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Postgraduate study skills: Referencing skills for postgraduates

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Complete and accurate referencing of the sources you use in your work is essential. Referencing is a requirement of all academic writing for two important reasons.

  • It enables your readers to locate the sources you have called upon, so that it can be verified that you used the material in an appropriate and accurate manner.
  • It acknowledges the sources of the material you used that is not your own, so preventing any charge of plagiarism against you.

Referencing requires meticulous note taking and record keeping while you are gathering material from academic literature, and you must also be consistent in the way you add the details to your own documents. If you have to go back and alter your references further into your study it could involve a great deal of additional work.

Find out more on the OU library’s referencing and plagiarism area.

Harvard referencing system

The OU generally uses the Harvard referencing system, which uses brackets within the text rather than footnotes and endnotes. However, do check your study guide in case another system is preferred, and make a point of confirming with your tutor fairly early on that you are referencing in the required manner.

The benefit of the Harvard system is that you only include essential reference information in the actual text (the citation), with full details held in a reference list or bibliography.

Organising your bibliography

In the bibliography, each type of source is presented in a particular way, so articles from journals can easily be distinguished from chapters in books, and so on. The texts listed in your bibliography should appear in alphabetical order by author’s surname, then within that by date of publication. Your textbooks can be a useful model for organising a bibliography.

Remember that you only need to include a reference to the sources you used in your writing; sources you have looked at but haven’t referred to don’t need to be included.

Electronic referencing

You can organise your referencing using electronic resources, which enable you to create bibliographies automatically, directly import references from databases, and safely store your references.

To find Library training sessions for electronic referencing, visit the Online training sessions website.

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