Friday, 4 September 2015

Why Writing Needs References

Each semester, I explain - clearly - to my students why academic writing (assignment work) needs references.

There are some VERY good reasons as to why we should reference - and not just in academic writing. We often think that we can simply reuse something, without crediting who created it. So as a broader community, I think we could be more explicit where we have borrowed things from. With everything.

In my view, there are five key issues at play here: integrity, honour, honesty, understanding, and challenge.

To me, integrity in this area is acknowledging another's work, ideas, words, images, concepts and IP when recycled in our work, when touched on in passing, when expanded or alluded to within your own work by citing. And if I use anothers words verbatim, then I quote, using double quotation marks to clearly indicate these are another's actual words.

Integrity is also in using another's work as it was intended by the original author.

When we honour another's effort and ideas, we can then add our bit on top of theirs. It enables each of us to "build on the shoulders of giants" - to cite GoogleScholar (after Newton, 1686, citing Bernard of Chartres, 1189, Wikiquote, n.d.). It also shows that we are honest. We don't claim others’ work as ours. And that shows that any unreferenced work is our own creation.

This shows that we understand our own field; we know who the experts are. It also shows our work is robust & can be relied upon, because we have our finger so on the pulse.

In keeping a record of my sources (bibliography) and sharing that with my reader, I can be transparent. This allows others to read where my ideas have come from, and to engage me in debate about those ideas. To further challenge me.

However, there is an expansion on this idea of challenge that Christopher Sheldon shared with me on Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1996). Christopher said that "One of the ground breaking arguments that he put forward in the book is that [...] research does not necessarily proceed in a logical fashion, each step built on the one before. Instead, he makes a case for the role of such illogical elements in research as culture, social drivers, aesthetics and what looks astonishingly like ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ – although from memory, I don’t think he uses those words" (2015).

"To me, this conjures up a situation where a researcher might either reference other work to indicate how different their own thinking is from the mainstream, or perhaps even finds there are few ‘others’ to quote or reference because their idea is simply not explored by the current academic paradigms" (Sheldon, 2015).

I think that referencing, and creating a bibliography, gives us an opportunity to have a conversation, and to grow.