Cite a Dissertation Correctly: What, When, and How Should I Cite?

Referencing Your Dissertation Correctly

Content and grammar are indeed the most important elements of any piece of writing. Nevertheless, referencing is not less crucial. If you cite a dissertation correctly, you will significantly boost the general quality of your paper since proper referencing can allow readers to understand your thoughts and ideas, as well as the level of preparedness, knowledge, and research on the chosen topic.

The article discusses the basics of citingand scholarly referencing of dissertations and other academic pieces of writing.

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Citing and Referencing: What Is It?

Referencing styles are specific sets of instructions developed by scholars that have come to wide acceptance in the academic community. On the one hand, these rules allow researchers to quote and cite any thoughts borrowed from other works thus ensuring academic honesty and avoiding plagiarism, as well as boosting the credibility of own research. On the other hand, these rules allow readers to detect borrowed ideas and navigate a scientific paper easily.

There is quite a wide variety of styles that can be used for proper referencing. Despite somewhat different approaches, the main goal of all referencing styles is to help the reader find the source cited in the paper in the library or on the Internet easily. Therefore, there are some major blocks of data to be included:

  • The author/s of the source

You should include each and every author of the work.

  • The title of the source

The full title should be carefully copied to the reference list.

  • The date of the publication or posting (in the case of online sources)

Concerning the date, especially in the case of books, it is crucial to provide the edition of the book. As a rule, each subsequent edition contains new or improved/ fixed information; therefore, providing the number of the edition will allow the reader to find the needed information easily.

For journals, it is suggested to provide the volume and issue (if applicable)

For newspapers, it is crucial to state not only the year but also the month and date of publication.

For web-sources, you should provide a date of the last modification (if available).

  • Other details of the publication (media: Internet, journal, newspaper, or book; the publisher; in some cases, the place of publication)

Why, When, and What Should I Cite?

Academic honesty and avoiding plagiarism

Educational institutions consider academic honesty an issue of primary importance. Most universities regard not only copy-pasting and stilling information from others as plagiarism but also the failure to cite borrowed thoughts properly. In their turn, borrowed thoughts include not only direct citations but also official information, paraphrasing, and specific perspectives.

In fact, plagiarism might be unintentional. Nevertheless, if you fail to cite a source, from which you might have borrowed some inspiration or which might have had some even minor effect on your ideas, you can be accused of academic dishonesty. Since academic dishonesty is usually a reason for expulsion from the educational institution, plagiarism is to be avoided at any cost. Therefore, if you are unsure whether some work or piece of writing impacted your assumptions or not, you should better provide a reference, just in case to stay on the safe side.

Some issues to consider

Protecting yourself from accusations of academic dishonesty is, of course, not the only and not near the primary reason for developing proficient citing and referencing skills. First of all, it is one of the steps towards becoming a professional scholar. Second, this habit will allow you to contribute to the creation of the general pull of scientific knowledge.

The reader of your dissertation might be interested in how you arrived at your assumptions and might be inspired to develop their own ideas based on your dissertation. Therefore, in the scholarly world, you should cite information so that one can trace the origin and any external influence on your thoughts.

Next, supporting your argument with sources prepared by prominent researchers in the field will add credibility to your assumptions, as well as will demonstrate that you have deep knowledge of the chosen topic. In other words, any new thoughts and interpretations sound more convincing if they have a reputable academic basis.

Finally, proper referencing will allow you to go back to the required source if further research, clarifications, or any detailed reading is needed.

How to Choose between Different Citing Systems

In fact, a student rarely has a choice of a referencing system since, in most cases, universities and colleges have some favorite styles and you simply have to follow. Rarely, you can choose one of two styles, and only the most liberal and friendly professors allow their students to choose any. If you are the lucky one, just choose the style you know best or like the most and remember to be consistent.

Citing while Doing Research

Citing is an inherent element of the research process. Remember, you cannot keep it for later. Postponing referencing might work for small essays and mono-source assignments; however, it will create serious trouble in writing research papers. Note, in the case of citing a dissertation, you will have to process information from hundreds of books and journals. In the end, remembering the exact source will be your mission impossible and might put the success of the entire assignment at risk. Therefore, you should develop a convenient and effective way of noting the sources of data you are going to use.

Parenthetical Styles of Citing and Referencing

Parenthetical styles are the most popular and widely used systems of referencing. MLA and Chicago are popular in the United State, while APA and different variants of Harvard are commonly requested by educational institutions from all over the globe.

These systems provide a list of used sources at the end of a paper on a separate page. This page is called “Works Cited,” “Bibliography,” “References” or “Reference List” etc. depending on the specific style.

Author-and-Date Approach

The majority of referencing styles utilize the author-and-date approach. In-text citations require the surname of the author of the borrowed thought, as well as the publication date (if available).

