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The reasons why accurate referencing is essential for academic work are not immediately apparent, particularly for students new to higher education. This essay will, therefore, examine why referencing is an essential part of academic writing and in the process address the question: ‘what is the point of referencing?’
There are three main reasons for referencing. Firstly, referencing helps student writers to construct, structure, support and communicate arguments. Secondly, references link the writer’s work to the existing body of knowledge. Thirdly, only through referencing can academic work gain credibility.
This essay will discuss these three aspects of referencing in detail, examine their validity, identify how referencing affects a writer’s writing style, and show how referencing helps students to present their own ideas and opinions in assignments.
Becker (1986) believes the construction of arguments is the most important function of referencing systems. There are four dimensions to this. Firstly, drawing on existing literature, academic writers can construct their own arguments - and adopting a referencing system supports this process. Secondly, it helps to structure the existing information and arguments by linking published authors to their respective works. Third, referencing helps academic writers identify sources, gather evidence, as well as show the relationships between existing knowledge. Finally, referencing also provide a framework to enable writers to structure their arguments effectively by assessing, comparing, contrasting or evaluating different sources.
However, merely describing existing research, rather than producing their own contributions to the discussion, is inadequate for most academic writers. It is important for every academic writer to avoid this narrow-minded argumentation trap; academic writing is not just about compiling existing arguments, but adding new perspectives, finding new arguments, or new ways of combining existing knowledge.
For example, Barrow and Mosley (2005) combined the fields Human Resources and Brand Management to develop the ‘Employer Brand’ concept.
When the argument has been constructed, it needs academic support – and only references can provide this required support. We all know that academic works are not about stating opinions - as that would be akin to journalistic comment - but arguments are supported by evidence, and only arguments presented with sufficient and valid support are credible. Hence arguments are only as strong as the underlying evidence: arguments relying on questionable sources are – well, questionable.
Referencing also enables writers to communicate their arguments efficiently. The referencing framework allows them to produce a holistic work with different perspectives, whilst still emphasising their own positions; quotations, for example, help the reader to differentiate the writer’s opinions from others. Again, if arguments are badly referenced, readers might not be able to distinguish the writers’ own opinions from their sources. Especially for academic beginners, referencing helps them to adapt to the precise and accurate academic writing style required for degree level study. Neville (2007, p. 10) emphasises this issue of writing style, and identifies the quest to “find your own voice” as one of the main reasons for referencing. In academic writing, this requires developing an individual style that is neither convoluted nor convivial in tone, but which is clear, open but measured, and is about identifying and using evidence selectively to build and support one’s own arguments.
Immanuel Kant said “Science is organized knowledge.” This short quote brilliantly captures the point that the primary mission of science and other disciplines is not to promote individual achievements, but to establish a connected, collective, and recognised body of knowledge.
This is the most fundamental reason for referencing from a theoretical point of view. Hence some authors identify this as the principal reason for referencing: “The primary reason for citation [...] is that it encourages and supports the collective construction of academic knowledge” (Walker & Taylor, 2006, pp.29-30).
The writer’s references are links to this network of knowledge. Without these links an academic work would operate within an academic vacuum, unrelated to existing academic knowledge. A writer needs to show how his or her work relates to current research and debates in their chosen subject area.
Referencing not only connects a student writer’s work to existing research, but clearly distinguishes the writer’s own ideas from established arguments –and failing to indicate that ideas are taken from the existing body of knowledge would be plagiarism. This is one of the five principles of referencing identified by Walker and Taylor (2006).
Neville also identifies the
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Bibliography, Logic, Arguments, Critical thinking, Citation, Reference, Parenthetical referencing, Argumentation theory, Academic writing, Argument, Research
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