Science Reports Part 2: Referencing

Details on choosing appropriate sources, finding journal articles, plagiarism, and formatting.

Referencing can be is tricky. Do something wrong and it might be considered plagiarism, which is of course a very serious offence (like, kicked-out-of-university serious). It takes lots of practice to get right, so please note the following important information and tips on referencing.


Quick links

Choosing references 

  • Use recommended readings! It is the easiest way to know what your lecturers are expecting for you to get from the exercise, and the level of analysis you need to perform in your report.
  • Good quality references
    • Best: Journal articles
    • Good: Academic textbooks, academic books, theses
    • Okay: Government websites, newspaper articles (for quantitative data you really cannot find the primary source of, or for quotes to represent an opinion)
    • Bad: Wikipedia, blogs, “amateur” websites, online encyclopedias (e.g Encyclopedia Brittanica)
  • Always cite external information. Always cite original ideas that do not belong to you, or data collected by another source, or else it would be considered plagiarism.
  • Never copy/paste text directly from your source. This is plain plagiarism. Either re-phrase it (preferred) and cite it, or use quotation marks and include the page number in your in-text citation.

Tip: Wikipedia may help you grasp the basics of a certain topic, but unfortunately that is all it is good for. Never cite Wikipedia.

Accessing journal articles 

Details here are NUS-specific, but it is a very similar process for all universities. NUS subscribes to many services which allow students and staff to access journal articles for free. Here are the steps:

  1. Access the NUS Library website – bookmark it, you are going to use it a lot.
  2. Enter your search keywords into the search bar – this can be the full title of a specific article, keywords or even the name of the author. This is also the same search bar to look for books in the library – you can choose to search for “Everything” (both books and articles), or only Books or Articles by selecting the options below the search bar.
    Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 9.44.24 PM
  3. You will be presented with a list of sources that fit your keywords. You may play around with the filters to the left. If you hover over a title, you can see a preview of the article on the right. If it is a journal article, the bottom of each result should have a link that says “Journal Article: Full Text Online” – click the link.
    Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 9.53.43 PM
  4. Log in if prompted.
  5. Accept that you have read the I have read the “Appropriate Use Policy for E-Resources”. You will only need to do this once, until you are logged out.
  6. Now you should be able to download a PDF of the article (click “Download PDF”), or read it there online.
    Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 9.59.11 PM
  7. More information can be found on this page from the NUS Library website.
  8. You may also use Google Scholar to find journal articles, but not all will be freely available, so you may still need to use the NUS Library search bar.

Formatting references 

  • Choose an official citation format and follow it exactly. Your lecturer would usually have a preferred citation format. If not, just choose a popular one (I’d recommend Harvard or APA).
  • Be consistent with your formatting.
  • Do not copy automatically generated citations by Google Scholar
  • All citations in the reference list must have been referenced in the report.
  • Include in-text citations within the sentence, before the full stop. Like (this). Not like. (this)

Tip: Articles and reports that are obtained as PDFs from websites should be cited as such (i.e. using the journal article or report formats), not as a website. Only information on a website page should be cited using the website format.

Bibliographic Management Software 

You can download software to store and manage your articles, as well as automatically generate your in-text citations and reference list to the citation style of your choosing. Popular options include EndNote, Mendeley (which I use) and Zotero (click links to find out more and to download them).

Tip: I highly recommend that you type out your reference lists yourself without the help of such software, so that you become familiar with the correct formatting. This is because it would be difficult to identify mistakes if the software generated your citations for you (there are always mistakes). There will always be corrections to be made, even if you use the software.

Online citation builders 

There are also online citation builders that may help, but remember to double check if the formatting is indeed correct.

common mistakes 

  • Inappropriate, unreliable sources – when in doubt, ask your lecturer or teaching assistant.
  • Inconsistent formatting
  • Formatting articles and articles (obtained online as PDFs) using the website format.

Ultimate tip: Double check everything.

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