How To Make References In A Dissertation Right?

When it comes to academic papers, every writer must understand the importance of references. It has many reasons to be so significant. Firstly, this is one of the main requirements for the academic writings and it serves as a final touch for the paper, showing it is completed. Secondly, this is a way you can maintain statements in the text and provide proofs for your arguments. The presence of references displays that you have done quality research and have a deep knowledge of the topic you have disclosed in the dissertation.


The proper way to make references in a dissertation


Today we will take a closer look at “academic” or “scholar” references in academic writing and discover their peculiarities.


What is academic reference?

This is the type of references you add to your academic paper to direct your reader to the sources of the information you have used in the paper. It can be a citation, quotation or another way of “borrowing” thoughts from other experts.

We have many options for providing references in the paper. In this article, we will take a closer look at three of them. However, they all have similar features and purposes and provide the same piece of basic info about the source of thoughts:

  • the name of the author of the text you refer to;
  • the name of the paper/article/book/etc.;
  • the type of work (book, article, magazine etc.);
  • the date of publication, edition (if you refer to the particular edition of the book, with specific features, you need to specify what copy you have used exactly as the information, used in the older versions may drastically differ from statements used in the latest copies or the structure may vary and create a confusion when reader will try to find the original source you refer to);
  • the place of publication and the name of the publisher;
  • extra details, if needed, to provide complete direction to the source of information that is used in your academic paper.


Reasons you need to make references and when you should do so

Excluding plagiarism

The most significant reason to use citation is to exclude cases of plagiarism in your dissertation or any other paper. It is not forbidden to add to your work thoughts and statements of other influential experts in the field. But you can do so only with proper references for their work. This is the way you can support your own statements and give credits to the people who have inspired you in your own discoveries at the same time.

Keep in mind, that references are required not only for direct quotations of someone’s words but also to other data and thoughts, even if you have paraphrased them. Some people plagiarize other works unintentionally. But still, they are under the danger to be accused of dishonest researching.

We advise making references anytime you know or consider the thought in your work is the representation of some other one. Be cautious.

Additional reasons

Apart from the danger of being accused in plagiarism, you need to keep in mind a few more reasons to make a habit to provide references to the sources of information you use. They are important in evolving as a scholar and following policies of collective knowledge creation:

  • provide readers with the opportunity to dig deeper and find out wider explanation of the things from your paper, which can be a thing if your work stimulates reader’s thinking. Moreover, thus us just a common scholar courtesy to display the way your thoughts were formatted clearly and understandable;
  • providing references to the works of other scholars will show you have done deep research on the topic and display your insight into it. This may help you in convincing your readers and make your arguments sound stronger. With quotations of the reputable sources, your interpretations may become even more understandable.


What system for references is better to choose?

Usually, there are no many options. In most cases, you will have an opportunity to choose between parenthetical referencing and footnote referencing or their preferred parenthetical and numerical styles for Arts or Humanities subjects and for Sciences or Social Sciences respectively. As a rule, it is up to the university choice.

In case you have an opportunity to choose, you need to study the “usage” passage and check the following aspects:

  • What is the number of sources you are about to use in my work?
  • To what extent will you use the sources: will you use a lot of data from them or just include a few thoughts from each of them to point out some trends in the field?
  • What will you choose: paraphrasing or direct quotes?

So in case, your educational institution will provide you with the freedom to choose the referring method, use this checklist to make the right choice considering specifications of your work.


Ways to make effective and consistent references


Working dissertation, it is obvious that you will have to use dozens or even hundreds of sources and will have to provide references to them as well. You will need to work on the bibliography section for sure to display the list of used sources. But during months or even years of work on the paper it is impossible to remember and recall all the book, articles and papers you base your research on. So it would be wise to develop a system for organizing all the materials, whether you just read them or quote. This approach will be helpful for writing the bibliography section and making in-text quotations as well.

Helpful software for automatizing the process

Academic writers usually have their own ways of organizing sources lists and notes for their work. They may use spreadsheets or make notes on paper. It is good to implement even these techniques. But when you work with numerous sources and for a long time, you may require additional assistance from special software for managing references. This is one of the most effective ways to store and retrieve sources. Many educational institutions provide commercial subscriptions for their workers for software like RefWorks and EndNote. But you also may use free packages of Zotero. There might be some restrictions compared to the paid versions, but still, it can serve a great deal.

Usually, this type of software provides a similar list of features:

  • the feature for organizing the database by dividing it into different folders according to the particular criteria, that is especially useful for large databases;
  • a number of fields that collect info that is typically needed for the proper citation in the academic paper;
  • at least one option for automated recording of the info (for instance, plugins for grabbing citation data from pages you use in your work; DOI searches for collecting citation info right from the internet; functions for importing text or XML files, or even complete databases);
  • plugins for word processing to make in-text quotations in any footnote or parenthetical form;
  • at least one tool for creating lists of references or bibliographies – in a text form extracted from the program or collecting data about sources from the word procession results.

