No matter what type of paper you're writing, be it a literature
review, research report, summary, or analysis, rest assured that you'll
be required to name your sources. There are several different types of
resource lists, not to mention a number of different styles for writing
A reference list, also called a list of works cited, is
a catalog of all the sources you cited or otherwise referred to in your
paper. A citation involves giving another author credit for a quote,
idea, finding, or phrase that you use in your paper. You should cite
all direct quotes, as well as instances of paraphrasing; original or
novel ideas, perspectives, and facts; and research findings. This is
necessary so that authors receive due credit for their work. It's also
an academic obligation: it provides your readers the opportunity to
locate the sources you used, read and interpret the evidence
themselves, and perhaps even challenge your conclusions.
contrast to reference lists, you list all the sources you read in a
bibliography. Even if you do not cite the source, it must receive a
mention in the bibliography if you used it in any way throughout the
research and writing processes. Thus, books and articles you consulted
for reference early on must be included in your bibliography, receiving
the same attention as those sources you cited extensively.
addition to various types of resource lists, there are also different
styles in which you can compile them. Your professor will tell you
whether she wants you to use a reference list or bibliography, along
with what style your list should be presented in. This information will
most likely be in the assignment itself, so read through your handouts
carefully. When in doubt, it's better to ask the professor than guess!
of the most popular styles is Modern Language Association (MLA) style.
Founded in 1883, the MLA is a professional association that promotes
the study and teaching of - you guessed it - language and literature.
MLA Style is the format recommended for bibliographies by the
Association. Along with the styles developed by the University of
Chicago Press and the APA, it's one of the "big three" styles. The MLA
guidelines are used by more than 125 scholarly journals, newsletters,
and magazines, and are quite common in high schools and colleges. You
are likely to encounter them at some point in your academic career.
University of Chicago Press also publishes a style guide, called The
Chicago Manual of Style. Now in its 15th edition, the manual explains
not only how to document your resources, but also how to deal with
copyright issues, design and produce a book, and everything in between.
The manual has humble origins, starting out as a sheet of typographical
basics in the 1890s, morphing into a short pamphlet first published in
1906, and now weighing in at a hefty 986 pages. Aimed at publishers,
editors, and writers, you might have to learn this style if you are
majoring communications or related fields.
Also mentioned earlier
were the guidelines developed by the American Psychological Association
(APA). If you're taking a psychology or other social science course,
odds are that you'll be using this style for your reference list. The
APA is the largest association of psychologists, with over 150,000
members and 53 divisions. The APA's Publication Manual is a
comprehensive resource for both students and professionals who wish to
publish their research. Along with guidelines for writing a reference
list, the Publication Manual also includes information on how to
organize your paper's content; how to express your ideas coherently;
ethical standards for reporting research findings; and how to develop
and submit a manuscript for publication. If you ever plan on publishing
work in psychology, sociology, social work, criminology, nursing,
business or economics, you will need to know APA style forwards and
There are a number of other style guides available;
each field prefers a specific style, and many have developed their own
guidelines. Thus, you should always double check with your professor to
see what style she wants you to use.
Even though the reference
list falls at the end of your paper, make no mistake - it's extremely
important! Any errors you make could inadvertently deny an author
credit for her work. Incorrect citations might make it difficult or
impossible for your peers to do their own research on the topic.
Failure to properly credit your sources could get you in big trouble,
whether it's an intentional omission or not. Compiling the list in the
incorrect format, while not as serious as excluding it altogether, may
still annoy your professor.
The reference list is more than an
afterthought. Afford it as much attention as you do the rest of your
paper, and be well on your way to a stellar research report!
Copyright Kelly Garbato, 2005
Garbato is an author, ePublisher, and small business owner. She
recently self-published her first book, “13 Lucky Steps to Writing a
Research Paper,” now available at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com) or through Peedee Publishing (http://www.peedeepublishing.com).
To learn more about the author, visit her web site at http://www.kellygarbato.com.
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