What is referencing?

Referencing can be considered as a set of rules for presenting sources of information, cited within a written text, with the list of appended references following. Referencing is not to be confused with bibliographies, which are lists of references following a text, but not necessarily cited within the text.

Whilst many reference styles use the author/date or numerical/footnote citation within a text, the reference style used will be discipline-specific. There’s more on this below.

Why is it important to reference?

Referencing shows the quality of the work, how well-read a student is on a subject and how broad the subject is. It allows students to acknowledge contributions of writers/researchers. Referencing sources cited in a piece of work reduces the risk of you being accused of plagiarising someone else’s work or ideas, which is a major academic offence.

The inclusion of references makes it easier for readers to locate the sources used, to further their reading of the subject, and clarify interpretation.

What reference styles are there?

It turns out there are a number of referencing styles, including:

  • Harvard – used in many disciplines;
  • Vancouver – used in natural sciences, medicine and health sciences;
  • Oxford – used in legal disciplines;
  • APA (American Psychological Association) – used in health sciences, economics, psychology and education;
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) – used in languages, linguistics and literature;
  • Chicago/Turabian – used in business subjects.

The two most popular referencing styles in medical academia are Harvard and Vancouver referencing. If you are not told which style to use, pick one and remain consistent with how materials are referenced. Don’t mix them up.

Harvard referencing is a style which cites the author’s surname and year of publication within a text, i.e., (Meyer, 2002). This author/date citation appeals to many academics and at a glance, it shows how old publications are in relation to current writing. The overall set of references is in alphabetical order, by author.

The Vancouver style uses sources which are numerically listed in order of appearance in the text.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, regarding how to reference using either Harvard or Vancouver, take a look at the Referencing Section of the QUB Libguides for MDBS to see how you would use either reference style.

Another excellent source of up-to-date referencing guidance, in particular relating to Harvard and Vancouver, is the book Cite Them Right, multiple copies of whose new, 11th edition are available to borrow from various branches of the Library at Queen’s.

What should I reference?

If you include any of the following in a written text, you should reference it:

  • Use of concepts or arguments from any publication;
  • Use of diagrams;
  • Quotes;
  • Paraphrasing an argument/opinion;
  • Using research results.

Materials referenced can include publications, webpages, video, articles/journals, etc. Each of these are referenced in a particular way.

Tips for referencing

  • Consult the reference style guide and familiarise yourself with the chosen style.
  • All sources cited in your text must appear in the reference section.
  • Take care not to misquote or misinterpret citations in your work. This is an ethical and copyright issue.
  • Give yourself time to do check essays and references.
  • Double-check sources used.
  • Proofread your work, or ask a friend to proofread it.
  • Check out the LibGuide helpful training videos on searching databases and references.
  • Start collecting references and use a reference management system. Keeping references in one place allows you to track them more easily and if you don’t use them all, it’s no big deal. It’s also advised to save search histories and keyword searches.

Reference management tools

In this section, we list some of the reference management tools suggested by librarians across Queen’s and have included links for guides relating to them. Other reference management tools are also available.

Regardless of whether you are writing an essay of 1,000–5,000 words or a thesis, it’s good practice to use reference management tools and to become familiar with reference styles.

Library drop-in sessions

There are Library drop-in sessions available weekly at MBC or WMB for staff and students. The MDBS LibGuide page shows when and where the next drop-in is available. If you’re not within the School of MDBS, your respective subject librarian can advise.

Your subject librarian can help you with library training, literature search planning and reference management advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance in these areas. It will help you build skills, plan and reference better as well as avoiding plagiarism. Don’t hesitate to contact Richard Fallis (MDBS Subject Librarian) for all your library needs, planning searches, requesting resources, etc.

In summary

Remember to give yourself time to plan and gather references. Choose a reference style and be consistent with its use. Use a reference management tool to track references; this is good practice when you progress to thesis/dissertation level, as many more references are used.

Have a look over the library guides, and don’t hesitate to ask assistance from library staff. Good luck in your writing and referencing.

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