How to reference your dissertation

Proper referencing is a critical aspect of every academic work. Besides giving your project credibility, it also shows the level of research you did on the topic to come up with your final piece. This article takes you through the importance of academic referencing and how to do it properly.

What is academic referencing?

Scholarly/academic referencing is the means by which an author points readers to sources used in his/her work. Through it, readers can refer to the sources of literature for further reading. There are three main types of referencing, but each provides the same pieces of information but in a different format. Referencing information include

  • The author’s name
  • The title of the work
  • The type of publication
  • The date of publication
  • Place of publication and publisher

Importance of referencing

Escape plagiarism

Referencing your academic work prevents you from being accused of plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious academic offense, and you can be cited for copyright violations.  As such, any piece of information you borrowed from other author's work, being it direct quotation or paraphrasing, must be appropriately cited.

Future purposes

It makes it easier for readers of your work to trace the sources of your information for detail reading.


Your dissertation's content sources can determine how credible it is and how serious it should be taken. With citations, you tell readers that you’ve read widely on the topic; hence, they take your work seriously.

How to reference correctly

Do it orderly

Referencing a dissertation means you may have hundreds of sources to cite. This is by no means an easy task, especially if you plan to do your bibliography after the research and writing process. To prevent being overwhelmed, find the best way to organize and subsequently track all the sources you’ve used. Doing this makes it easier to retrieve them for your in-text referencing and bibliography later.

Take advantage of Technology

With the advancement in technology, software is available to help you store and track your sources. You can choose to use a spreadsheet or just a simple notepad. However, if you are working on many sources, then using reference management software is the best option. If this is your case, you can use the likes of RefWorks, Endnote, and Zotero.

Referencing Systems

Parenthetical referencing

Parenthetical referencing methods are used in various academic disciplines and come in multiple formats.  Formats like the MLA (Modern Language Association) and Chicago are used in the Arts and Humanities fields, while APA (American Psychological Association) is mostly used in the Social Sciences. It helps readers to identify sources in the reference list quickly. Parenthetical referencing is an author-date system that uses the author's surname and publication year.

The Harvard referencing system

This is another author-date formatting style in the parenthetical system and is one of the widely used referencing systems. The system comes in several variations, and almost every university has a different concept of how it should look.

Footnote/endnote referencing styles

This style of referencing is typical in the Arts and Humanities disciplines. It is used mostly in the UK and Commonwealth countries. The format includes the author’s name, title, and page numbers. Examples of footnote styles are

  • MHRA (Modern Humanities Research Association)
  • Oxford
  • Chicago (footnote style)

Numbered referencing styles

The numbered refereeing method is used in the sciences, where large numbers of sources are mostly used. It allows content to be supported by as many as ten sources. In numbered referencing, direct quoting is hardly used, unlike paraphrasing.