convey that you are actively engaged with your source material. Unfortunately, during the process of writing your research paper, it is easy to fall into a rut and use the same few dull verbs repeatedly, such as “Jones said,” “Smith stated,” and so on.
Punch up your writing by using strong verbs that help your reader understand how the source material presents ideas. There is a world of difference between an author who “suggests” and one who “claims,” one who “questions” and one who “criticizes.” You do not need to consult your thesaurus every time you cite a source, but do think about which verbs will accurately represent the ideas and make your writing more engaging. The following chart shows some possibilities.
Review the citations in your paper once again. This time, look for places where you introduced source material using a signal phrase in your sentence.
- Highlight the verbs used in your signal phrases, and make note of any that seem to be overused throughout the paper.
- Identify at least three places where a stronger verb could be used.
- Make the edits to your draft.
Writing at Work
It is important to accurately represent a colleague’s ideas or communications in the workplace. When writing professional or academic papers, be mindful of how the words you use to describe someone’s tone or ideas carry certain connotations. Do not say a source argues a particular point unless an argument is, in fact, presented. Use lively language, but avoid language that is emotionally charged. Doing so will ensure you have represented your colleague’s words in an authentic and accurate way.
Formatting In-Text Citations for Other Source Types
These sections discuss the correct format for various types of in-text citations. Read them through quickly to get a sense of what is covered, and then refer to them again as needed.
This section covers books, articles, and other print sources with one or more authors.
A Work by One Author
For a print work with one author, follow the guidelines provided in Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.1 “Formatting a Research Paper” . Always include the author’s name and year of publication. Include a page reference whenever you quote a source directly. (See also the guidelines presented earlier in this chapter about when to include a page reference for paraphrased material.)
Two or More Works by the Same Author
At times, your research may include multiple works by the same author. If the works were published in different years, a standard in-text citation will serve to distinguish them. If you are citing multiple works by the same author published in the same year, include a lowercase letter immediately after the year. Rank the sources in the order they appear in your references section. The source listed first includes an a after the year, the source listed second includes a b , and so on.
Rodriguez (2009a) criticized the nutrition-supplement industry for making unsubstantiated and sometimes misleading claims about the benefits of taking supplements. Additionally, he warned that consumers frequently do not realize the potential harmful effects of some popular supplements (Rodriguez, 2009b).
If you have not yet created your references section, you may not be sure which source will appear first. See Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” for guidelines—or assign each source a temporary code and highlight the in-text citations so you remember to double-check them later on.
Works by Authors with the Same Last Name
If you are citing works by different authors with the same last name, include each author’s initials in your citation, whether you mention them in the text or in parentheses. Do so even if the publication years are different.
J. S. Williams (2007) believes nutritional supplements can be a useful part of some diet and fitness regimens. C. D. Williams (2008), however, believes these supplements are overrated.
According to two leading researchers, the rate of childhood obesity exceeds the rate of adult obesity (K. Connelley, 2010; O. Connelley, 2010).
Studies from both A. Wright (2007) and C. A. Wright (2008) confirm the benefits of diet and exercise on weight loss.
A Work by Two Authors
When two authors are listed for a given work, include both authors’ names each time you cite the work. If you are citing their names in parentheses, use an ampersand (&) between them. (Use the word and , however, if the names appear in your sentence.)
As Garrison and Gould (2010) pointed out, “It is never too late to quit smoking. The health risks associated with this habit begin to decrease soon after a smoker quits” (p. 101).
As doctors continue to point out, “It is never too late to quit smoking. The health risks associated with this habit begin to decrease soon after a smoker quits” (Garrison & Gould, 2010, p. 101).
A Work by Three to Five Authors
If the work you are citing has three to five authors, list all the authors’ names the first time you cite the source. In subsequent citations, use the first author’s name followed by the abbreviation et al. ( Et al. is short for et alia , the Latin phrase for “and others.”)
Henderson, Davidian, and Degler (2010) surveyed 350 smokers aged 18 to 30.
One survey, conducted among 350 smokers aged 18 to 30, included a detailed questionnaire about participants’ motivations for smoking (Henderson, Davidian, & Degler, 2010).
Note that these examples follow the same ampersand conventions as sources with two authors. Again, use the ampersand only when listing authors’ names in parentheses.
As Henderson et al. (2010) found, some young people, particularly young women, use smoking as a means of appetite suppression.
Disturbingly, some young women use smoking as a means of appetite suppression (Henderson et al., 2010).
Note how the phrase et al. is punctuated. No period comes after et , but al. gets a period because it is an abbreviation for a longer Latin word. In parenthetical references, include a comma after et al. but not before. Remember this rule by mentally translating the citation to English: “Henderson and others, 2010.”
A Work by Six or More Authors
If the work you are citing has six or more authors, list only the first author’s name, followed by et al. , in your in-text citations. The other authors’ names will be listed in your references section.
Researchers have found that outreach work with young people has helped reduce tobacco use in some communities (Costello et al., 2007).
A Work Authored by an Organization
When citing a work that has no individual author(s) but is published by an organization, use the organization’s name in place of the author’s name. Lengthy organization names with well-known abbreviations can be abbreviated. In your first citation, use the full name, followed by the abbreviation in square brackets. Subsequent citations may use the abbreviation only.
It is possible for a patient to have a small stroke without even realizing it (American Heart Association [AHA], 2010).
Another cause for concern is that even if patients realize that they have had a stroke and need medical attention, they may not know which nearby facilities are best equipped to treat them (AHA, 2010).
