How often do you reference and Cite sources in Essays and Papers?

author By Mary Boies

Do you find citing and referencing scholarly works in your essays difficult? If your answer is yes, you are not alone. Many students usually feel like this, especially the first time they are asked to reference their essays properly.

references and citations in essays

While referencing for the first time can feel intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. This is because it is pretty straightforward, especially if you understand the rules you must follow. A quick insight on citing; you should cite an original scholarly source anytime you are in doubt.

This post covers everything you need to know about referencing essays or research papers, including the most critical strategies. By the time you read it to the end, you should be able to do a good job writing a good essay or research paper.

What is a reference?

When you are writing an academic essay, you are supposed to use credible sources to support the arguments and claims you make in your essay.

And you are supposed to do it orderly so that any competent student or scholar worldwide can easily understand and locate the sources you have used. This is what brings us to referencing.

Referencing is a structured way of providing sufficient information for every source you use in your essay. When you do it properly, you make it easy for readers to understand your sources and to find them if they want to.

What is a citation?

Every time you reference a source in your essay, you must indicate the source within your writing and include its complete reference on your references page (also known as the works cited or bibliography page).

That part of every source you use that you indicate within your writing is called a citation. The purpose of a citation is to help the reader quickly find the full reference on the references page.

And the purpose of the full reference is to provide the reader with all the vital information they need about the source.

You must cite the source every time you include words, research, ideas, data, or information that is not your own. The same applies when you are synthesizing and summarizing information from a source. Do not include citations on common knowledge, original ideas, lived expectations, or generally accepted or observable facts.

Purpose of Referencing in an Academic Essay

As a college student, you probably know it is important to include references in every essay you write. This is because your college professors have probably told you more than once always to add references in your academic writings.

But why exactly do professors insist you should always add references in your essays? Well, there are several reasons.

1. Referencing is proof of research

When you properly reference your essay, it will be apparent to your professor that you have done the necessary research and found relevant sources to include in your essay.

This is because your references will consist of all the details; they need to know about the sources you have used and whether they are relevant.

So, if you have done the research and you want your professor to know for sure that you have, you must reference your sources correctly according to your essay’s referencing style.

2. Referencing is proof that your essay is based on credible sources

Professors always want their students to use credible sources to ensure that what they write and conclude is based on solid evidence.

Therefore, upon researching and finding credible scholarly sources, you should write your essay and include these sources properly. Doing this will make it clear to your professor that you used credible sources because they will obviously see them in your references.

In addition, using credible sources only in your essay will increase your likelihood of getting a top grade. You also have the opportunity to back up your arguments.

3. Referencing documents your sources for your reader to verify your evidence

If referencing was not a big deal, dishonest students could simply make up sources to make their essays look credible and well-researched.

However, it is a big deal, and professors insist on proper referencing to ensure they can confirm the evidence cited or used by students in their essays.

Therefore, when writing your essay, you must document your sources properly by referencing them to make it easy for your professors to verify them.

4. Referencing shows that you have read your assignment instructions

Many students often do not pay great attention when reading assignment instructions. They simply read the topic or the assignment question and proceed to research and write.

Most professors hate this. Professors like students who read instructions keenly and follow them to the letter. Therefore, they usually give such students good grades.

Therefore, when you get an essay assignment, you should read the assignment instructions keenly and follow all of them, particularly the ones on referencing.

If you do this, your references will clearly show you followed instructions, and you will increase your likelihood of getting a good grade.

5. Referencing shows that you understand essay writing

At the core of essay writing are research, writing, and referencing.

When you properly reference your essay, you make it clear to your professor that you understand essay writing.

Because if you don’t understand essay writing, you will most likely not do any proper research, and it is unlikely that you will reference your essay correctly.

Thus, you should always strive to reference your essays properly to ensure your professors understand that you fully appreciate the essay writing process.

Strategies to reference an Essay (Referencing and Citation Cheat Sheet)

If you are having trouble putting references and citations in your essay or research paper, here are some hacks that can get you back on track.

Remember, you can cite a reference anytime you quote, paraphrase, and summarize from a source. The same applies when presenting information, statistics, facts, dates, and information from a scholarly source.

Citations help avoid plagiarism. Here are some strategies to use.

1.  Cite newer sources

Most professors insist students do not cite papers or sources older than 10 years. Some, like nursing school professors and teachers, insist on citing sources that are 5 years old.

This is because old sources tend to have old information that is probably flawed or obsolete. Therefore, when researching and finding a bunch of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources you can use, you should go for the newest sources.

The newer the sources you use, the better. Sources less than 5 years old are the best sources to find information. This is because they tend to have the latest and up-to-date information.

You should only cite old sources if they are excellent sources. In other words, you should only cite old sources if they are revolutionary, seminal, or pioneering works by scholars or have been authored by renowned scholars. So, for example, if you are researching for your psychology essay and find information in a Sigmund Freud textbook, you can cite it as a source because Sigmund Freud is a renowned scholar in psychology.

2. Reference twice or thrice per paragraph

If you wonder how many times you should reference per paragraph, the answer is twice or thrice. It is best to put only two references per paragraph. This will show that you conducted thorough research to find good sources with most of the information you need. It will also ensure that your paragraphs are easy to read.

You can put references in your essay’s introduction and conclusion paragraphs, which is unnecessary. It is not a must because both paragraphs shouldn’t have too much information or information that needs citation. However, you should put two citations per body paragraph throughout your essay to make it credible.

