There is probably nothing more entertaining in the world than correctly referencing the information in your dissertation! Of course, when we say “nothing is more entertaining” what we really mean is “everything is more entertaining than that, but you have to do it anyway, so buckle up, and here’s some worthy advice”! If you want to finish the great process of education and certification, you have to jump through all the hoops in the right direction, and correctly referencing your dissertation is one of them.
You might read that and think we’re talking about whether you have a good haircut or nice shoes, but really it refers to the fact that every academic discipline will rely on one of a few different specific styles for citing and referencing in your dissertation. You need to know for certain which one you are responsible for, as getting that wrong can mean the difference between passing and failing, no matter how good your content is.
The main styles used are MLA, APA, Chicago, and Harvard, although there may be others. The best way to know which one you are responsible for is to check directly with your advisor. Of course, by now you will know your field, and which style it prefers, and perhaps even know the most common version used in that department. With that said, there is nothing like getting the most direct information possible, especially on this most critical piece of work, so the smartest thing is probably to risk asking an obvious question, and make sure the advisor tells you directly.
Basic Requirements: In-text citation & reference page
Proper referencing requires two parts; in-text citations, and a reference page at the end with full details of any works cited in the text. Both the in-text citation and the reference page will have particular requirements listed in the handbook for the style you are assigned. The differences between these are so subtle that it’s easy to get wrong, so best to keep an example from the handbook itself in front of you when you write your own!
The in-text citations will also be specific, however, in almost every case, whenever you quote something directly, or simply record a fact or any idea at all that you got from someone else’s work, you need to include an in-text citation, stating clearly the author, date, and source, and sometimes page number, depending on the style you have been assigned. Each of these in-text references is matched by a full record the article/book/movie etc in the works cited list at the end.
Better too many than too few
While the truth is there are some clear-cut times when a reference is needed, such as if you quote something directly, each instructor will approach the topic slightly differently when they go to mark it. Sometimes you have two or three sentences in a row describing something all from the same source. Some instructors don’t mind if you put a reference for all three at the end of the last sentence, but this is not automatic. If you don’t know, the best bet is always to put the citation in. The reason is simple; if you make a mistake in this part of the process, if you copy an idea and forget to reference it, you are plagiarizing. So your best bet is to get your information straight, ask clarifying questions, and if you don’t know for sure, put a reference in anyway, just to cover yourself.