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9.3 Citing Sources in Your Ph.D. Thesis

Much has been said about the way that evidence both supports and extends research in a doctorate and that it is vital that this be fully analysed and used in the correct way.

However, little has been mentioned in this guide so far about the way that you should actually cite that evidence.

As has been stated, you should from the outset familiarise yourself with the particular method of citation and referencing required by your academic institution. The two chief methods of citation within a text are:

  • Parenthetical (used in Harvard referencing, for example)


  • Footnotes (used in Oxford referencing, for example).

The first of these, used frequently within subject areas such as the Social Sciences, Education and various other branches of the Humanities as well as increasingly within the Sciences themselves, consists of parenthetical referencing within a text, as close to the citation as is logical, linked to a reference list at the end of each chapter of your thesis. (This does not negate the importance of the bibliography since the sources referenced will still need to be listed within your bibliography, too.)

The second type is much older and still the more frequently used in theses. This requires that you attach a superscript number to a quotation which is hen linked to a corresponding numbered footnote at the bottom of the page on which the citation appears. Footnotes are normally numbered consecutively throughout a chapter in a thesis rather than throughout the thesis as a whole; in other words, you would not normally continue numbering right the way through your thesis but would begin again at the start of each new chapter.

In both of these styles, you need to give the reference in full the first time you cite it but then abbreviate it after that. Most universities and colleges prefer that you do not make excessive use of terms such as ‘ibid’ when you are citing in a thesis as it is such a long piece of work and you will probably find that it becomes confusing if you have to look back continually to find the original for which ‘ibid’ is a replacement.

The need for clarity is behind most reasons for a particular style being adopted. However, it could be argued that the multiplicity of referencing styles in use nowadays adds to confusion rather than diminishes it. Nevertheless, you will be required to adopt and maintain the required style throughout your thesis so familiarise yourself with it from the first.

It may, of course, be the case that you are using a referencing style with which you are already familiar, especially if you are undertaking doctoral research at a college or university at which you have previously studied.

However, many students elect to undertake post-graduate research at a different college or university from that at which they previously worked.

This can be for a number of reasons, such as certain experts in their particular field being resident at the academic institution thereby giving you a greater access to the eminent scholars in your research field.

It could also be because certain documents to which you need constant access are housed at the university where you have chosen to undertake research; this is why so many post-graduate students elect to study at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge – apart from the inherent prestige of these institutions – because they house so many of the great collections (however, this is not generically the case for example, The University of Nottingham houses D.H. Lawrence’s manuscripts).

For whatever reason, if you do decide to study for your Ph.D. at a different university or college then you will in all probability need to take on board an entirely new referencing style.

There are, of course, exceptions to this, as subjects such as Law and Medicine have generic referencing styles, applicable across all academic institutions, at any level.

Basically, the rule is if you are not familiar with the referencing technique of the academic institution at which you are undertaking your research, then you should get hold of a copy of the style guide before you even begin your application.

When you apply to undertake doctoral research, you will probably be given a copy of the style guide which is applicable to your area of research. However, if not, ensure that you consult the copy which will be available in the academic library of the college or university and there may also be an accessible online version.

"Whatever the method by which you gain the information, the importance of using the correct referencing style to cite sources within both the text and the bibliography of your Ph.D. thesis cannot be overestimated – you can actually be failed if you do not adhere to it – so ensure that you do so throughout: it is simply foolish not to begin as you mean to go on – by getting it right!"

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