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Addressing students' referencing errors

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Article Sections

  1. Introduction and background
  2. The Harvard referencing style
  3. References

About the author

Chinny Nzekwe-Excel is a learning development adviser with the Centre for Learning Innovation and Professional Practice, Aston University, Birmingham, UK.

She holds a Master's degree in Engineering Business Management from the University of Warwick. In addition, she has a BSc degree in Computer Science and Mathematics.

Chinny develops and provides customized support to meet students' learning needs and future developments.

She also engages in research and business activities relating to learning and teaching, project team integration, and research methods in collaboration with the different schools/faculties of Aston University.

By Chinny Nzekwe-Excel

Introduction and background

Referencing is an approach used to show that a piece of work recognizes pertinent research/sources and acknowledges their origins. It entails the use of ideas from different resources that are relevant to a particular subject area of study, so as to support and reinforce it. This is to say that, it is a method used to strengthen an idea, argument, study or theory.

Referencing is essential because it places a study within a broader context and compares it with other studies within the same subject area. In addition, it shows the extent of previous research consulted and used in a study. Furthermore, in academic writing, referencing helps to ensure honesty thereby differentiating a given study from other studies.

Subsequently, it presents authority in academic writing, thereby indicating that a particular study is based on some evidence or previous studies, giving the work credibility.

Importantly, referencing is used to avoid plagiarism. Plagiarism, simply put, is the use of someone's idea or theory without acknowledging that person.

Penalizing students because of inadequate referencing is not uncommon in higher education institutions. This is to say that referencing is a topic that has continued to pose confusion to students (Parton and Fleming, 2007), indicating the need for consistency in a given referencing style.

Different academic disciplines adopt and use different referencing styles, for example:

  • Harvard referencing style, which is mainly adopted by studies relating to education, management, business and social sciences.
  • American Psychological Association (APA) referencing style, which is predominantly used in psychology and social science studies.
  • Oxford Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA) referencing style, which is usually used in legal studies.
  • Numeric or Vancouver referencing style, which is typically used in engineering and medical studies.

However, for the purpose of this study, emphasis is placed on the Harvard referencing style.