For example,

Scientists assume that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in the mirror (Anderson, 2010).


Anderson (2010) asserts that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in the mirror.

In the case of multiple works written by the same author, the year of publication will allow the reader to find a bibliographic entry on the reference page easily and quickly. If the same author or authors have produced more than one work during the same year, a letter is added to the date to differentiate between these works, for example, 2010a, 2010b, 2010c, and so on.

Some styles require page numbers for in-text citations, while others do not.


APA: Scientists assume that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in the mirror (Anderson, 2010).

MLA: Scientists assume that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in the mirror (Anderson 44).

Harvard US: Scientists assume that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in the mirror (Anderson 2010, p.44).

How to Cite a Dissertation (Harvard)

Probably, Harvard is the most widely used referencing style. Nevertheless, unlike APA or MLA, there is no universally applied Harvard referencing system. Most probably, Harvard used at your university is somewhat different as compared to the one used by neighboring educational institutions. In other words, Harvard defines what information is to be provided in the bibliography entry, while institutions set standards for formatting this information.

Note, you should better avoid using any automatic tools for generating your Harvard reference page. In most cases, you will have to redo the page manually from scratch to meet the specific requirements of your university.

How to Cite a Dissertation (APA)

APA is one of the clearest parenthetical referencing styles. It was developed and updated by the American Psychological Association. The style offers specific suggestions not only on referencing but also general formatting of the paper, including title page, headings, capitalization, and even rules of avoiding bias. A detailed style guide can be easily found on the official webpage of the style.

How to Cite a Dissertation (MLA)

MLA is a unique referencing style since it does not utilize the publication date to identify the source used. In such a manner, in-text citations in MLA use minimal punctuation but include not only the name of the author but also the exact page of the borrowed idea.

For example,

Scientists assume that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in the mirror (Anderson 44).

The date is used only when multiple works of the same author are used in the paper.

For example,

Scientists assume that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in the mirror (Anderson 2010, 44).

Footnote / Endnote Systems of Referencing

Footnote / endnote systems of referencing are widely used in the UK. In addition, they are usually utilized for Humanities and Arts. In most cases, these styles provide a page number; in some cases, a chapter or line number is enough. These styles allow the reader to establish the context of the information while reading. The most popular footnote styles are MHRA and Oxford.

In the text of the work, the borrowed thought is followed by a number in superscript. In the majority of referencing systems, details of the bibliographic note are provided at the bottom of the same page. MS Word allows putting this information in the footer.

Usually, referencing styles use the bibliography, as well. In this case, footnotes or endnotes contain the minimal essential information to allow the reader to find the cited work on the reference page. In addition, unlike parenthetical styles, footnote systems allow including in the bibliography all sources that have influenced your work irrespective of whether you cite the source in your piece of writing or not.

If your work has no bibliography on a separate page at the end of your paper, footnotes should contain all details of the work used. Nevertheless, as a rule, universities do require a separate reference page in any style.

Most referencing styles of the kind, for example, Oxford, allow providing full bibliographic information only in the first footnote for the source. For subsequent citations, a shortened form is acceptable.

For example,

In-text citation:

Anderson asserts that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in the mirror.1


1 John Anderson, The Psychology of Chimpanzees (New York, Takater Press, 2010), p. 44.

Bibliographic entry:

Anderson, John. The Psychology of Chimpanzees. New York: Takater Press, 2010.

Numbered Systems of Referencing

The most popular numbered referencing style is Vancouver. As a rule, these styles are used in scientific pieces of writing. They provide a convenient way of referencing multiple sources. If you have to cite a dissertation and support your assumptions with 3-10 sources, even the shortest bibliographic entry will disrupt the writing. Consequently, the use of numbers is the best solution.

In these styles, every book or article is assigned a specific number. This unique number is used each time when the source is cited. For convenience, all references are listed on a separate page in the order of their use in the work

For example,

In-text citation:

Scientists assume that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in the mirror [1,5,8].

Bibliographic entry:

1. Anderson J. The Psychology of Chimpanzees. New York: Takater Press; 2010.

Evolution of Referencing Styles: Online Sources and DOIs

DOI is an acronym for a Digital Object Identifier. It is a standardized way of referencing electronic articles. It is a bridge between your writing and the URL of the source. It is a stable and unique set of symbols that lead to a specific Internet address thus allowing one to find the source quickly and easily.

Almost all scholarly sources published today have a DOI, and thus all the bibliographic information is stored as metadata. DOI is another step towards digital referencing. On the one hand, it allows citing software to build a bibliographic record in a proper manner. On the other hand, it contains a stable address (URL) of the article. In such a manner, entering a DOI will take you directly to the page where you can access the full text of the article (in the case of free-access sources).