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Essay references

Often the final task in the process of writing an essay is to compile your bibliographic information (i.e. a list of the texts you have referred to in the essay). This information will take one of two forms:

  1. a list of references at the end of the essay, if the Harvard or author/date (in text) system of citation has been used
  2. a sequence of footnotes (or endnotes), if the Oxford system has been used (see Analysing Citations)

Note that there is a difference between a reference list and a bibliography:

  • A bibliography is a list of works dealing with a particular subject, or written by a particular author. It does not have to be attached to a paper or book - in fact, some bibliographies are complete books in themselves.
  • A reference list is attached at the end of a paper or book. It lists all the works cited in the main text, and no works that are not cited there.

In compiling bibliographic information, keep the following in mind:

  • One of the main purposes of a reference list (or footnotes) is to allow your readers to follow up on the texts you have used in your work, if they so desire. It is important, therefore, that you provide full and accurate information, including a full list of authors, the volume number of articles, the edition number of books, etc. The best approach is to prepare the reference list as you are working on the essay (i.e. while you are reading a particular text and you have all the bibliographic information to hand).
  • The list of references (or footnotes) only needs to comprise those texts you have cited in your essay; not those you have merely read.
  • There is some variation among disciplines in the way that bibliographic information is set out (i.e. the ordering of author, date, title, publisher, etc.). The best way to find out the preferred format in your subject is to consult your course outline, ask your lecturer or tutor, or look at referencing in a reputable journal in the field. Note also that different types of sources (books, chapters in books, journal articles, etc.) are set out slightly differently.

The following tasks will help you with this aspect of essay writing. Note that the tasks are applied to the sample divorce essay, which uses the Harvard referencing format. (If you need to use footnotes, information about this system should be available in the course outline in your subject.)

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