Dissertation reference lists are long, and one of the most persistent writing issues I see as a dissertation coach is missing, inaccurate, and incomplete references and citations.
Here are some dos and don’ts to help you keep your dissertation reference list under control.
Do: Keep complete bibliographical information for EVERY source you look at.
Do this first – before you even read. I mean it.
Write that stuff down, like – now. If you get into the habit of recording the reference information before you get distracted by content, you are much less likely to forget it altogether.
Do: Be consistent about how your format references and citations.
Find a style guide, like APA, MLA, Harvard—whatever your institution recommends—and then get into the habit of using it.
It may seem like a pain at first, but after about the first 50 references, the formatting will become second nature, and you’ll save a lot on your final proofreading bill.
Do: Consult your advisory team and/or institution for which style to use.
If you use the wrong referencing style, your institution really will make you go back and reformat them all – and really, who has the time for that?
Spend 10 minutes now and find out the style they want you to be using. Then, see above.
Do: Double-check your references and citations regularly.
It’s pretty easy for mistakes to creep in when you’re in your dissertation writing groove.
Remember to stop every few pages or after each chapter section and double-check your references and citations. Are all names spelt correctly? Do the years in the citations match those in the notes/bibliography? Do your links lead back to where you think they do? Checking these is so much harder when you’re ten pages down the line!
Don’t: Attempt to do your referencing at the end of the project (the stress is unbelievable).
See point 1 above – with hundreds of sources to contend with, doing your referencing as an afterthought is actually a task of mammoth proportions.
It’s worth the few extra seconds it takes to add your citations and references as you go.
Don’t: Rely on automatic referencing tools to get everything accurate for you (they will get it wrong).
Referencing tools ALWAYS GET THINGS WRONG.
No matter what the advertising claims, they rely on you or the person who wrote the source record having entered information correctly. If the title was entered in all caps, or the author metadata was not tagged correctly, or the style guide changed more recently than the software was updated, then your references will be wrong, and you’ll have to fix them anyway. Since you will have to double-check each and every reference created by the tool to avoid this, just save yourself the bother and do them manually. (It’s really not that hard.)
Don’t: Forget to proofread citations and references (there are ALWAYS mistakes that creep in).
Even the most careful writer inevitably makes a few mistakes.
Proofread citations and references after you have finished drafting. Do this as a step all by itself, rather than combining with the rest of your proofreading. Check especially for incorrectly spelt names and incorrectly copied publication years, stray commas, extra or missing spaces, and capitalization errors – these are the most common reference proofreading errors.
Don’t: Be tempted to avoid sources that are difficult to cite and reference (your research will suffer).
If it’s a good source, then it’s a good source, even if working out how to properly cite that 1950s film, unlabeled audio-tape recording from a business meeting in the 80s, or digitally reproduced conference handout photocopy is a pain in the bum.
Use your style guide and your common sense, do your best, and then applaud yourself for your high standards and dedication to thorough research.