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Tips for Painless Referencing and Formatting

By Zoe Share, Peer Writing Assistant

There are few things more satisfying in a student’s university career than completing a long and time-demanding essay. The last words have been typed, paragraphs have been edited and revised, and finally you are left with what you hope is a strong and brilliant piece of writing. But the essay-writing process does not stop with the final period at the end of your conclusion. Often, the last step of a written assignment has to do not with content, but referencing and formatting. These can be tedious tasks, especially the night before a deadline or when you’ve worked on a paper for so long that you are getting sick of it. The following tips will help you make this process painless and quick!

1.  Record all of your sources. While still in the planning or researching stage of your paper, be sure to write down all bibliographic information for potential sources. This information varies among source types (i.e. book chapter vs. journal article), but generally includes: author name, title, publication date, page numbers, book title or journal name. If you think you might need it for a bibliographic entry later on, write it down! It is better to have more information than to be missing something important.

2.  Be aware of Google searches. Doing a quick Google search of your topic and finding a PDF copy of the perfect journal article for your argument seems like nothing short of a miracle at the time. However, from personal experience, I know that these articles sometimes lack all of the necessary information for a bibliographic entry, particularly the journal they have been published in. If you simply save the article to use later, you may have trouble locating this information when it comes time to do your bibliography. This can cause a lot of frustration (trust me!). The easiest way to deal with this problem is to try searching the article title on Summon (on the library website) or reputable databases like Jstor to attempt to locate where the article comes from. It is best to do this sooner rather than later, to avoid a panicky search hours before your deadline.

3.  Reference as you write. Whether you are using in-text citations or footnotes/endnotes, it is helpful to record at least some sort of reference every time you insert a quote or paraphrased information into your paper. Do NOT just put (*citation*) and plan to fill it in later. Generally, these citations require relatively little information anyway – the author’s last name, a publication year, and maybe a page number – so getting into the habit of completing citations as you write means less work in the final stages of your paper.

4.  Consult the style guide. Each referencing style – MLA, Chicago, APA, ASA – has its own style guide with instructions on how to cite your work and complete your bibliography or works cited page. What many students are often unaware of is that these are comprehensive guides that also include details on how to format your paper – the title page, page numbering, subheadings, etc. Style guides are therefore a great resource; take advantage of them! Copies of handouts for each citation style are available online at http://sass.queensu.ca/writingcentre/tipsheets/ courtesy of the Writing Centre. Another great resource is the website https://owl.english.purdue.edu/ which also provides copies of style guides, and is especially useful when trying to reference an obscure type of source, like a YouTube video.

Photo courtesy of Reeding Lessons under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.