Using these helpers, you can save a great deal of time while you will have an easy way for cataloging, retrieving or annotating materials you use in your paper. The automated citation will help you to create the full bibliography list for your paper.

But keep in mind that automated tools cannot guarantee 100% accuracy in their results. So it would be better to check the records of the program and complete them with missing data or to fix some inaccurate parts.


Parenthetical references


This type of references is used most often in academic writing and it can be applied in various academic disciplines with minor differences considering discipline specifications.

MLA and Chicago styles are usually used in disciplines of the Arts and Humanities field, particularly in the north part of USA. When it comes to Social Sciences, APA can be appropriate. But the Harvard system is the most universal option that is acceptable by most universities and disciplines globally.

Parenthetical methods are usually applicable on an economic basis. With their help, the reader may quickly and without any special troubles or time-wasting find the source of the provided information in the section with all references (can be marked as “References” or “Bibliography” etc.) where all the papers you have cited are collected. Due to the fact that this style is based on economy approach, it has simplified requirements considering the author’s name. So you can specify it only if it is not clear from the context. But if your quotation looks like “Brown states that.” you can omit Brown’s name in the references a few phrases later.

System based on author-date principle

Most references of the parenthetical format are based on the “author-date” principle. They include the name of the author and then the year of publication. As it was stated above, you can omit the author’s name and specify only the year, in case the name is understandable from the context. Here’s an example:

We can observe many complaints that we have “too many styles for references that may only waste our time we could spend on deeper research” (Brown 2018, p.8)


Brown claims that “There are too many styles for references that may only waste our time we could spend on deeper research” (2018, p.8)

The year of publication is the second main information about the source you need to specify in your referencing (after the name). This allows easy tracking of the source of the thoughts of the piece of the text and finds it in the bibliography section. The author-date principle usually creates a unique marker for each source of information. But in can the scholar has written more than one academic work in one year without specifying other dating information, and you need to use and quote each of the sources in your dissertation, so you need to make each identifier unique like “2018a” and “2018b” etc.

The way you make references may differ depending on the selected format, discipline etc. For instance, we will use APA when we are assigned to write a paper on any of the Social Sciences discipline. It does not have any strict rules for mentioning page numbers as usually in such works the sources of information are rather paraphrased then cited directly. In most cases, it is just a general reference for giving credit to the inspiration and the direction for the thoughts in the paper. In the APA system, you need to specify the author’s name and the date of publication. In case you need to mention the page number, add this information at the end of the quote in a separate parenthetical note.

Brown (2018) claims that “There are too many styles for references that may only waste our time we could spend on deeper research” (p.8)

The Harvard system

This citation method required separate disclosing, despite the fact it belongs to the author-date group of referencing styles. There are high chances that your university uses the Harvard system as the main citation system, or at least for some disciplines. But it is also possible, that your university may understand this system differently comparing to other educational institutions. While Chicago and MLA styles serve as detailed identifiers that have many rules for academic writing, apart from the references, Harvard method only specifies the type of info you need to add to your reference, but it has much more formatting rules.

Harvard formatting differs from institution to institution and publication that apply this style. So variations may be many, but we can define basic principles that remain the same:

  • capitalize the name of the author;
  • referring to the page numbers, use “p.” or just add the number;
  • separate the name of the author and the publication data with a comma;
  • use the formatting and elements of bibliography that is specified by the university.

It may be confusing, but many universities do not take into consideration these specifications. If you go to any library in any university, you will see that its referencing guide will disclose the main set of rules of Harvard System, without including elements of its variations. This will help you to identify the unique requirements and spot the ones, added by your university or software.

Keep in mind this information, especially if you use the special software to automate tracking and collecting bibliography data. If you will choose the Harvard system in its settings, the high chances that the result will not match the requirements of your university. So you will need to fix some settings manually to reach the needed format. Some referencing tools offer a few variants of the Harvard system, so you can try each of them to find the most suitable option for you and your university. But still, you may need to make a few corrections as well.

MLA format and features of

MLA approach is even more economical in using the information in references. The main thing here is that we do not have to use dates but organize sources according to the names of the authors with minimal punctuation as well. For instance, it can look like this:

We often hear complaints that there are “too many styles for references that may only waste our time we could spend on deeper research” (Brown 8)

In case the author has more than one work, connected to the discussed topic, you can add a reference to the particular book, but make it the shorter possible, like this:

We often hear complaints that there are “too many styles for references that may only waste our time we could spend on deeper research” (Brown, Education’s 8)


More examples

Take into account that all the references we provide in the examples are fictional and made up by us to display the main principles.

In text:

We often hear complaints that there are “too many styles for references that may only waste our time we could spend on deeper research” (Brown 2018, 8)

In the list of references:

Brown, John. 2018. The Challenges of Modern Education: Requirements and Academic Writing.

