Any serious academic thesis, paper or dissertation needs to contain complete research paper references and a list of sources (bibliography). If you are submitting such a paper, it will not be accepted without proper citations and sources.
There is much discussion over what style is the best for research paper references, and which sources are valid. The style itself should depend on the requirements of your school or university, the field of study, and the length of the paper you are writing. For example, it’s easier for readers to keep track of where they are in a long document without having to flip to the end for references.
For this reason, footnotes or in-text parenthetical citations like MLA are often used. Footnotes tend to be used more for humanities subjects, or topics where the sources are irregular. Author-date citations are often used in the social sciences.
The general rule for research paper references is that you must include the following information in the first mention of the source:
- Title (of volume or article)
- Publication (if a journal or magazine)
- Date of publication
- Page reference
- URL and date last accessed (if an online resource)
As for sources, it’s generally accepted that online sources that are not university libraries or published research papers should not be used as research paper reference material. This is partly because it is almost impossible to verify online sources, and partly because by their nature, website and blog content is not permanent. However, the internet is a fantastic resource for finding valid source materials. For example, you may find references at the end of a Wikipedia article that you can then explore and potentially use.
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A guideline is that verified facts (from clinical trials, academic studies and surveys) are acceptable, but opinions (from newspaper editorials, online articles, blogs) are not. The reason for using research paper references in the first place is so that the facts that form the basis of your argument can be checked. This is not just for your benefit, but also for the benefit of others in your field who are contributing to the pool of knowledge on your subject. Remember that if something is not referenced and is not considered common knowledge, then it may well be an opinion.
This is not to say that online sources should not be used or taken seriously. It is reasonable to use material from a valid internet source, but these are mostly used within the text rather than as references outright. For example, ‘In the Daily Blogger of 24 June 2011, XX commented that …’
Internet sources are usually not included in the bibliography as they are not static.
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