To avoid losing marks/points, you should make sure the sources you use in every body paragraph are different. This will imply you have done thorough research to find two credible sources instead of just one.

3.  Do not over cite

If you have done thorough research and you’ve found multiple sources that you can use in your essay, choose two or three references to use in each body paragraph.

Never exceed five sources per body paragraph. This is because most professors do not like it.

You also should not exceed five sources per paragraph because the sources will appear many and make your essay look tacky. They will also make your writing difficult to read.

Citing more than five sources per paragraph has many drawbacks, as highlighted above. Therefore, if you want a good grade, you should limit yourself to two to three sources per paragraph to make your work easy to read and follow.

As a result, your job will flow better, making your professor more likely than not to give you a good grade.

4. Stick to 1-3 sources per 150 words

You now know it is not right to over-cite your essay. However, you should also know that under-citing your essay is incorrect. It will make your essay appear undeserving of a top grade even if you’ve written it brilliantly.

To ensure you do not under-cite your essay, you should ensure that your essay has a minimum of 10 sources if it is 1,500 words long, 13 sources if it is 2,000 words long, and 20 sources/references if it is 3,000 words long.

In addition, you should have at least 2-3 citations in a paragraph. These citations can come from either one source or different sources. The latter is preferable. It is always good practice to cite a source more than once in your paper.

There are some sources that you will most probably use several times in your essay. So if you count in-text sources, you will almost always have more sources than the minimum number you need for your essay. You should count the number of sources on your Works Cited page or your References page to know if you have met the minimum number of sources needed for your essay. It is okay if you have met the minimum number of sources for your essay. Otherwise, you should add more sources to your essay to ensure it is not under-cited.

5. Have an updated reference list

After creating your works cited or references page, you should ensure your references list is in alphabetical (A-z) order. This sounds like something easy to do, yet so many students frequently forget to do it, leading to a poor grades.

Thus, you always ensure your references list is in alphabetical order if you want a good grade and make it easier for the reader to find specific references in your references list.

If you are using MS Word to clean your essay, you should be able to quickly and automatically list the references you have on your references page alphabetically.

In addition to ensuring your reference list is in alphabetical order, you should make sure each reference on the list has a hanging indentation to make it more professional.

6. Format your reference list well

Ensure your reference list is always well-formatted. This is especially true with regard to its style and font. Students often add references to their reference lists and then forget to format the new entries to match the old ones. This usually makes their essays look unprofessional.

To ensure your essay looks professional, you should format every new entry in your references list to ensure its style and font match the style and format of the previously added references.

7. Cite 50% of the sources from your research

You can get sources for your essay from your assigned readings or your own research. Getting references from your assigned readings is excellent because it is what your professor expects.

But getting 50 percent of your sources from your own research is much better because it shows your professor that you did thorough research. It shows your professor you took your time to find great sources, and you did find them.

The best place to research your essay is on Google Scholar. This website or mega database has virtually every paper ever written. It is easy to search for a term, refine results, and get relevant sources on Google Scholar.

8. Use Google Scholar or Citation Generation Websites/tools

Most students usually only search for scholarly articles and other scholarly sources on their university database.

This is not bad because university databases usually contain quality articles written by scholars. However, many a time, university databases also have irrelevant sources that are sometimes mixed in with quality sources when you search for something on them. This is why not everyone likes them; some professors recommend Google Scholar as an alternative.

Google Scholar is just the best database for scholarly articles and textbooks. You can easily find scholarly articles and textbooks on the database.

Furthermore, Google Scholar is a massive database. There are millions of scholarly articles and books on the website. Therefore, there is no way you can search for any topic on Google scholar without getting a good number of results. This makes it a much better database to use than a university database.

9. Cite scholarly sources only

There are two types of sources you can cite in your essay – bad sources and good sources. Bad sources are papers written by unknown authors, blog posts, social media posts, etc. You should never use bad sources in your essay. This is because they will weaken your arguments, and your professor will not be impressed.

You should only use good sources in your essays. And good sources to use in essays are scholarly sources. Scholarly sources include journal articles, textbooks, and so on. Scholarly sources are called scholarly sources because they are written by scholars (authors who have good academic standing). Using scholarly sources in your essay will strengthen your arguments and impress your professor.

10.  Use a printed referencing style cheat sheet

Referencing is usually not the easiest thing to do. This is because there are so many rules to follow to adhere to any single referencing style (e.g., APA, MLA, and Harvard). Therefore, printing the rules for the referencing style you are using will help you to have them at your fingertips and ensure you get all the details right. 

A printed referencing style cheat sheet will help you correct online generated in-text citations and references.

While online citation and reference generators are helpful and convenient, sometimes they do not generate correct or complete in-text citations and references.

With a cheat sheet by your side, you will quickly notice any incorrect or incomplete citations or references and correct them.

To get a cheat sheet for any referencing style, simply Google it. You will find so many results. It is up to you the best one to download and print it. Once you print it, stick it on your pinboard and have the pinboard by your side when adding references to your essay. Doing this will significantly improve your reference.

Final Take

Referencing is difficult and intimidating, especially when you are asked to do it correctly for the first time. While referencing is difficult and intimidating, you cannot just ignore it because it is an integral part of academic writing. You should reference all your essays properly to get good grades.

In this post, we revealed the best strategies to follow to do this. If for some reason, you cannot follow the referencing strategies listed on this post, you should send your essay to us for editing.

We have a team of experienced assignment writers and editors ready to transform your writing from an ordinary piece to a masterpiece. So, trust us with your assignment today, and you will not be disappointed.

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