- Review the places in your paper where you cited material from a source with multiple authors or with an organization as the author. Edit your citations to ensure that each citation follows APA guidelines for the inclusion of the authors’ names, the use of ampersands and et al. , the date of publication, and, where appropriate, a page reference.
- Mark any additional citations within your paper that you are not sure how to format based on the guidelines provided so far. You will revisit these citations after reading the next few sections.
A Work with No Listed Author
If no author is listed and the source cannot be attributed to an organization, use the title in place of the author’s name. You may use the full title in your sentence or use the first few words—enough to convey the key ideas—in a parenthetical reference. Follow standard conventions for using italics or quotations marks with titles:
- Use italics for titles of books or reports.
- Use quotation marks for titles of articles or chapters.
“Living With Diabetes: Managing Your Health” (2009) recommends regular exercise for patients with diabetes.
Regular exercise can benefit patients with diabetes (“Living with Diabetes,” 2009).
Rosenhan (1973) had mentally healthy study participants claim to be experiencing hallucinations so they would be admitted to psychiatric hospitals.
A Work Cited within Another Work
To cite a source that is referred to within another secondary source, name the first source in your sentence. Then, in parentheses, use the phrase as cited in and the name of the second source author.
Rosenhan’s study “On Being Sane in Insane Places” (as cited in Spitzer, 1975) found that psychiatrists diagnosed schizophrenia in people who claimed to be experiencing hallucinations and sought treatment—even though these patients were, in fact, imposters.
Two or More Works Cited in One Reference
At times, you may provide more than one citation in a parenthetical reference, such as when you are discussing related works or studies with similar results. List the citations in the same order they appear in your references section, and separate the citations with a semicolon.
Some researchers have found serious flaws in the way Rosenhan’s study was conducted (Dawes, 2001; Spitzer, 1975).
Both of these researchers authored works that support the point being made in this sentence, so it makes sense to include both in the same citation.
A Famous Text Published in Multiple Editions
In some cases, you may need to cite an extremely well-known work that has been repeatedly republished or translated. Many works of literature and sacred texts, as well as some classic nonfiction texts, fall into this category. For these works, the original date of publication may be unavailable. If so, include the year of publication or translation for your edition. Refer to specific parts or chapters if you need to cite a specific section. Discuss with your instructor whether he or she would like you to cite page numbers in this particular instance.
In New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis , Freud explains that the “manifest content” of a dream—what literally takes place—is separate from its “latent content,” or hidden meaning (trans. 1965, lecture XXIX).
Here, the student is citing a classic work of psychology, originally written in German and later translated to English. Since the book is a collection of Freud’s lectures, the student cites the lecture number rather than a page number.
An Introduction, Foreword, Preface, or Afterword
To cite an introduction, foreword, preface, or afterword, cite the author of the material and the year, following the same format used for other print materials.
Whenever possible, cite electronic sources as you would print sources, using the author, the date, and where appropriate, a page number. For some types of electronic sources—for instance, many online articles—this information is easily available. Other times, however, you will need to vary the format to reflect the differences in online media.
Online Sources without Page Numbers
If an online source has no page numbers but you want to refer to a specific portion of the source, try to locate other information you can use to direct your reader to the information cited. Some websites number paragraphs within published articles; if so, include the paragraph number in your citation. Precede the paragraph number with the abbreviation for the word paragraph and the number of the paragraph (e.g., para. 4).
As researchers have explained, “Incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into one’s diet can be a challenge for residents of areas where there are few or no easily accessible supermarkets” (Smith & Jones, 2006, para. 4).
Even if a source does not have numbered paragraphs, it is likely to have headings that organize the content. In your citation, name the section where your cited information appears, followed by a paragraph number.
The American Lung Association (2010) noted, “After smoking, radon exposure is the second most common cause of lung cancer” (What Causes Lung Cancer? section, para. 2).
This student cited the appropriate section heading within the website and then counted to find the specific paragraph where the cited information was located.
If an online source has no listed author and no date, use the source title and the abbreviation n.d. in your parenthetical reference.
It has been suggested that electromagnetic radiation from cellular telephones may pose a risk for developing certain cancers (“Cell Phones and Cancer,” n.d.).
For personal communications, such as interviews, letters, and e-mails, cite the name of the person involved, clarify that the material is from a personal communication, and provide the specific date the communication took place. Note that while in-text citations correspond to entries in the references section, personal communications are an exception to this rule. They are cited only in the body text of your paper.
J. H. Yardley, M.D., believes that available information on the relationship between cell phone use and cancer is inconclusive (personal communication, May 1, 2009).
At work, you may sometimes share information resources with your colleagues by photocopying an interesting article or forwarding the URL of a useful website. Your goal in these situations and in formal research citations is the same. The goal is to provide enough information to help your professional peers locate and follow up on potentially useful information. Provide as much specific information as possible to achieve that goal, and consult with your professor as to what specific style he or she may prefer.
Revisit the problem citations you identified in Note 13.55 “Exercise 3” —for instance, sources with no listed author or other oddities. Review the guidelines provided in this section and edit your citations for these kinds of sources according to APA guidelines.
- In APA papers, in-text citations include the name of the author(s) and the year of publication whenever possible.
- Page numbers are always included when citing quotations. It is optional to include page numbers when citing paraphrased material; however, this should be done when citing a specific portion of a work.
- When citing online sources, provide the same information used for print sources if it is available.
