Ask any seasoned researcher if they’ve ever got into a muddle with references, and they will have a war story or two to tell. Whilst references are an essential part of any scientific piece of writing, they are undeniably a massive pain in the you-know-what.
It all makes sense. You’re writing your beloved thesis, the mind-blowing ideas and ground-breaking theories flowing from your fingers. You know the literature, you know where your research question came from and how it’s added to our knowledge. You’re in Csikszentmihalyi’s magical state of flow (Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde, 1993) (that, my friends, is an example of a reference) and you’re not going to break that off for a tiny little detail like who wrote the paper proving that positive mindset is the key to everything. You’ll come back to that! So instead, you insert something like (positive mindset paper, pink folder????, come back later) and carry on writing.
That’s fine if this is your strategy for one or two references.
It’s really not so fine if this is your strategy for the 500 or so which make up an entire PhD!
Fear not – here are PGPR’s five top tips for staying on top of your references from the outset.
1. Start an account with a referencing software
This is essential. I know the software might seem alien and off-putting at first, and sometimes these systems are pretty clunky, but hand on heart, I think the best move I ever made as a researcher was to get to grips with EndNote from month one of my PhD.
Think of your referencing software as an online library where you store all the details of the reading you’ll do over the course of your thesis/paper/project. Most of them are simple to use once you’ve got used to them. Google and YouTube are also crammed full of helpful tips and videos for working these programs, or you can book an appointment with your uni librarian, who will walk you through it.
2. During the lit review, record each reference, with notes, as you go
One of the first steps of any research project, big or small, will be doing a lit review. This is good as it means you can get to grips with your new software early in the process and become confident with it. Every time you read a paper, chapter or web page, import or record its details in your software and make some notes. These notes will help you remember which paper is which when you come back to them in a few months. You can also keep different reference records in different folders for different projects, which will help you locate that finding you know you read somewhere at a later date.
Top tip: If you’re unsure what details you need to record, look for the paper in question in Google Scholar and then click the ‘cite’ button. This will tell you all the details you need to know (for journal articles, this will be title, authors, year and doi as well as publication name, volume, edition and page numbers), which you can then either import or copy and paste into your software.
3. Use your software system as you write
Now that all your references are neatly filed in your software, do ensure that you use that software to insert the in-text references as you write. If you use EndNote, you need to install a plug-in which then shows up in Word. Click ‘insert citation’ each time you need to do just that, and EndNote will format the in-text citation for you and put the full reference at the end of the document.
Inevitably, as you write, you will need to look for more references as questions arise, or to respond to feedback from your supervisor or peer reviewers. By this point, you will be confident with your software, so just keep adding to it as you go, being disciplined about recording all those details and notes with every paper you need. Then use the software to insert the new reference as you write.
4. Find out which referencing system you need to use for this piece and set that in your software
There are several systems for citing references in scientific papers, which include APA, Harvard, Vancouver and so on. These all differ slightly from each other and, to make matters even more confusing, differ within themselves as well. Harvard referencing, for example, is an umbrella term which is interpreted differently depending on which institution you’re at, while APA has 7 versions.
The intricate differences in these systems can lead to further confusion if you haven’t been staying on top of your references throughout the process. But this is where referencing software is so handy. If all the references in your thesis are linked to your software, you can change which referencing system the software uses to present those references, switching from APA7 to Vancouver at the touch of a button. This job would take days and days by hand and runs the risk of you throwing your laptop out the window in frustration.
5. Contact PGPR for help
If you’re reading this blog thinking, well, that’s all very useful but I’m already two years into my thesis and it’s all too late, don’t worry! PGPR can help. Our expert reference checkers can ensure that every in-text and full-length reference is formatted correctly for the system you’re using; locate any missing details, and even cross-check your thesis to ensure that every in-text citation appears in the bibliography and vice versa. We even have some crazy people on our team (Hannah and Shannon) who enjoy this work! So just hand it over to us and you can get back to uncovering more thrilling new findings. We’re always happy to help.