Citing sources and referencing

When writing a dissertation or thesis, you make frequent use of sources. As soon as you have used a source, that source’s reference comes into play.

It is important that you know what a source reference is and how to properly acknowledge a source. Otherwise, you run the risk of committing plagiarism because your source referencing is not in order.

What is a source?

All the works of other people that you use in writing your dissertation are sources. A source can thus be an article in the newspaper from which you obtain information for your dissertation. Or it can be that one economic model with which you calculate the profitability of a business.

Not every source is suitable to use in your dissertation, but once you use a source, you must place a source reference, which is also called a citation.

How may I use a source in my dissertation?

When you want to use a source in your dissertation, you need to make a choice between quoting or paraphrasing the source. Then you let the reader know where he or she can find the source. This last part is the actual source reference.

What is a source reference?

With a source reference, you show that the information you are presenting or, for example, the model you are using, does not come from you but from someone else.

Placing a source reference is also called referencing or citing. The reader of your dissertation can use the source reference to locate where you have obtained your information.

Example of source referencing (marked in yellow)

“Making an APA Generator is a lot of work. But now everyone can use this tool free to create sources according to the APA Style” (Swaen, 2014, p. 3).

Why must I place a source reference?

The source reference serves a number of purposes:

  • You give the author of the source the honor that is due him/her.
  • You give the reader of the dissertation the opportunity to look up the source.
  • By placing a source, you prevent plagiarism.

Reference styles

For noting sources, there are set rules that are dependent on the reference style that you must use. There are many differences among the various reference styles. One widely used reference style is the APA Style.

Reference software

As soon as you start to work with source referencing, you will find that it is quite a big job. There are many rules that you have to consider, and the number of sources that you use can be enormous.

Fortunately, there are many tools you can use to manage sources and generate the source in the correct reference style. Extensive tools for managing sources are: EndNote, Mendeley, CiteULike, RefBase, and Papers.

Based on our experiences, we have developed the free Scribbr APA Generator. This generator allows you to quickly and easily generate all your sources in the APA Style.


Citing and referencing sources incorrectly can lead to plagiarism. You can prevent plagiarism by working carefully and utilizing a plagiarism scan. The Scribbr Plagiarism Check will help ensure that you are treating sources appropriately and give you peace of mind that your document is plagiarism-free.

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