- When a source does not provide information that usually appears in a citation, in-text citations should provide readers with alternative information that would help them locate the source material. This may include the title of the source, section headings and paragraph numbers for websites, and so forth.
- When writing a paper, discuss with your professor what particular standards he or she would like you to follow.
Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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- Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU)
- University of the West of England (UWE)
Daniel is a qualified librarian, former teacher, and citation expert. He has been contributing to MyBib since 2018.
- AWELU contents
- Writing at university
- Different kinds of student texts
- Understanding instructions and stylesheets
- Understanding essay/exam questions
- Peer review instructions
- Dealing with feedback
- Checklist for writers
- Research writing resources
- Administrative writing resources
- LU language policy
- What characterises academic writing?
- The heterogeneity of academic writing
- Three-part essays
- IMRaD essays
- How to get started on your response paper
- Student literature review
- Annotated bibliography
- Three versions of the RA
- Examples of specificity within disciplines
- Reviews (review articles and book reviews)
- Popular science writing
- Research posters
- Grant proposals
- Writing for Publication
- Structuring your email
- Direct and indirect approaches
- Useful email phrases
- Language tips for email writers
- Writing memos
- Meeting terminology
- The writing process
- Identifying your audience
- Using invention techniques
- Developing reading strategies
- Taking notes
- Identifying language resources
- Choosing a writing tool
- Framing the text: Title and reference list
- Structure of the whole text
- Structuring the argument
- Structure of introductions
- Structure within sections of the text
- Structure within paragraphs
- Signposting the structure
- Using sources
- What needs to be revised?
- How to revise
- Many vs. much
- Other quantifiers
- Quantifiers in a table
- Miscellaneous quantifiers
- Adjectives and adverbs
- Sentence fragment
- Run-on sentences
- What or which?
- Singular noun phrases connected by "or"
- Singular noun phrases connected by "either/or"
- Connected singular and plural noun phrases
- Noun phrases conjoined by "and"
- Subjects containing "along with", "as well as", and "besides"
- Indefinite pronouns and agreement
- Sums of money and periods of time
- Words that indicate portions
- Uncountable nouns
- Dependent clauses and agreement
- Agreement with the right noun phrase
- Some important exceptions and words of advice
- Atypical nouns
- The major word classes
- The morphology of the major word classes
- Words and phrases
- Elements in the noun phrase
- Classes of nouns
- Elements in the verb phrase
- Classes of main verbs
- Auxiliary verbs
- Primary auxiliary verbs
- Modal auxiliary verbs
- Meanings of modal auxiliaries
- Marginal auxiliary verbs
- Time and tense
- Simple and progressive forms
- The perfect
- Active and passive voice
- Adjective phrases
- Adverb phrases
- Personal pronouns
- Dummy pronouns
- Possessive pronouns
- Interrogative pronouns
- Indefinite pronouns
- Prepositions and prepositional phrases
- More on adverbials
- The order of subjects and verbs
- Subject-Verb agreement
- Hyphen and dash
- English spelling rules
- Commonly confused words
- Differences between British and American spelling
- Vocabulary awareness
- Useful words and phrases
- Using abbreviations
- Register types
- Formal vs. informal
- DOs & DON'Ts
- General information on dictionary use
- Online dictionary resources
- What is a corpus?
- Examples of the usefulness of a corpus
- Using the World Wide Web as a corpus
- Online corpus resources
- Different kinds of sources
- The functions of references
- Reference accuracy
- Reference management tools
- Different kinds of reference styles
- Style format
- Elements of the reference list
- Documentary note style
- Writing acknowledgements
- What is academic integrity?
- Academic integrity and writing
- Academic integrity at LU
- Different kinds of plagiarism
- Avoiding plagiarism
- About Awelu
- Start here AWELU contents Student writing resources Research writing resources Administrative writing resources LU language policy
- Genres Introduction The Nature of Academic Writing Student writing genres Writing in Academic Genres Writing for Publication Writing for Administrative Purposes
- Writing The writing process Pre-writing stage Writing stage Rewriting stage
- Language Introduction Common problems and how to avoid them Selective mini grammar Coherence Punctuation Spelling Focus on vocabulary Register and style Dictionaries Corpora - resources for writer autonomy References
- Referencing Introduction Different kinds of sources The functions of references How to give references Reference accuracy Reference management tools Using a reference style Quick guides to reference styles Writing acknowledgements
- Academic integrity What is academic integrity? Academic integrity and writing Academic integrity at LU Plagiarism
How to give references
References can be provided in different ways. In some academic fields, notes are used to indicate sources used, whereas other disciplines favour a style where references are integrated in the running text. In the humanities and social sciences, for instance, references are often integrated into the running text, whereas in the sciences, it is more common to indicate source information in notes. As we explain further below, the terms integral citation and non-integral citation are used to describe to what extent references are integrated in the text.
Linguist Ken Hyland (2005) explains the difference in conventions between academic fields in the following way:
[W]riters in the humanities and social sciences [are] far more likely to include cited authors in the sentence rather than in parentheses or footnotes (a practice called integral citation), and to place them in subject position. In the hard sciences, only Biology [conforms] to this pattern. The conventions of impersonality in science help to account for the relatively low incidence of citation in the Physics and Engineering corpus and for the predominance of non-integral structures. By reducing their emphasis on individual actors, writers reinforce the ideology that the legitimacy of hard-science knowledge is built on socially invariant criteria […] This also explains the overwhelming use of footnote formats in the sciences, replacing cited authors.
