All writing is not the same. All writing is not academic writing.
Sure, fiction novels are well written with stunning characters, but so are news articles in The Atlantic and The New York Times newspapers.
The difference between the kinds of writing above and academic work is the latter’s reliance on references.
When I was a freshman at University, there was this professor who used to refer to us ‘young scholars’ and in doing so, what he meant was that we should, as young scholars, be writing our assignment essays as scholars do—that is—referencing our work.
What is Referencing?
To put it simply, referencing is the citing of all the sources used to come up with your work. These may be books, newspaper articles, websites, and journals among others.
A well referenced piece of work should be able to lead the reader back to each of the materials which you consulted during your research in order to come up with your academic work.
Why should you Reference your Work
Adherence to Academic Standards
Your work will be called ‘academic’ if you follow the set guidelines on producing academic work. Referencing is a standardised method of ensuring that your efforts are validated.
You are sure to believe some statements over others. What gives your academic essay the needed credibility are sources you cite in your work. Look at this example below:
Starting with the seminal voting studies of the 1940s and 1950s political participation was mainly restricted to casting a vote and campaign activities (Lazarsfeld et al. 1948; Berelson 1952). By the early 1960s political participation was broadly understood as activities concerned with traditional conceptualisations of politics as campaigning by politicians and parties, and with well-accepted contacts between citizens and public officials (Lane 1959; Campbell et al. 1960).6 These forms of activities later became known as ‘conventional’ modes of participation.
Starting with the seminal voting studies of the 1940s and 1950s political participation was mainly restricted to casting a vote and campaign activities. By the early 1960s political participation was broadly understood as activities concerned with traditional conceptualisations of politics as campaigning by politicians and parties, and with well-accepted contacts between citizens and public officials. These forms of activities later became known as ‘conventional’ modes of participation.
Which of these two similar paragraphs above are you likely to treat as authoritative? The first one of course. Why? Because it’s informed by other credible literature.
Support your Assertions
You can convince your friends that the story you are telling them is true because your grandfather who told you the story was the chief seer in your village at the time. Those assertions, however, don’t work in academics.
The only way you can prove your assertions to be true and not ideas you have manufactured in your head is by digging into research and studies done by other people.
Using our example above, you can see that the author draws on what Lazarsfeld, Berelson, Lane and Campbell have written to inform his view point.
Evidence that Authoritative Literature has been Considered
Related to the point above is that references are the evidence that you looked around at what others have produced in relation to your topic. Because the sources you have cited are authoritative, your work will also earn authority status—at least in the eyes of your professor.
Allow Readers to Find your Sources
At the end of your work, you are supposed to list all the material you used in order to develop the body of knowledge that you call your work—this is called a reference list. You will list the literature by title so that it can easily be traced.
Looking at the reference list is the easiest and most popular way of finding relevant literature on the topic you are grappling with.
It is also important that you acknowledging the contribution of others. To develop a reference list is to respect what other scholars have done in your field of study.
Referencing to many students may be a tedious process but many who have learnt and practiced the craft will tell you the discipline it has imparted in them. Not just that, even the confidence in their own work—because it is built on a foundation of what is considered authoritative in any particular academic circle.