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English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

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7.2 Why should sources be cited in students’ assignments?

When producing an assignment, any other assessed piece of work or something that is going to be viewed and/or used by others, it is important to include complete and accurate references because:

  • references show the student has read around the subject
  • the points the student makes will appear stronger to their reader if it is clear that the points are supported by evidence from other people’s research
  • others will be able to find and use the same sources that informed the student’s work, which in turn allows them to check the validity and authenticity of the student’s work, as well as develop and enhance their own understanding of the subject
  • by doing so the student acknowledges the author or authors of the ideas and words they used in their text.

If the student uses other people’s work to construct their answers and does not include references, then it will look as if they are passing off other people’s work as their own, and they will be guilty of plagiarism. This term is used to indicate that a writer has stolen both the ideas and the words of another author.

To avoid plagiarism, it is therefore necessary for a student to:          

  • acknowledge the authors whose ideas and words are used in their text
  • report these ideas either by using their own words (paraphrase) or by including a quotation.

There are several styles in which references can be presented in an assignment and they vary depending on the subject area. One suggested convention for citing references is the Harvard referencing system. This is the system used by The Open University.

The Harvard referencing system requires students to acknowledge their sources by including:

  • an in-text citation in the body of their texts – this provides the author’s name and the date the work was published
  • an end-of-text reference at the end of their assignment – this is detailed information not only about the author and their work but also about the publisher.

In-text citations provide the reader with very concise information regarding the source being used in the text. This is because a longer reference placed in the text would make reading difficult. Should the reader wish to know more about the source or where to find it, complete information is available at the end of the assignment.