Hyland, K. (2005). Metadiscourse: Exploring interaction in writing . London: Continuum.
For more information about difference in writing between disciplines, see
Practices differ depending on field, which means students need to find out what applies in their subject area.
Integral and non-integral citations
If you quote or paraphrase, you must integrate the source text you use language-wise and content-wise into your text by considering the following:
- You need to contextualise your reference
- You need to introduce the reference
- You need to provide a reference to the source
Methods vary between disciplines, and it takes practice to master the art of using sources in a relevant and correct fashion. Two common ways of introducing what someone else has said or written is to say According to.. . or to use a so-called reporting verb . Both techniques serve to introduce the source:
- According to + author’s name: According to Johansson, ….
- Author’s name + reporting verb: Johansson argues that… / Johansson shows how…
A reporting verb (or reporting phrase) is used to identify the author of the source in the text. As the term suggests, such verbs report what the source states. Depending on how you wish to present the source and how you wish to position your own research/argument in relation to the source, you need to choose a suitable verb. Common reporting verbs are: show, present, argue, suggest, report, address, identify, describe, analyse, note, demonstrate, criticise, compare, observe .
For more information about how to find useful words and expressions, see
Read more about how to quote and paraphrase here:
In non-integral citations, the author of the source referred to is only acknowledged through the reference. This means that all information about the source is provided in a note or parenthetical references, depending on the reference style.
The parts of a reference
The following video provides information about different parts of references and how these are used in different fields. The informtion in this video also also connects to what we say in
- Using a reference style
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Go to References > Insert Citation , and choose the source you are citing.
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Basics about Citation
- author name/s
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- date of publication
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Two key elements of referencing, 1. an in-text marker, 2. a complete reference list, brief reference essay example.
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Reference List Format
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- the page number
- the title of the work
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4. Harvard Reference Style
- Book – the order of the elements are author, year, book title, publisher, and place of publication (for example, “Wallace, A, Schirato, T, & Bright, P 1999, Beginning university: Thinking, researching and writing for success, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW.”) You may also see academic essay examples .
- Chapter in a book – the order of elements are author, year, chapter title, editors, book title, publisher, and place of publication (for example, “Amin, A 2000, ‘The economic base of contemporary cities’, in G Bridge & S Watson (eds), A companion to the city, Blackwell, Oxford.”)
- Journal article – the order of elements are author, year, article title, journal title, volume and/or issue number, and page range (for example, “Castles, FG, Curtin, JC, & Vowles, J 2006, ‘Public policy in Australia and New Zealand: The new global context’, Australian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 131–143.”) You may also like scholarship essay examples .
- Web page – the order of elements are author, year, document title, site controller/sponsor, location of controller/sponsor, date of viewing, and URL address (for example, “Benson, A 2006, Potamopyrgus antipodarum, United States Geological Survey, USA, viewed 5 August 2006, <http://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.asp?SpeciesID=1008>”
5. Chicago Reference Style
- Book – the order of elements are author, book title, city of publication, publisher name, year, page number (for example, “Mason Durie, Ng? k?hui pou: Launching M?ori Futures (Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2003), 22.”)
- Chapter in a book – the order of elements are author, chapter title, book title, editors, page range, city of publication, publisher name, year, page number (for example, “Ash Amin, “The Economic Base of Contemporary Cities,” in A Companion to the City, ed. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson, 115–129 (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 120.”) You might be interested in literary essay examples & samples .
- Journal article – the order of elements are author, article title, journal title, volume number, issue number, year, page range (for example, “Francis G. Castles, Jennifer Curtin, and Jack Vowles, “Public Policy in Australia and New Zealand: The New Global Context,” Australian Journal of Political Science 41, no. 2 (2006): 135.”) You may also see synthesis essay examples & samples .
- Web page – the order of elements are author, page title, site owner, and URL address (for example, “A. Benson, “Potamopyrgus antipodarum,” United States Geological Survey, http://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.asp?SpeciesID=1008.”
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Markers’ criteria in assessing English essays: an exploratory study of the higher secondary school certificate (HSCC) in the Punjab province of Pakistan
- Miguel Fernandez ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-0826-3142 1 &
- Athar Munir Siddiqui 1
Language Testing in Asia volume 7 , Article number: 6 ( 2017 ) Cite this article
Marking of essays is mainly carried out by human raters who bring in their own subjective and idiosyncratic evaluation criteria, which sometimes lead to discrepancy. This discrepancy may in turn raise issues like reliability and fairness. The current research attempts to explore the evaluation criteria of markers on a national level high stakes examination conducted at 12th grade by three examination boards in the South of Pakistan.
Fifteen markers and 30 students participated in the study. For this research, data came from quantitative as well as qualitative sources. Qualitative data came in the form of scores on a set of three essays that all the fifteen markers in the study marked. For the purpose of this study, they weren’t provided with any rating scale as to replicate the current practices. Qualitative data came from semi-structured interviews with the selected markers and short written commentaries by the markers to rationalize their scores on the essays.
Many-facet Rasch model analyses present differences in raters’ consistency of scoring and the severity they exercised. Additionally, an analysis of the interviews and the commentaries written by raters justifying the scores they gave showed that there is a great deal of variability in their assessment criteria in terms of grammar, attitude towards mistakes, handwriting, length, creativity and organization and use of cohesive devices.
