Referencing: Helping your students get it right!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Ask any university student what causes them the most concern, and referencing comes pretty close to the top of their list. It doesn’t seem to matter if the student is a first-timer or a post-graduate, 18 years old or 45: referencing is confusing, time-consuming, and produces so much anxiety that they either avoid it or hope that one day some magical process will kick in and everything they cite will be formatted correctly. Of course, that’s unlikely to happen, so here are a few strategies that you can use to increase their confidence and competence quite rapidly:

  • Referencing should be understood as a critical aspect of academic integrity that is based on three principles: transparency (acknowledging all sources), traceability (providing sufficient information for the reader to locate each source), and consistency (adhering to formatting guidelines which act as the ‘alphabet’ of the referencing language). When in doubt about how to reference a specific source, these principles can add clarity. Lack of transparency and/or traceability should never be considered ‘permissible’ referencing errors, but lapses in consistency might well be, especially in the novice stages.
  • Language matters: Referencing is not a ‘tedious’ process; it’s ‘systematic’. It isn’t ‘difficult’, but simply governed by its own very specific rules. Do the best you can in all communications to convey that referencing is part of the language of academia, to be acquired, with increasing expectations of conformity, over time.
  • If you expect precision in referencing, ensure that you:
    • understand the designated referencing system yourself – academic staff can be unaware of current referencing guidelines themselves, having ‘fossilised’ when they were studying or publishing using an earlier edition or even a different system. You might be interested to know that the ALLaN team, who reference day in and day out, NEVER give advice without looking up the relevant model. Complacency creates errors, the most common of which in APA style concern:
      • the need to italicise the name of the journal title (NOT the article title)
      • the need to italicise the volume number (but NOT the issue number) as a part of the journal title
      • the need to remove hyperlinks in URLs in a reference list
      • punctuation
    • model precise referencing yourself at all times (e.g., ensure the source of all images on presentation slides is cited, all links are accompanied by a proper reference rather than just the URL, and textbooks and recommended readings in the Subject Outline are comprehensively cited according to your designated referencing style)
    • construct and adhere to instructive performance descriptors of the referencing criterion in your marking rubric
    • provide feedback on referencing in assessments
    • provide necessary support in the form of targeted learning events and resources, or direct students to the ALLaN referencing guides and workshops, available from http://student.csu.edu.au/study/skills/guidesandtips/referencing and http://student.csu.edu.au/study/skills/workshops-and-events .
  • A well-constructed referencing marking criterion and associated performance descriptors should be shared across all assessments in a subject, and across all subjects at a specific level of a course. Expectations for referencing may increase across the levels of a course.
  • As a starting point for building a robust referencing criterion, try this:
    • HD: Referencing is comprehensive, demonstrates academic integrity, and conforms exactly to APA 6th style conventions.
    • DI: Referencing is comprehensive and conforms to the conventions of APA 6th style with one or two minor errors or omissions in style and formatting choices which have no impact on the transparency and traceability of the source, or the demonstration of academic integrity.
    • CR: Referencing is comprehensive and mostly accurate according to the conventions of APA 6th style. Between three and five minor errors or omissions in style and formatting choices have no impact on the transparency and traceability of the source, or the demonstration of academic integrity.
    • PS: Referencing is comprehensive and mostly accurate according to the conventions of APA 6th style. More than five minor errors or omissions in style and formatting choices have no impact on the transparency and traceability of the source, or the demonstration of academic integrity.
    • FL: Does not meet the standards required for a Pass.