Unwary Travelling – References

Or Unofficial (and Sweary) Views about Referencing

This is an odd piece to write because some of the students whose discussions prompt it graduate this summer. Too late, maybe, is the “well, I think” nature of this personal rant. Sorry.

I am also not able – or in fact willing even if it were in my power – to bring the whole edifice of referencing down, and I am not speaking for anyone but me – and probaby not me as a marker, when I am, apparently, harsh. I’m writing as an unwary fellow traveller myself, someone who continues to forget where a quotation comes from, and who, when I actually do publish something, dreads the Guides for Authors which tell me my own style won’t work for the Journal of Grindylow Studies when it was perfectly OK for Nelly Long-Arms Quarterly. So this is just my view, and you can’t hold me to it when I mark you down for something.

And with that disclaimer has to go the advert for the Brookes UpGrade (or Upgrade) service, who will help Brookes students get it right. The Upgrade web pages are a study handbook in themselves for referencing, note-taking, how to make a powerpoint… and include my favourite resource, Manchester University’s Academic Phrasebank. Yes, I use it when I get stuck, if you’re wondering.

Why Referencing?

The official view – and I wouldn’t depart from it – is that academic integrity demands it, and that anyone who writes should be able, as it were to show their workings. Nicely put here, it comes down to: No Fudging, No Half-quoting, and No Nicking ideas off other people. But with this there is another subscript, if you like: students reference because courses from Foundation Degrees and BAs on are in some bizarre way part of the apprenticeship for what every student really wants to be, and that’s an academic.  And academics’ jobs hang on the notion that their work is their own, their writing and teaching are trustworthy – so you, dear students, must buy into this most basic membership of the academic club.

Why Referencing like This?

or that? Why footnotes or endnotes or Harvard or whatever?

Really only because for the first bit to work, the reader/marker has to know what you’re trying to get at and where your ideas are coming from. Death by buzzword makes for an essay with little substance, and “everybody knows” is not a watertight argument.

Here we go with the kind of ranty thing I can’t really do much of in a class.

So I am bowling along in my writing and there’s this article, and I want to cite it. It’s Elizabeth Bucar’s The Ethics of Visual Culture, and it’s in the Journal of Religious Ethics, March 2016, Vol. 44 Issue 1, p7-16. That still won’t do us, even though I copied it faithfully from the article itself. Since the references list is alphabetical by surname, it has at least to be Bucar, E – and since we also used the date when citing inside the essay, that makes sense to be next. Bucar, E (2016). The rest falls into place as Article title, Journal title and then more precise details. 

Bucar, E (2016) The Ethics of Visual Culture. Journal of Religious Ethics. 44:1, pp7-16.

Or something like that. And that’s where people start to panic.

What was all that stuff about Grindylows?

A Grindylow is “a Yorkshire water-demon who lurks in deep stagnant pools to drag down children who come too near to the water” (Briggs 1976: 206. See also Jenny Greenteeth, Nelly Long-Arms and Peg Powler) and I used the fictitious journals earlier because referencing is itself a bit of a Grindylow in that if you’re not careful it can drag you under if not, as the song has it, by “the fancy tie round your wicked throat.”  Let’s not panic – but I’ll admit that a couple of weeks ago it dragged me under, chasing references because I thought I had lost the notes I was working from – so

Rule 1: Take Notes and Keep Them. Full notes too – not just “Bucar” (as above) but the title and the year of the journal at the very least.

And it can drag you down in other ways too. Tutors are not always very helpful here, and my experience is that we think we are consistent but often we slip or we have different expectations. This isn’t a Brookes thing: I’ve done enough work as an External Examiner, looking at coursework from other Universities, to know that one tutor will find

Bucar, E (2016) The Ethics of Visual Culture, Journal of Religious Ethics. 44:1, pp7-16.

acceptable and one will want

Bucar, E. (2016) The Ethics of Visual Culture. Journal of Religious Ethics. 44:1: 7-16.

But in most cases, marking tutors are less worried about this than you might think.

What all tutors find hard is when key information is missing (e.g. the whole reference – and that happens a lot!) or if it turns up in the text and not in the end list, or it some of it, but not all is in the end list, like these:

Bucar (2016) The Ethics of Visual Culture. Journal of Religious Ethics. 44:1, pp7-16. (Sigh: where’s the initial?)

Elizabeth Bucar, (2016) The Ethics of Visual Culture. Journal of Religious Ethics. 44:1, pp7-16. (Ah crap: now not in alphabetical order.)

The Ethics of Visual Culture. Journal of Religious Ethics. 44:1, pp7-16. Bucar, E (2016)  (What the fuck?)

Bucar, E (2016) Journal of Religious Ethics. 44:1: 7-16. (What the actual fuck?)

Bucar, E. (2016) The Ethics of Visual Culture. Journal of Religious Ethics. Page 14 (Where’s the rest of it?)

And yes I’ve seen all of these. They aren’t the be-all-and-end-all but they sometimes indicate a lack of respect for the sources used. So to be safe:

Rule 2: Make sure all the details are there and in the right order. Styling is helpful. 

We tend not to mind if you have a convention of pp rather than : to introduce page range; we don’t always notice if the author’s initial has a . after it (and some styling argues against it); consistency will help, and if you use things like Cite Them Right (the library at Brookes recommends it) you will rarely stumble too much.

And the third way references can drag you down is the really complex one: why you are quoting in the first place, and what you need those actual words for. Maybe you don’t.  Look back at the guidance from Upgrade about why we reference anyway.

  • to enable other people to identify and trace your sources quickly and easily
  • to support facts and claims you have made in your text
  • to show that you have read widely and use a variety of sources

So it starts from how you access and use your sources. That means

Rule 3: Propping up the Easy-to-Grab Sources as you write and bunging in  quotes that sound good won’t help you make your argument.

Reading, thinking and talking about your ideas will help your argument: quotation for the sake of it is just a bit desperate.

And that reading and discussing will also be the best “entry into the academic club,” in which as a graduate you will be able (and at liberty) to define Higher Education in terms of inclusivity, raising aspirations, employability or plain BS Spotting. Not fancy words, not even, actually, neat referencing – but reading and digesting other people’s ideas and making coherent and engaged arguments that challenge you, challenge the writers you have read and the practices you have seen. Get the references right and then forget them: what you really need, and what your markers are looking for is usually much more about ideas than whether you have put bullet points on all the entries in your references list.


PS: Don’t put bullet points on the entries in your references list. It really pisses me off. 







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