ARTICLE 104: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree studies: The Layout of the Thesis or Dissertation: Referencing Sources

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Is it acceptable to include books that you read in the references or bibliography of your thesis or dissertation even if you did not use any of the information in the books?

Is it acceptable to include books that you did not read in the references or bibliography of your thesis or dissertation?

How much of a book should you read before you can include it in your list of references or bibliography?

How much of a book should you read before you must include it in your list of references or bibliography?

Hello, I am Hannes Nel, and I discuss the following aspects of referencing sources in this article:

  1. The reference system.
  2. Works cited.
  3. Bibliography.
  4. Sources consulted.
  5. References.

The reference system. The term reference system is used to embrace the conventions or rules for specifying details such as author, date, publisher, and so on, of sources of information to which reference may be made in a thesis or dissertation. There are several different referencing systems of which the Harvard, APA (American Psychological Association) and Vancouver systems are some of the best-known examples. In part a derivative of these, the Author-date system is also widely accepted across most, if not all, disciplines.

Works cited. Works cited comprises a list of all sources that are referred to either in the text or the footnotes of a thesis or dissertation. The Works cited (also sometimes called Sources cited) is the most common form of bibliography, although the heading Bibliography or References or List of references is often substituted for Works cited. Works cited is an alphabetical list of the sources you used in the body of your project. It should be the last pages in your report, but mostly come directly after the body of the report before any annexures or appendixes. Some universities, however, prefer works cited to come after annexures or appendixes.

Bibliography. Strictly speaking, a bibliography is a list of published works, although by common usage both published and unpublished material are listed in a bibliography. A selected bibliography contains those sources cited, together with the more relevant works that have been consulted. A brief annotated bibliography is a list of references, at least some of which are followed by a note on the content and usefulness of the references.

Sources consulted. Sources consulted are a broader kind of bibliography and consists of a comprehensive listing of works consulted, including those that are not quoted from, or to which reference has not been made.

References. The term References is the most commonly used of these terms across different disciplines. Whichever term is used, however, the heading is placed, in the case of theses or dissertations, at the top of a page using a similar format to chapter headings. The references are usually placed immediately after the last chapter of a thesis or dissertation, but some writers prefer to place the references after appendices or annexures.

References differ from a Bibliography. In the list of References you list only items that you have actually cited in your research paper. In a Bibliography you list all the material you have consulted in preparing your assignment or thesis whether or not you have actually cited the sources.

Every book, article, thesis, document or manuscript and electronic source that has been consulted and cited should be included in the list of references. The references should follow a logical arrangement in alphabetical order of author’s names. Current practice in most disciplines favours one comprehensive listing – not a division into primary sources and secondary sources, or books, journals, newspapers, documents and official papers, and manuscripts, although such a separation is sometimes required if a large number of sources have been consulted. Listing internet sources separately makes sense because their format is different from books, etc.

There are no absolute rules on referencing, and conventions for referencing electronic sources are not yet firmly established.

The method adopted is influenced by the method of citation in the body of the thesis or dissertation, the system of footnoting employed, the practice of a particular field of study, and the requirements of your study leader, department or university. Should you find that the format recommended in the Author-date system in my next video is not acceptable in all respects, you should change from the system presented here to the one prescribed by your study leader or university.

Setting out and punctuation in references follow a different format from a footnote. For example, in a footnote the author’s name is given in the natural order of initials or first names followed by the surname, but in a list of references the surname precedes the initials or first names. The reason for differences in format lies in the purpose of each system. The purpose of a footnote is to give the specific location of the source of a statement (fact, idea, concept) made in the text, including the number of the actual page on which the statement appears in the original source. Such a practice assists the reader to verify the information.

The purpose of a bibliographical entry in a list of references, on the other hand, is to identify the whole work rather than a specific part of it. It would be cumbersome to repeat the general reference on each occasion that a source is cited in a footnote, yet the full details of the source need to be included somewhere in the thesis or dissertation for readers to consult as required. Such detail is especially important with revised editions (in which the case number of the edition also should be given), or where a work has been republished by another publisher. The major aim of a referencing system should always be to achieve clarity and consistency and, above all, accuracy in referencing.


A reference system is the conventions or rules for specifying the details of data sources.

Works cited is an alphabetical list of the data sources that you used in your thesis or dissertation.

A bibliography is a list of published data sources that you consulted for your research.

Sources consulted is a list of published and unpublished data sources that you consulted, including the ones that you did not use in your thesis or dissertation.

A bibliography is a list of all the data sources that you used in your thesis or dissertation.

Through common usage the difference between works cited, bibliography, sources consulted and references have become unclear.


Remember to give credit to the sources from which you found the material you used directly in your project. You must do this whenever you use a complete piece of someone else’s material or a recognisable part of that material. In this respect you need to take notes carefully so that quotes are accurate, and to observe the conventions of quotations and footnotes in the printed text.

You should acknowledge all data sources that you used in your thesis or dissertation.

This can include artefacts, interviews, models and many more.

However, you should not list data sources that you did not use even if you consulted them.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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