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Analysing citations

Citations (references to other people's work) are an integral part of academic writing. An essay with few or no citations will be a cause of concern for lecturers. They are likely to think straight away that the student has done insufficient reading for the essay; or, worse, that the student has plagiarised material, intentionally or not.

(Note that a citation is different from a quotation. When you quote someone else's work you use that writer's actual words, marking this with quotation marks or other special formatting. When you cite someone else's work, you simply refer it, normally by using the author's name.)

There are a number of citation systems used in academic writing. The two main systems used in the arts and social sciences are:

  1. the Harvard - or author/date - system

    eg. Foucault (1970:23) has argued that our present-day concept of "man" came into use less than two hundred years ago.
  2. the Oxford - or footnote - system.

    eg. Foucault 1 has argued that our present-day concept of "man" came into use less than two hundred years ago..

Note that different disciplines tend to prefer one system over the other. For example, History normally uses Oxford, whereas Sociology uses Harvard. Be sure that you find out which system is preferred in the discipline areas you are working in. This information should be available in your course outlines.

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