Parenthetical styles examples

  • Chicago (author-date)
  • MLA (Modern Language Association)
  • Harvard
  • APA (American Psychological Association)


Footnote/endnote references and their usage


Method of footnote referencing is used mostly in papers in Arts and Humanities disciplines and more common in the UK and Commonwealth countries. It is suitable for direct quotes and references to the sources when it is required to provide instantly what source has been used and when you need to add some comments to the info you have used in the main text. This type of referencing usually includes page numbers if possible. The exceptions are the classical texts that may exist in various editions and in such cases it is more appropriate to refer to the particular chapter, scene, line etc. Footnoting is based on the assumption that the reader may decide to trace the source to study the context of the quote and get a deeper understanding of the thoughts in the paper. So we often can see this type of referencing in the books and articles and they usually contain bibliography references and other info about the source.

Formatting and style specifications

Usually, we can see the number in the superscript note (less often – parentheses) at the end of the sentence of the passage quoted or some other option to display that the text has noted. In most cases, footnotes can be found at the bottom of the page that contains the reference. It can also be an adjacent page in case there is too much text in the footer. The referencing section as a rule id separated from the main text with a horizontal line. Less often universities use the endnote approach when all the references are marked with a running number and then at the end of the paper, book etc. we have a special chapter with references and comments.

The amount of details in the footnote reference usually depends on the presence or absence of the bibliography. If the is one, in a footnote we can just add the main info to track the original source in the bibliography section. It can be the name of the paper and its author’s name and the particular page where the quote is. Footnote is the unique style as it allows using bibliography as well with the sources of quotations. You also can add to the footnote any other source and information that is important for the deeper understanding of the paper your work on, whether you cited it or not.

In some cases, footnote referencing does not imply the bibliography section at the end of the paper. This means that all the details about the source of information must be added to the footnote. At the same time, two the most popular styles Oxford and MHRA usually require that all possible bibliographic details were mentioned in the footnote as well as in the bibliography section in the alphabetic order. Sometimes MHRA allows omitting of the general bibliography, but often universities require creating it anyway. Considering this, the short note is allowed (containing the author’s name, title and the page of reference) to be added to the footnote after the source was mentioned and introduced before.


In text:

Brown often complaints that “There are too many styles for references that may only waste our time we could spend on deeper research”. 1

In the footer:

  1. Brown, John. 2018. The Challenges of the Modern Education: Requirements and Academic Writing (Oxford: Scholar’s Press, 2018), p. 8.

In the list of references:

Brown, John. 2018. The Challenges of the Modern Education: Requirements and Academic Writing (Oxford: Scholar’s Press, 2018).

Footnote style examples

– MHRA (Modern Humanities Research Association);

– Oxford;

– Chicago (footnote style).


Numbered reference styles


Numbered referencing style is most common in scientific works. They are perfect for cases when there are too many sources of information and they are used brief or paraphrased and when you use more than 5 sources to prove one point or statement but without direct quotations (or without it at all). Numbered collection of the references in bibliographic records are the best options for cases when there are too many sources and even the shortest parenthetical approaches will lead to the often and long interruption of the main text.

Format and features

Every source you use in your work has its unique number in the bibliography depending on the appearance order in the text. The definite number is inserted in the main text in parentheses (not in a superscript way like in footnotes) and when in the further text you refer to this source, you use the same number for referencing to it. At the end of the paper, you will have to collect all the references in one list in the respective order. Numbered references are suitable for the texts where there are many numbers and terms and you may need many references or even hyperlinks to explain them.


In text:

Scholars often complain that there are too many styles for references that may only waste our time we could spend on deeper research. (1-4)

In the list of references:

  1. Brown, J. The Challenges of the Modern Education: Requirements and Academic Writing. Oxford: Scholar’s Press, 2018.

Examples of numerical styles

One of the most standardized styles of numerated referencing is Vancouver style. But more often you can hear mentioning only “numerated referencing” without specifying Vancouver style. As well as Harvard style, this method of making references may be altered depending on the university requirements, time of publication and other factors. But the unique Vancouver style of referencing will remain the same and you may use it as a starting point to organize a large number of references in your paper.


Changes in referencing approaches – e-sources and DOI

The DOI style, or A Digital Object Identifier, is standardized and currently a very common method for making references to the online sources. This is like the connection between an ISBN and a URL. It is a unique and stable identifier that marks the particular source in electronic format and allows looking for it in the database. URL features are in its functioning as the “address” to the source and make it possible to found it quickly.

Most of the articles published today online use DOI method. The main info of the DOI is collected in the centralized database as metadata. This is a very convenient option for those, who use referencing software. All you need is to input the DOI of the article and the system will collect the required bibliographic data.

But the most convenient feature is that the metadata is being regularly updated so the unique DOI will contain the relevant URL and other info about the article. Type before any DOI identifier and it will find the most suitable place in the article for reference. If the source is open, it will direct to the page where the full article is available. In other cases, it will lead to the login page or any other page that will help you to get access to the original source.

The referencing techniques are still in the process of incorporating DOI. However, recent editions of APA and MLA now contain guidelines for using DOI as the references and even make it possible to exclude some details about the source of your reference have DOI.

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