College of Science

The Use of References in Research Papers and Theses

One extremely important aspect of a research paper is that it must give credit to the sources of the information presented. Any information taken from a specific source must be so identified within the body of the paper, through a footnote, endnote, or parenthetical reference to a reference list. This serves two purposes: first, it avoids the appearance that you are taking credit for something someone else did, or wrote; and second, it lets the reader know about your sources so that he or she may consult those source documents for further information [McCrimmon 1976].

This convention is so important in research writing that inaccurate documentation—or none at all—is regarded as a serious offense. For the research writer it is both good manners and good morals to acknowledge sources fairly and accurately [McCrimmon 1976, p. 330].

When direct quotations are made, the page number must be specified. Short quotations "should be incorporated into the text of the paper and enclosed in double quotation marks" [Turabian 1996, p. 74]. Longer quotations (two sentences or more) are indented as above, and single spaced. Quotation marks are not necessary then since the indentation and spacing clearly identifies the content of the indented block as a quotation. Such lengthy quotations are normally to be used sparingly.

It is also important that the reference list itself be presented in an acceptable format. There are several forms that are frequently used, and these are described in, for example, the book by Campbell [1982]. The format to be used in your paper is demonstrated in what you are now reading. The parenthetical references are actually enclosed in brackets, and consist of the author's last name and the year of publication of the journal or book. If the author's name is part of the sentence, then the reference may just include the year as was the case earlier in this paragraph. If there are two authors, then both names are used. If there are more than two authors, then the "et al." form is usually used.

The first entry in the reference list [Ahituv et al. 1994] provides an example of this. It is not a book about style as are the others [Campbell 1982, McCrimmon 1976, Turabian 1996]. Note the form for a multiple reference.

A paper from a conference [Faller 1973], a technical report [Apostolico and Fraenkel 1985] and a dissertation [Cot 1977] are included in the reference list here to give some more examples of what the reference list entries should look like. The entry for the article by Mays [1994] gives an example of a journal that carries no date other than the year.

For a detailed description of the use of parenthetical references to a reference list, see Turabian's book, especially Chapter 8 [Turabian 1996]. For another example, see the referenced article in Computing Surveys [Lelewer and Hirschberg 1987]. This illustrates the style, and is an interesting article as well. In following this example, make two exceptions to the Surveys format: Do not use abbreviations, and do not use all upper case for the authors' names.

The key rules for the reference list are summarized below.

  • Start the reference list on a new page.
  • Alphabetize by first author's last name.
  • Use author's last name followed by initials.
  • Capitalize article titles sentence style.
  • Capitalize periodical or book titles headline style.
  • Underline or italicize periodical or book titles.
  • Include volume and issue numbers for periodicals.
  • Put periodical date in parentheses.
  • Include publisher and city for books.
  • Include page numbers for articles.


Ahituv, N., Neumann, S. and Riley, H. N. 1994. Principles of Information Systems for Management. Wm. C. Brown Communications, Dubuque, IA.

Apostolico, A. and Fraenkel, A. S. 1985. Robust transmission of unbounded strings using Fibonacci representations. Technical Report CS85-14, Department of Applied Mathematics, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.

Campbell, W. G. 1982. Form and Style: Theses, Reports, Termpapers. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Cot, N. 1977. Characterization and design of optimal prefix codes. Ph.D. dissertation, Computer Science Department, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Faller, N. 1973. An adaptive system for data compression. In Record of the 7th Asilomar Conference on Circuits, Systems and Computers (Pacific Grove, CA, November). Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, 593-597.

Lelewer, D. A. and Hirschberg, D. S. 1987. Data compression. Computing Surveys 19, 3 (September), 1048-1055.

Mays, R. G. 1994. Forging a silver bullet from the essence of software. IBM Systems Journal 33, 1, 20-45.

McCrimmon, J. M. 1976. Writing With a Purpose. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Turabian, K. L. 1996. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Sixth Edition. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.