The study shows a great deal of variability amongst markers, in their actual scores as well as in the criteria they use to assess English essays. Even they apply the same evaluation criteria, markers differ in the relative weight they give them.
Research has shown that, in contexts where essays are assessed by more than one rater, discrepancies often exist among the different raters because they do not apply scoring criteria consistently (Hamp-Lyons 1989 ; Lee 1998 ; Vann et al. 1991 ; Weir 1993 ). This study examines this issue in Pakistan, a context where composition writing is a standard feature of English assessment systems at the secondary & post-secondary levels, but where no research has been conducted into the criteria raters use in assessing written work. The particular focus of this project is a large-scale high-stakes examination conducted by the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) in the Punjab province of Pakistan. One factor that makes this context particularly interesting is that raters are not provided with formal criteria to guide their assessment and this makes it even more likely that variations in the criteria raters use will exist.
Language testers and researchers emphasize the importance of reliability in scoring since scorer reliability is central to test reliability (Hughes 1989 ; Lumley 2002 ). Cho ( 1999 , p. 3) believes that “rating discrepancy between raters may cause a very serious impediment to assuring test validation, thereby incurring the mistrust of the language assessment process itself.” Bachman and Alderson ( 2004 ), while openly acknowledging the difficulties raters face in assessing essays, consider writing to be one of the most difficult areas of language to assess. They note various factors which complicate the assessment process but believe that serious problems arise because of the subjectivity of judgement involved in rating students’ writing. The subjectivity of human raters, sometimes referred to as the rater factor, is considered the single most important factor affecting the reliability of scoring because raters (1) may come from different professional and linguistic backgrounds (Barkaoui 2010 ), (2) may have different systematic tendencies like restriction of range, rater severity/leniency, (Fernández Álvarez and Sanz Sainz 2011 ; Wiseman 2012 ), (3) may have different attitude to errors (Huang 2009 ; Janopoulos 1992 ; Lunsford and Lunsford 2008 ; Santos 1988 ; Vann, Lorenz, and Mayer 1991 ), (4) may have very different expectations of good writing (Huang 2009 ; Powers, Fowles, Farnum, and Ramsey 1994 ; Shaw and Weir 2007 ; Weigle 2002 ), (5) may quickly become tired or be inattentive (Fernández Álvarez and Sanz Sainz 2011 ; Enright and Quinlan 2010 ) or (6) may have different teaching and testing experience (Barkaoui 2010 ), etc. Therefore, language testing professionals (e.g., Alderson et al. 1995 ; Hughes 1989 ; Weir 2005 ) suggest constant training of raters and routine double scoring in order to achieve an acceptable level of inter-rater reliability. Research also supports the view that scorers’ reliability can be improved considerably by training the raters, (Charney 1984 ; Cho 1999 ; Douglas 2010 ; Huot 1990 ; Weigle 1994 ) though it cannot completely eliminate the element of subjectivity (Kondo-Brown 2002 ; Weir 2005 ; Wiseman 2012 ).
In order to achieve an acceptable level of reliability, Weigle ( 2002 ), among others, has outlined detailed procedures to be followed while scoring ESL compositions. Key to these is the provision of a rating scale, rubric or scoring guide, which functions as the yardstick against which the raters judge a piece of writing or an oral performance. The importance of using a rating scale to help raters score consistently is so well-established in the field of language testing that it is taken for granted that one will always be available; the issue then becomes not whether to use a rating scale, but what form this should take (e.g., holistic or analytic - see Weigle 2002 for a discussion of rating scales).
In Pakistan, although essay writing is typically a key component in high-stakes examinations, no explicit criteria for the scoring of essays exist (Haq and Ghani 2009 ). Given this situation, this study examines the scoring criteria raters use and the extent to which these vary across raters.
An overview of the relevant assessment literature shows that a variety of qualitative and quantitative tools like introspective and retrospective think aloud protocols (e.g., Cumming et al. 2001 , 2002 ; Erdosy 2004 ), group or individual interviews (e.g., Erdosy 2004 ), written score explanations (e.g., Barkaoui 2010 ; Milanovic et al. 1996 ; Rinnert and Kobayashi 2001 ; Siddiqui 2016 ), questionnaires (e.g., Shi 2001 ) and panel discussions (e.g., Kuiken and Vedder 2014 ) have been used by different researchers to find an answer to the Research Questions 1 and 2 outlined in the next section. Think Aloud Protocols (TAPs) or verbal protocols, for instance, which require the participants to verbalise their thoughts while they are actually rating, are the most widely used methods to investigate the rating process of essays in English as a first language (Huot 1993 ; Wolfe et al. 1998 ) as well as in English as a second language context (Cumming et al. 2001 ; Lumley 2005 ). They have three major weaknesses, namely incompleteness (DeRemer 1998 ; Smith 2000 ), possible alteration in the rating due to simultaneous verbalization and rating (Barkaoui 2011 ; Lumley 2005 ) and the difficulty to administer TAPs (Barkaoui 2011 ; Siddiqui 2016 ). Keeping in mind the limitations inherent in each method, it was therefore decided to use two methods simultaneously (Written commentaries and interviews) to counterbalance the weaknesses in a single method. To find out the answer to the 3 rd Research question, Rasch analyses were carried out.
Informed by the analysis of the literature and context above, the following research questions were proposed:
What criteria can be used in scoring essays?
What criteria do other raters use in scoring essays?
How consistent are raters in the criteria they apply?
