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To cite, or not to cite... - The Open College of the Arts

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To cite, or not to cite… thumb

To cite, or not to cite…

That is the question… of plagiarism!
One of the issues that crops up repeatedly around assessment time is referencing academic writing.
What do I reference? How do I reference? How do I know if it needs referencing? – all these are perfectly valid questions and frequent concerns. The penalties of getting it wrong, or not engaging with the process at all can be quite severe. I do not want to dwell on the negatives however. I would rather highlight the positive of robust referencing.
By referencing your work fully, it is your chance to showcase all the hard work and research you have undertaken prior to creating the written work. A well referenced piece of work is a joy to read, particularly if it is a critical piece which sets out structured arguments, and concludes in personal opinion drawn from, and supported by, the research.
In a discussion of the complexities of referencing academic work it is probably easier to talk about what does not need referencing, rather than what does.
If it is:

  • Common knowledge;
  • Your own research results (eg. data from a questionnaire or the results of an experiment or analysis);
  • Your own opinion

then it does not need referencing.
Defining what common knowledge is can be a bit tricky. Our ‘common knowledge’ is informed by our education, culture and other spheres of influence such as work, profession and social interactions.
At its simplest ‘common knowledge’ is gained by observation, deduction and the day to day transfer of factual information.
Examples of general knowledge:

  • Hedgehogs indigenous to the UK hibernate in Winter;
  • The Sun sets every evening;
  • OCA headquarters is in Barnsley;
  • Van Gogh was an artist.

As a general rule, if it can be found in a general reference dictionary or encyclopaedia it can be considered common knowledge, and does not need referencing.
If you are unsure if something is common knowledge, interrogate it. Ask yourself, did I know this before studying this course/unit?. How do I know it?. Search the internet for examples to help you identify if is is common knowledge or another persons ideas, facts, or theory. If it falls into the latter category, it needs referencing.

You need to provide a reference if you:


“part of the strategic management process which is concerned with identifying the institution’s long-term direction. It is a continuous, cyclical activity with three main phases” (HEFCE, 2000: 6-7)


Cowburn (2005) stresses the importance of a communication and consultation process with stakeholders at an early stage in strategy formation to ensure stakeholder buy-in.

Or use another person’s ideas, facts, theories or research

Tolmie’s conclusion is that strategies which work in stable environments are unlikely to be helpful when internal and external conditions are less than favourable (Tolmie 2005).

Don’t forget to reference other people’s images, diagrams and tables too.
Remember, if in doubt – reference!
Finally, once all your referencing is in place, don’t forget to cross check it against your reference list:
Cowburn, S. (2005 ) ‘Strategic planning in higher education: fact or fiction?’ Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education. vol 9. no 4, pp 103 – 109.
Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), 2000. Strategic Planning in Higher Education: A guide for heads of institutions, senior managers and members of governing bodies, 00/24.
Tolmie, F. (2005) ‘The HEFCE guide to strategic planning: the need for a new approach’. Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education. vol 9, no 4, pp110-114.
For further information on how to reference work in different contexts please see the referencing resources on the OCA student site here.
Image: www.exposedmagazine.co.uk

Posted by author: Deborah Riccio

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