Referencing in any assignment or article is essential, regardless of whether the source provided a direct quote or just an idea that was used by the student. Even where the student rephrases an idea, it is important to provide a reference, as failure to indicate the source of information and present it as one’s own ideas is plagiarism. However, while it is important to have references, it may also be possible to have too many. Determining the right number of references can be difficult, and will vary by the subject, the length of the assignment, and the instructions provided by the tutor. All references should be relevant to the assignment and add value, of there are references which do not add meaningful content, they are surplus to requirements. There are several considerations when determined if an assignment has too many references.

Multiple citations for a single idea/theory

Generally, each theory or idea used in the assignmentusually requires a single citation. Additional citations may only be required where subsequent research confirmed, reinforced, expanded, or contradicted the theory. As a general rule, there should be between 1 and 3 sources for each of the points that are raised in the assignment,

Out of date citations

Sources published many years ago may provide only a limited contribution to the assignment. In some cases, instructions will state that all sources should be within the fast 5 or 10 years, but where there are no instructions using multiple older references may not be advisable. References to original articles are acceptable and even expected. However, the inclusion of supplemental references that are older and do not add meaningful content are likely to be unneeded.

Type of Assignment

The number of references cited may also depend upon the type of assignment provided.
A literature review paper will require the most references, with all ideas cited along with the inclusion of subsequent extensions or contradiction to the theories. As the aim of a literature review is to identify and report on multiple ideas found in different credible sources, a literature review, or the literature review section of a paper of dissertation will have the greatest level of references.
An argumentative essay will require references to support the initial ideas presented. However, as the aim of an argumentative essay is analysis and critique of ideas presented, with a discussion of the different sides of an argument, fewer sources are needed compared to a literature review, with a higher proportion of the content consisting of original thought and discussion.
A personal essay may not require any references.
The level of the essay may also impact on the number of references advised. For example, postgraduate students would usually be expected to provide more referenced supporting greater in-depth research compared to an undergraduate.

Number of words

The longer the assignment, the greater the number of references required. As a general rule, there should be between 8 – 12 references for every 1,000 words. However, this should also be determined in the context of the above considerations.