The context for the study is the Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSCC) conducted by the BISE in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Out of a total of nine BISEs in the Punjab, three are responsible for conducting examinations in South Punjab (SP). These Boards, though independent, are closely interconnected at the provincial level and every year thousands of students from private and public schools/colleges take the exams administered by these Boards. The compulsory English paper, which carries 18% of the total scores, has many essay-type questions.
A sample of raters working in the three different Boards in SP was selected for this study. Given the large number of raters working in the region, five raters from each Board were chosen, giving a total of 15 participating raters. All the raters had at least 10 years of experience as a rater on the aforementioned BISEs. Their ages ranged from 40 to 52, while nine were male and six female.
Moreover, 30 students studying at a government college in the jurisdiction of SP were also part of the study. All of them were pre-engineering male students and were preparing to take the final examination conducted by BISE. They were assigned five essays to prepare for their send-up test, Footnote 1 and this contained four essay questions from which the students had to choose one. The essays were written under examination conditions. The essay titles were
My first day at College.
Science, a mixed blessing.
My hero in history.
The place of women in our society.
Of the 30 students, eight attempted ‘My first day at College’ whereas nine each chose ‘Science, a mixed blessing’ and ‘My hero in history’. The remaining four students did not attempt this question. Thus, a total of 26 essays were produced. Out of this total one essay was randomly selected on each of the three topics. These three essays were anonymised, photocopied and given to the raters participating in the study.
Scoring of essays.
The 15 raters in this study were given the same three essays to score and asked to score them as they would do in official scoring centres (including giving a score to each paper).
Each rater was also asked to submit a short written commentary in which they justified the score they awarded to each script. The obvious advantages associated with this method are economy of time and ease in data collection. Quite unlike interviews and TAPs, short commentaries are readily available in written form and lend themselves to quick analysis saving researcher\s time and energy for analysis. Here is an example of one such commentary:
The candidate has attempted the given topic in a somewhat appropriate way. But there occurred some spelling mistakes and the candidate wrote over the words. The candidate has not been successful in fulfilling the required number of words as usually maintained by Intermediate student.
Handwriting is plausible and pages are well margined. The candidate does not make use of capital and small letters in writing main heading /title. Overall impression on my part is that the attempt is just average.
After the scoring was completed, each rater was interviewed in order to examine the criteria they used in assessing the scripts (see Appendix 1 for interview questions). The interviews were semi structured. According to Wallace ( 1998 ), these are the most popular form of interviews. Unlike TAPs, which put additional load on the raters while they are simultaneously verbalising their thoughts and rating essays, interviews for the current study provided the participants ample opportunities to talk about their marking criteria in a relaxed atmosphere. Moreover, as compared to other methods like observation or TAPs they are easy to administer since the raters who might refuse to be observed while they are at work or decline to verbalise their thoughts while evaluating essays agreed to be interviewed. This readiness of the markers to be interviewed was not only in consonance with the ethical framework charted out for the study but was advantageous also since the willing raters gave a true and fuller account of their rating practices. This approach allowed the researchers to address a set of themes that wanted to be covered but also provided the flexibility to discuss any additional issues of interest that emerged during the conversation. Prior to the interviews, the commentaries the raters had written were reviewed and used to inform the direction of the discussion.
Many-facet Rasch model (NFRM) analyses were carried out with the use of FACETS (Linacre and Wright 1993 ) to estimate raters’ performance (in terms of intra and inter rater reliability) and essay difficulty. Due to the fact that raters vary according to the severity in their scoring, MFRM analyses help identify particular elements within one facet that are problematic, such as a rater who is not consistent in the way he or she scores (Linacre 1989 ; Lynch and McNamara 1998 ; Bond and Fox 2001 ).
Results and findings
Consistency of scoring.
Table 1 summarizes the scores (out of a maximum of 15) given to each of the three essays by the 15 raters. These figures highlight variability in the assessment of these scripts. On essay 1, the scores ranged from 5 to 12, on essay 2 from 4 to 10 and on essay 3 from 6 to 10. Raters’ aggregates scores for the three essays ranged from 17 to 31.
Figure 1 presents the variable map generated by FACETS, in which the different variables are represented. The map allows us to see all the facets of the analysis at one time and to draw comparisons among them. It also summarizes key information about each facet, highlighting results from more detailed sections of the FACETS output.
FACETS Variable Map
The first column in the map shows the logit scale. Although this scale can adopt many values, the great majority of the cases are placed in the rank ± 5 logits. In this case, it goes from +2 to -4. The location of point 0 in the scale is arbitrary, although it is usually placed in the average difficulty of the items. The second column (labeled “Raters”) compares the raters in terms of the level of severity or leniency that each rater exercised when rating the essays. Because more than one rater rated each essay, raters’ tendencies to rate responses higher or lower on average could be estimated. We refer to these as rater severity measures. More severe raters appear higher in the column, while more lenient raters appear lower. When we examine the map, we see that the harshest raters (Raters 1 and 11) had a severity measure of about 1.4 logits, while the most lenient raters (Raters 3, 10 and 13) had a severity measure of about -4.0 logits. The third column (labeled “Essays”) compares the three essays in terms of their relative difficulties. Essays appearing higher in the column were more difficult to receive high ratings on than essays appearing lower in the column. The most difficult essay topic was “My hero in history,” while the easiest was “Science, a mixed blessing.”
One of the central questions is whether raters differ in the severity with which they rate and how consistent they are in the criteria they apply. To answer these questions we need to examine Fig. 2 , where we can find the raters measurement report.
