For a lab report, a research paper, or an article, the standard is universal. A reference list or bibliography is used in order to show that there was research done to support the thoughts being put forth in the writing. The facts can be proved; anyone who wants to check them has a list of the resources relied upon to develop and support the ideas.
No, the reference list is not a gimmick to make the article appear long or increase the word count or make it impressive because of mass. Its purpose is to provide substantiation of what is contained; the author's words provide the substance of the proposition based on how well the arguments are formed. The reference list shows what was examined. Because the list is held up to scrutiny,
it is wise to actually read the source in order be conversant about what it contains. It's also important to read the entire source (unless, of course, it's a very lengthy book or treatise that requires an inordinate amount of time to consume) in order to be certain that it doesn't start by making one proposition that will be disputed and proved wrong or different at the end. Know the content. If the original proposition is different from what is being argued, find one that supports the proposition that is being made. In the case of the treatise, it's better to examine the chapter or section that directly deals with the subject of the writing. There is the matter of overkill when researching a subject.
It's also useful to double check resources to be certain the theory or principle is still the same. In law, some principle will be cited in the pleading (or brief). Woe to the lawyer who doesn't Shepardize their case law or legislation to be certain it is being maintained in their jurisdiction and that it is still good law. Even if it isn't law that's being discussed in the paper, make certain the propositions are supported by evidence or facts (or both) in order to make certain the arguments are as strong as possible.
There are a number of citation styles. The more standard are Chicago, Associated Press (AP), and Modern Language Association (MLA). The style that is used is primarily based on where the writing is going to be published and its purpose. If it is for journalism, it's wise to determine whether the publisher prefers (or defaults to) the Chicago style or AP. There are differences between the two. Better to have your writing submitted under the correct style rather than have the writer's credibility questioned because the wrong style was used without regard to the quality of the content. It means the publisher will have to be doubly careful about scrutinizing the content because there's first impression evidence that the writer doesn't pay close attention to details.
But there's no wiggle room for legal writing. The rule of thumb is to follow the Harvard Blue Book of Citation.
No Matter What
Suffice it to say, it's wise to create and list the sources used to support the proposition being discussed in the paper. If nothing else, the reference list provides evidence of having looked into the matter rather than just blowing off a bunch of gibberish intended to flimflam the unsuspecting reader. It's also wise to use a reference list to help keep track of what was used as the paper is being developed. Most importantly, the reference list is not the paper; it supports the paper's proposition.
The next time you're discussing something more than the latest reality show and there's a difference of opinion, an assertion that the current topic is flawed, ask for what shows otherwise.
- Citations and References
- Citing sources: Overview
- Why Citations Matter
- Documenting Your Research
- In Text Citation in APA Style
- How Citation Machine Works
- About Documentation Styles
- Research and Citation Resources