Referencing is the art of acknowledgement and involves equal parts analysis and equal parts mechanics. First you need to be able to recognize intellectually when to reference and why, and second you need to know how to actually execute in accordance with the reference style of your choice.
A correct and ethical referencing regime is made up of two elements, citations and references.
A citation is the trail that you leave for your reader throughout your paper every time you draw on somebody else´s thoughts, ideas, and words. Citations are mandatory for both direct quotations and paraphrases. They are wrapped in "" brackets and contain, as an absolute minimum, information about author and publication year (and in the case of direct quotations, page number).
The purpose of a citation is threefold:
Two versions of citations are available, the exact choice depending largely on your personal preferences as an author.
The parenthetical citation is probably for most people the quintessential and thus most recognizable of the two citation variations as it stands out very clearly from the body text and does not try to disguise itself. It typically, but not always, appears after a direct quotation or paraphrase as in this example.
“The sun moves at great speed. However, it does not orbit the Earth as does the Moon” (Doe, 2020, p. 23)
Large quantities of parenthetical citations squeezed into a tiny space such as a paragraph may affect the reading experience, as they tend to interrupt the natural flow of prose. However, this is not a deal-breaker and if you are most confident about using in-text citations, you should simply persist in doing so. Otherwise you may want to consider using a narrative citation instead.
The narrative citation slots itself more easily into and does not disrupt the overall flow of your writing in the same way that a parenthetical citation can. In most cases, however, will the implementation of a narrative citation involve some kind of slight re-molding of (parts of) the citation to keep the prose flowing, as in
John Doe (2020, p. 23) is very adamant that “[t]he sun moves at great speed” and that “[…] it does not orbit the Earth […]".
In this example, the citation mimics the flow of the body text and to that effect, a few changes have been made. First, the initial T in the original quotation now appears in lower case, as it no longer initiates a main clause following a full stop but a subordinate clause without a full stop. Second, However and as does the Moon have been removed altogether. All of these changes have been marked with [square brackets] to signal to the reader that they are different from the original.
A reference has one purpose only, which is to guide the reader to the outside world for unambiguous and unequivocal identification, and if necessary retrieval, of the sources used.
To support this objective, a reference needs to include a sufficient degree of detail. Exactly what this means depends on the nature of the sources used and your choice of reference style. Whereas certain details are universal in scope and are used across the board, others are far more situational and discriminatory. Thus, a book is different from a journal article, which is again different from a newspaper article.
Below you will find a couple of examples in APA 7th style that illustrate this diversity (and sameness) (for more examples, check out the CBS Library guide to APA 7th)
Doe, J. (2020). Mother Earth and her surroundings. (2nd ed.). Copenhagen Business School Press.
Doe, J. (2020). Mother Earth and her surroundings. Journal of Astronomical Truisms, 24(5), 12-25. https://doi.org/10.11111/222222
Doe, J. (2020, January 1). Mother Earth and her surroundings. The CBS Gazette. https://www.cbsgazette.dk/morthereathandhersurroundings.html
From these three sample references, it is fairly easy to detect similarities as well as differences.
The similarities constitute what may be thought of as the backbone of referencing and include
Whenever you need to reference a source, all of these elements need to be present, and from a pure commonsense perspective, it seems obvious that without all of this information in combination, it will be close to impossible for anybody to find anything in an unambiguous and unequivocal way, which is the whole point of referencing.
Ambiguity in referencing
Below you will find some of the problems that may adversely affect a reader´s ability to identify a source if you fail to provide enough details:
Differences across source types
There are quite a few differences, and they are much more difficult to peg down and codify, instead they depend to a large extend on rote learning. Differences include
The precise formatting of both citations and references depends on the reference style applied.
No citation or reference required
When dealing with so-called truisms, i.e. claims that are either completely self-evident and / or considered inescapably and generally true, the requirement for citations and references no longer applies. Truism can be both universal in scope and domain-specific. That fact that the Earth orbits the Sun and not the other way round is a universal truism and as such needs no credit, unless used as a direct quotation. This means, that you do not have to go out of your way to try to find the exact document by Nicolaus Copernicus that first flogged this new insight. However, if you are not sure if something merits the status of truism or not, it is recommended that you play it safe and leave in a citation and a corresponding reference.
Citation without a reference
If you cite personal communication, such as letters, e-mails, live conversations, etc., which is not readily accessible to your readers anyyway, the citation does not need to be accompanied by a reference. In the name of transparency and if possible, however, you may want to leave the document as an appendix to your paper and refer to that instead.
Reference list vs. bibliography
Some reference styles distinguish between a reference list and a bibliography. A reference list only lists sources actually cited in a paper via an explicit citation, whereas a bibliography also includes sources that were consulted but never actually cited. Not all styles, including APA 7th, accept the bibliography alternative, so make sure to double-check before settling on a style.
Best practice is to organize reference lists and bibliographies in alphabetical order and not grouped into types, such as books, articles, websites etc. Remember, the whole point of referencing is to make it obvious to your readers that you have made use of other people´s thoughts and ideas, and to make it easy for them to go out into the world and find the original source.
To do so, readers will have to follow a path from the quote or paraphrase via a citation to the reference and only at this point will they have enough information to unequivocally identify the source. If references are grouped by type, it will be much harder for readers to find the right source, as they would have to trawl through all groups before they can be absolutely sure that they found the right one. If the list is sorted alphabetically, all they need do is to find the author and if there is only one source carrying the name of the author, it is of course very quick, but even if there are multiple sources carrying the name, it is still much smoother to determine which is the right one because the options are presented side-by-side.
This is, however, not a deal-breaker and if your supervisor insists, or if other circumstances dictate, that references are grouped by type, you should of course do so.
Joshua Kragh Bruhn - firstname.lastname@example.org