Raters Measurement Report (arranged by mN)
The logit measures of rater severity (in log-odds units) that were included in the map are shown under the column labeled Measure. Each rater has a severity measure with a standard error associated with it, shown in the column labeled Model S.E., indicating the precision of the severity measure. The rater severity measures range from -4.59 logits (for the most lenient rater, Rater 10) to 1.40 logits (for the most severe raters, Raters 1 and 11). The spread of the severity measures is about 6 logits. Comparing the fair averages of the most severe and most lenient raters, we would conclude that, on average, Rater 10 tended to give ratings that were 3.16 raw score points higher than Raters 1 and 11 (i.e., 8.90–5.74 = 3.16).
The reported reliability is the Reliability of the Rater Separation. This index provides information about how well one can differentiate among the raters in terms of their levels of severity. It is the Rasch equivalent of a KR-20 or a Cronbach Alpha. It is not a measure of inter-rater reliability. Rather, rater separation reliability is a measure of how different the raters are. In most situations, the most desirable result is to have a reliability of rater separation close to zero. This result would suggest that the raters were interchangeable, exercising very similar levels of severity. In our example, the high degree of rater separation (.66) suggests that the raters included in this analysis are well differentiated in terms of the levels of severity they exercised. There is evidence here of unwanted variation in rater severity that can affect examinee scores.
In order to see if the raters scored consistently, we would examine the rater fit statistics. FACETS produces mean-square fit statistics for each rater. These are shown on Fig. 2 under the columns labeled Infit and Outfit. Rater Infit is an estimate of the consistency with which a rater scores the essays. We can also think about rater infit as a measure of the rater’s ability to be internally consistent in his/her scoring. FACETS reports a mean-square infit statistic (MnSq) and a standardized infit statistic (ZStd) for each rater. Mean-square infit has an expected value of 1. Values greater than 1 signal more variation (i.e., unexplained, unmodeled variation) in the rater’s ratings than expected. Values smaller than 1 signal less variation than expected in the rater’s ratings. Generally, infit greater than 1 is more of a problem than infit less than 1, since highly surprising or unexpected ratings that do not fit with the other ratings tend to be more difficult to explain and defend than overly predictable ratings.
Data represented in Fig. 2 indicates that Rater 14 shows less consistency in the scoring, with an infit MnSq of 2.30, followed by Raters 15 (MnSq of 1.85), 5 (MnSq of 1.27), 12 (MnSq of 1.27) and 1 (MnSq of 1.17).
Raters’ scoring criteria
An analysis of the interviews and the commentaries written by raters justifying the scores they gave showed that there is a great deal of variability in their assessment criteria. Even where they assigned the same score to an essay, the rationale for doing so was often quite different.
Although all raters stressed the importance of grammatical accuracy, they disagreed on the relative weight that grammar should be given. Some raters were very particular about grammar and allocated nearly 50% of the total scores to it. For example, one respondent very ardently noted: “First thing is grammar. First of all we check whether the student has followed grammatical rules. If there are spelling, construction and grammatical mistakes, then we deduct 50% of the scores”. Others were less concerned about grammar and gave good scores to an essay, as long as the grammatical mistakes did not interfere with meaning.
Attitude towards mistakes
Raters also varied in how they treated repeated mistakes of form, such as spelling or grammar. When asked how they react if a student repeatedly misspells a word, some raters said that they counted it as a single mistake, while others said they counted it as a separate mistake each time it occurred. For others, it depended on how serious they felt the mistake was. For example, one respondent explained “generally I will count it as one but if there is a mistake in verb tense - for example if he is using present indefinite tense incorrectly again and again - I will deduct scores each time”.
For some raters, quotations and memorized extracts from literature were “a vital means to support a viewpoint”; such raters thus gave more credit to an essay which had quotations. For example, one respondent explained the following:
An essay… must have 5 to 6 quotations to support the arguments… Well, if the student is… able to convince without quotations I give him credit… But how this can happen? You see references are life line of your arguments.
Even those raters who were looking for quotations in the essays were not unanimous as to how many were required. Some thought there was no fixed number while others wanted at least six to seven quotations in an essay. Still others thought that they were not even necessary and an essay could be convincing without having quotations. One rater noted:
I reserve 50% scores for content and 50% for grammar and spellings. References and handwriting do not matter much and I give generous credit even if the essay is written in a very bad hand and has no quotations.
Some raters believed that one of the essential qualities of a well-developed essay is clear and legible handwriting - the essay should be pleasing to the eye. Raters from this group said that they gave 2–3 bonus points to an essay that is written in a neat hand. One rater, while rationalizing the scores she deducted from an essay, observed that “the candidate overwrote the words. Besides there are so many cuttings and the handwriting is also not plausible”. Other raters, in contrast, did not consider handwriting to be an important criterion in the assessment of the essays.
Though raters agreed that a well-written essay should meet the prescribed word limit, they varied in the way they assessed this criterion. Some raters said that since they had been scoring for a very long time their experience helped them judge whether the essay had the required number of words or not. Others said that if the essay had all the components it automatically had the required length. Still others said that the number of pages written gave them a clue to the length of essay - as one rater noted, “It’s quite obvious. A 300-word essay will be normally 3 pages of the answer sheet.”
Almost all raters looked for creativity in an essay and gave credit to original writing in line with the Boards’ instruction to give generous credit to a creative attempt. But they noted, with regret, that creativity at the intermediate level is virtually non-existent as the predictability of essay titles (similar titles were set each year) encouraged the candidates to memorize essays and reproduce these in the examination.
