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Why should I reference my sources so meticulously?

If you do not refer to your sources properly, this constitutes plagiarism, a particular form of fraud. There are four reasons why you should refer to your sources meticulously:

  1. Fraud in your education: you get a grade for someone else's work

  2. Intellectual property rights: you take what is not yours.

  3. Controlability of your information to the reader

  4. Recognition for the original work, i.e. an informal reward for researchers.

OK, so how meticulous should I be?

Always reference whatever source you use. This is very important. If you use a sentence, even a fragment of a sentence, from another source without quotation marks and a source, then this constitutes plagiarism, a serious infringement of academic and sometimes even legal standards. 

Parts of sentences can be included in the text, in quotation marks. Longer pieces should be clearly separated from the main text, for example with an increased indent and quotation marks. Even if you paraphrase what you find, you still need to add the source. All of these should be followed by sources. As a general rule: when in doubt, reference.

Nowadays, plagiarism checks are fairly easy. Every paper students hand in, can be easily checked through online electronic databases. So don't plagiarise, it's not worth the risk.


Sample longer quotation
In policy analysis, it is important to think about problem definitions:

 “Usually, (...) your problem definitions comes from your client and derives from the ordinary language of debate and discussion in the client´s political enviroment.” (Bardach 2000, p. 1)

Sample short quotation
Bardach states that “problem definitions come from your client (...) and discussion (...) [in its] political environment” (Bardach 2000, p.1).

(Note how you can shorten the quote with (...) and make the quote fit gramatically with straight brackets. Straight brackets are a conventional mark of author intervention. Obviously, you cannot change the meaning by doing this.)

Sample paraphrased reference
Bardach claims that problem definitions originate with the client and the political discussions she is engaged in (Bardach 2000, p.1).

In each case, the reference list mentions:
Bardach, E. (2000). A practical guide for policy analysis: the eightfold path to more effective problem solving. New York: Chatham House Publishers.

How do I manage this?

Referencing is not something you should worry about at the very end, when you write up your report, but already in the very beginning of your work, when you are starting to collect information. Make sure you keep track of the source of all the information you want to use in your report or paper. The easiest way to do this, is to make sure the source is clearly indicated on your notes.

For example: if you keep written notes, you can put the source on top of your page and the page numbers in the left margin. In your notes, you should mark the status of what you write down: is it a quote (use quotation marks), a summary of the argument, or a thought you had while reading (e.g. put those in [straight brackets]). This will make referencing later a lot easier and avoid accidental disasters.

A good researcher creates a paper trail from published papers all the way back to original sources, whether these involve experimental results, interviews, or research results found in other published material. It is a bit like a forensic scientists, who keeps a label on every trace found at a crime scene. Once this becomes a habit, it is no longer a nuisance, but becomes part of the way you organise and manage your information.