Referencing: Respect the Elephant! by Cora Beth Knowles


One of the big issues for students at all levels is referencing. Some people obsess over it: other people detest it. It’s the elephant in the study: no matter how much you try to ignore it, it’s still going to cast a great big shadow over your essay.

The main problem with referencing, in my experience, is that people don’t always grasp the underlying rationale of referencing. That’s where the idea of ‘respect’ comes in. There are three main categories of respect involved here, and once you understand them, you can’t go far wrong with your referencing.

  1. Respect your reader. Do you, as a reader, feel insulted when you read an ebook full of typos, or a historical novel in which characters say ‘Okay’? Then you should understand how your marker feels when confronted with a shoddy bibliography, with inconsistencies in formatting, punctuation and order which make it clear that the writer has just copied and pasted. You also need to respect the ‘house style’, of course, whether that’s Harvard or a hybrid style recommended by the Module Team: this is training for academic writing, because every journal has its own house style which you have to follow if you want to be published. However, by far the most important thing is to show your reader some respect, by producing a bibliography which shows evidence of care and attention to detail. Polish it till it gleams, and you’ll have a happy marker.
  2. Respect your sources. Imagine you were to write: ‘Some scholars have even suggested that Julius Caesar’s mother’s dog was “purple, headless and could do magic” (Shplot 2014 p.82)’. Your in-text referencing here may be correct – but it isn’t respectful. What poor Professor Shplot actually said was, ‘Only an idiot would deduce from the available evidence that Julius Caesar’s mother’s dog was purple, headless and could do magic’ – but you’ve turned his statement around by your selective excerpting, and put his name to something that he never intended to say. Use your sources respectfully, as a way of understanding ideas and arguments, not as something to be mined for quotable soundbites. Keep in mind that Classics is a small world: Professor Shplot may have been your marker’s undergraduate drinking buddy.
  3. Respect yourself. It often takes a while for students to accept that their own ideas are worthy of the same respect they give to published books and articles: but they are. Thorough in-text referencing of all the ideas you’ve taken from someone else is the only way of highlighting your own contribution to the essay: by marking off their ideas from yours, you carve out a place for yourself in the ongoing debate.


I’m as guilty as anyone else of occasionally slapdash referencing: but I’m conscious enough of it that I always apologise to the Referencing Elephant in the corner, and promise to be more respectful next time.


Cora Beth Knowles

One thought on “Referencing: Respect the Elephant! by Cora Beth Knowles

  1. The timing of your post couldn’t have been more apposite, coupled with the impressive referencing from your other contributors. I need to up my game as I’m obviously in esteemed company.See “Abattre les Cloisons” (Break down the compartments) below…


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