Organization and cohesive devices
Makers did not seem to give great weight to organization and cohesive devices in an essay at the intermediate level since they believed that 99% of the essays written in the examination were memorized ones and had been pre-organized. Only one rater mentioned it as a scoring criterion. In the discussion about the reproduction of memorised essays, the rater observed the following:
Some essays produced by students have superior organization as they are written by an expert. I always make it a point to give more credit to such essay, as the student must be credited with the choice of memorizing a good essay.
Raters’ awareness of inter-rater variability
The findings presented above show that there was variability in raters’ scoring and also in the criteria they used in assessing essays. Additionally, the study also showed that raters were aware of these issues and felt the discrepancies were partly the result of the lack of proper written assessment guidelines. One rater noted that:
Well, you know human beings are not machines… and every individual rater has different experiences, backgrounds and of course he has… quite different expectations. And they may look for different things in essay. Some may want good handwriting and others may look for some strong arguments.
The raters, then, were not at all surprised by the possibility of limited inter-rated reliability in the scoring of essays.
The study shows that there exists a great deal of variability amongst raters, both in their actual scores as well as in the criteria they use to assess English essays. Even when they apply the same criteria, raters vary in the relative importance they give them. This confirms the earlier studies (e.g., Bridgeman and Carlson 1983 ; Lee 1998 ; Weir 1993 ) which suggest that different raters have different preferences. This research also lends support to earlier work (Connors and Lunsford 1988 ; James 1977 ; Williams 1981 ) which noted that different raters react differently to mistakes. Given the high-stakes nature of the examination which the individuals in this study are scored for, the variability highlighted here is very problematic and suggests that there is much room for the introduction of systems, including training, which would allow the assessment of BISE English essays to be more reliable.
One particular issue to emerge here was raters’ preference for memorized excerpts in the essays. This is not an issue that appears elsewhere in the literature, but its relevance is noteworthy. Firstly, the majority of BISE raters have a Master’s in English literature. These teachers thus believe that an essay will be improved if it uses literary quotations to support its viewpoint. Secondly, in Eastern culture, age and wisdom command respect. It is thus generally believed that an argument will be stronger and more convincing if it quotes some celebrated author. Religious scholars and authors often quote from the Holy Quran and verses from famous poets to impress the audience in Pakistan.
The issue that raters raised about memorised essays here is also worth highlighting. If it is indeed the case that essays produced under examination conditions have been written in advance (not necessarily by the students) and memorised, then this brings into question the validity of the examination itself; it is not actually assessing how well the students can write in English but other qualities such as their memories.
The study has some limitations. Since only experienced teachers from government institutes participated in the study these results cannot be generalized to novice raters or raters associated with private institutes. Moreover, the sample size was limited to 15 raters and a set of three essays. Additional research with a larger sample is needed to better understand how raters with varied teaching and scoring experience and from different socio-cultural backgrounds assess English essay writing.
The study has highlighted significant variability amongst raters working at the different Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education in one region of Pakistan. This small scale research project serves two purposes. Firstly, by pointing out the great differences in the scores awarded by different examiners to the same essays, it sensitizes different stakeholders to the gravity of the situation and by the same token urges for more research into the phenomenon. Secondly, it makes a case for using a rating scale, training the raters and taking other appropriate measures to achieve an acceptable level of inter-rater reliability in the scoring of English essays on high-stakes examinations.
The research has implications for the Board officials, policy makers and examiners. Many raters, even though they have been working for over decades, have difficulties finding out what exactly they have to look for in an essay at the intermediate level. It is the goal of this study to provide some guidance in the scoring process and to set the principles for future research studies on a larger scale.
Send-up tests are preparatory examinations conducted by the college(s) locally just before the students take the final examination conducted by the BISE. These tests are modelled on the Boards’ examination.
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The main author has conducted the study, and secondary author has contributed to the data analysis and review of the literature. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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Interview Schedule for Raters
How long have you been working as a sub-examiner with the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education?
How many Boards/centres have you worked at as a sub-examiner?
Have you ever had any opportunity to work as a Paper setter/Head examiner /Random checker or in any other capacity with any Examination Board?
Do raters receive any instructions regarding scoring of essays, prior to the scoring or during the scoring?
If yes, what kind of instructions are usually given?
How far are these instructions useful in scoring especially essays?
If no, what criteria do raters use in evaluating essays?
Do the Board(s) arrange any training for the sub-examiner or head examiners?
What happens on the first day of scoring?
In your opinion what qualities should a well written essay at Intermediate level have?
What do you usually look for when you are scoring essays at the Intermediate level?
Do you deduct scores for grammar and spelling mistakes?
How do you count spelling mistakes? If a student misspells a word three times will you count it as one mistake or three?
Do you distinguish between pen mistakes and serious mistakes? If yes, how you do it?
Do you credit or discredit on the basis of handwriting?
If an essay is well written and you are fully satisfied, what maximum score will you award it?
How much time do you usually spend in scoring an essay?
Do you read minutely or make quick judgments by the overall impression the essay has on you?
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Fernandez, M., Siddiqui, A.M. Markers’ criteria in assessing English essays: an exploratory study of the higher secondary school certificate (HSCC) in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Lang Test Asia 7 , 6 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40468-017-0037-0
Received : 29 December 2016
Accepted : 28 February 2017
Published : 04 March 2017
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/s40468-017-0037-0
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