Not everything you say needs a reference

Not everything you say in your thesis needs to be supported by a reference. It’s OK to present your own thoughts and observations, and you don’t always have to refer to someone else who’s already said it.

If you want to describe a technique or a theory, try describing it in your own words based on your own understanding and experience.

So instead of saying, “according to Smith, this theory is useful because…”, have the courage to state your own reasons.

You should of course cite sources where appropriate, but you should also include thoughts of your own. The examiners want to know what you think about your subject, not just what you’ve read about it.

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10 thoughts on “Not everything you say needs a reference

  1. Thank you. This is my struggle. I always have trouble when citing and when I don’t cite they say it plagiarism and when I used my own word they say it’s not proper writing. This gives me with low self-esteem and I don’t know what to do. However, I only have two class to go before started on my Dissertation, but I can’t seen to past these two class. What is your suggestion?

    • If you’re writing an academic article, you will need to include references. BUT you don’t need a reference for every single thought within that article.

      • In a book, I am writing now relating to what, so-called, Arab spring, and I need to refer to previous experiences I have learned from my early stage of a university and still remember its events, is it necessary to cite references?

        • If a sentence or paragraph is refering to your own experience, no. Just describe your experience. But you will probably also need to check and cite other sources and go beyond your own experience when talking about the broader context or what other people have said.

          Every academic article needs references, but not every thought or observation needs to be referenced. I probably need to go into a bit more detail on this point in another blog post

  2. The instructors at my university advise against not citing information even if paraphrased. I have written my own thoughts and ideas without citing and I get points off for doing so. I have questioned at what point then does the information become my own understanding?

    • As I said in the blog post, of course you should cite the literature where appropriate.

      If you are paraphrasing (or explaining someone else’s point) then it isn’t your own thought and you should cite the source.

      Information becomes your own understanding when you have some experience in the field and thoughts based on that experience.

  3. Always appreciate how you manage to cut through the ‘noise’ and get right to the issue.
    Good advice timely received.

    Your book was an excellent read and useful to boot.

  4. Thank you. This is my struggle. I always feel I have to reference and support every last thing which inhibits me from writing my evaluation and perspective, and narrows my writing. I needed to hear this right at this moment as I sit here struggling to write.

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