There are many reasons to reference sources correctly in assignments.
When you hand in an assignment, it is assumed that all facts, theories, and ideas are your own unless they are attributed to an outside source.
If you do not attribute outside sources by referencing them, there is no way to distinguish your ideas from those in the sources. You are effectively presenting someone else's work as your own.
When marking an assignment, your lecturer or tutor needs to know which parts are original thought and which parts are derived from research. Both research and original thought are important skills, but if you do not reference correctly the marker cannot separate them in your assignment or mark them accordingly.
Most assignments have an argument of some kind.
Sometimes you will read about a topic first and use what you find in the readings to develop your argument. Sometimes you will begin with an argument and then do research to find support for that argument.
In either case, referencing the readings gives your argument evidence, credibility, and authority. References tell the reader that your argument is not just a matter of personal opinion: it is backed up by evidence and, where relevant, experts in the field.
For many assignments you are expected to show what several different authors think about one topic. One way of doing this is to answer questions like these:
- Are there any points of agreement?
- Are there any conflicts?
- Are there any unanswered questions?
Referencing shows that you have considered the big picture by understanding and using a range of sources. It emphasises the scope and extent of your research.
A reference is a signpost that tells the reader the source of facts, information, ideas, arguments, and theories. If the reader wants to check the original source, a reference enables them to find it.
The reader may want to make sure that your information is up-to-date, and that you have correctly understood the source. The reader may want to read more on a topic.
Without references, there is no way for the reader to find which sources you have made use of. The reader cannot judge the reliability of any facts or evidence you rely on in your assignment.
New Zealand copyright law talks about the moral rights of the author. Moral rights include the right of attribution: the right for the author to be identified when their work is used somewhere else. It is also a matter of courtesy to properly acknowledge an author's hard work.
Wallace, Schirato, and Bright (1999) describe students as “apprentice academics,” and an assignment as “a simulation of a ‘real world’ article published by an academic researcher or a report published by some organisation” (p. 170).
Because the academic culture is based on the free exchange of ideas, it is essential to show how those ideas fit together. Referencing is the standard way to show these connections.
Plagiarism – the intentional or unintentional presentation of another's work as your own – is strictly prohibited at Massey University. There are a range of academic penalties for plagiarising in your assignments.
See plagiarism for more.
References and further reading
Gibaldi, J. (2009). MLA handbook for writers of research papers (7th ed.). Modern Language Association of America. [Massey Library link]
Kennedy, M. L., & Smith, H. M. (2001). Reading and writing in the academic community (2nd ed.). Prentice Hall. [Massey Library link]
Summers, J., & Smith, B. (2003). Communication skills handbook: How to succeed in written and oral communication (Rev. ed.). John Wiley & Sons. [Massey Library link]
Wallace, A., Schirato, T., & Bright, P. (1999). Beginning university: Thinking, researching and writing for success. Allen & Unwin. [Massey Library link]