Plagiarism frequently asked questions Plagiarism frequently asked questions

Do you have a question about plagiarism, referencing, quoting or other related issues? Common queries will be posted here.

Questions

Click on the relevant query listed here to navigate through the page to the corresponding answer.

How many authors do I use 'et al.' for?

How do I reference a website?

What is the difference between a reference list and a bibliography?

I've found something in a book that I want to cite in my essay, but it's actually a quote from another text which I haven't read. Can I use it? How do I reference it?

If I can't find a reference to back up a point, does that mean I have to leave it out?

How do I know when I should reference?

Answers

How many authors do I use 'et al.' for?

In the Harvard referencing system, three or more authors may be abbreviated with 'et al.' So (Jenkins, Webster and Magyar, 2009) could be shortened to (Jenkins et al., 2009). For references with two authors, you must include both the names, however. Note the full stop after 'al.' as it is an abbreviation (of 'et alii', Latin for and others), and that it is plural, so you should write "Jenkins et al. argue that..." rather than "Jenkins et al. argues that..."

 

How do I reference a website?

Essentially, internet sources are treated as much like any other reference as possible, so you should try to include an author, title, date of publication etc. (or the closest equivalent) in the usual way. The publisher and place of publication are replaced by the URL. You also need to include the date you accessed the website. Never include just the URL as this is not a complete reference. It is also good practice to ensure that the URL actually works and your reader can access it!

 

What is the difference between a reference list and a bibliography?

The meaning of this term depends on the referencing system you are using. Some referencing styles, particularly in-text styles such as the Harvard system, make a distinction between a 'bibliography' and a 'reference list'. In these styles, a bibliography is a full list of all the texts you consulted in your research for an assignment, whether you referenced them in your writing or not. By providing a bibliography, you show all the reading that influenced your ideas, even indirectly. In this case, a bibliography is different to a reference list, which is a list of only those sources that you acknowledged in your writing. Check your course handbook for details of which you should use.

However, other styles, particularly those using footnotes or endnotes, do not make a distinction between a 'bibliography' and a 'reference list', using the two terms interchangeably to mean a list of the works you have cited. In this case, the inclusion of works you have not referenced in your writing may be discouraged and it is best to check with your lecturer. See the relevant entries in the Glossary of Plagiarism Terms for more information.

 

I've found something in a book that I want to cite in my essay, but it's actually a quote from another text which I haven't read. Can I use it? How do I reference it?

This is called secondary referencing, and you can find out more about how to do it in the study guide on Referencing your work. If you can find the original, then you should read it, and it is then no longer a secondary reference, but should be treated in the normal way. It is best to read the original if you can, as you are otherwise relying on a second-hand account of it. However, this may not always be possible, or might involve disproportionate amounts of work (depending on what level of study you are at - a first year might not be expected to go to the same lengths as a PhD student to track down a source). If so, you should make it clear that you have not read the original, by citing both the original source and the work you found it in.

 

If I can't find a reference to back up a point, does that mean I have to leave it out?

To be convincing, your points must be supported by sound evidence and / or argument. You could construct your own evidence by conducting a research project, but you may not have the time, resources or expertise to do so, and this is certainly often beyond the remit of an undergraduate assignment. It is far better to find another scholar who has already done that research, and refer to their work as evidence; indeed, there would be little point replicating existing work. However, if you cannot find any existing evidence or arguments, nor can you conduct your own research to provide the necessary evidence, then your point is unlikely to be accepted by your reader as you cannot show any convincing grounds for making that particular claim. 
 
However, it is often the case that although you cannot find a source that says exactly what you mean, you can make a case yourself by synthesising related evidence or making inferences, and by arguing each step of the logical thought process that leads you to your point. You are encouraged to develop your own arguments in your work, as long as your reader can see and test the grounds on which you make your case and the logic of your argument. This is good critical thinking and a well-substantiated point.

 

How do I know when I should reference?

You should use a reference every time the point that you make or information you use is substantially that of another writer and not your own. This includes when you quote them (i.e. use their exact words, indicated with quotation marks), when you paraphrase them (i.e. explain their point in your own words) or when you use an image, data or statistics from another source. It makes no difference what type of source you have used; whether it is a book, article or website, or even an unpublished source such as a lecture or dissertation, it must still be referenced.

However, there are many occasions when you may not be clear if you should reference or not. Common knowledge is often general and factual; it does not need to be referenced as it is not the intellectual property of any individual, but the product of experience. Yet it is sometimes difficult to know if something is truly common knowledge. Some things are accepted to be common knowledge within your discipline although they would not be generally known by the layman. If there is a piece of information you want to include in your assignment, but you are not sure if it needs referencing or not, the best advice is to look at the sources you are using to research your assignment.

• If you can find several sources that include the information, and they do not reference it, then it is probably common knowledge.
• If you can only find it in one source, then ask yourself if this is the original source for the information, in which case you should reference that source. 
• If all the sources you find include a reference for the fact you want to include, then you should also reference it.
• If the information could not be known through experience or through common knowledge, but must be the product of research, then you must try to find the original research and reference it. Similarly, if it could be at all controversial or could be disagreed with, then it must be someone's opinion, and this must be found and referenced, for your point to be fully supported.
• If in any doubt, you should include a reference.

 
If there is a general question about referencing or plagiarism that is not included in this document and that you'd like an answer to, please email us your suggestion.