ARTICLE 106: Research Methods for Ph. D and Master’s Degree Studies: The Layout of the Thesis or Dissertation: Essential Information in References: Part 2 of 2 Parts

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

I discuss the following aspects of essential information in references in this article:

  1. Using abbreviations, spacing and capitalisation.
  2. Alphabetical and chronological order.
  3. Anonymous publication.
  4. Pseudonymous publication.
  5. Association or university as the author.
  6. Conference papers and proceedings of conferences.
  7. Other sources of information.

Using abbreviations, spacing and capitalisation. You should avoid abbreviating periodical names because confusion may result with little saving of space. There are some differences in the meaning and use of abbreviations by different universities. Check the policies and procedures in use by the university where you are enrolled or would like to enrol for post-graduate studies and use them consistently and accurately.

The general rule for punctuation is to follow the abbreviated form with a full stop if the final letter is not the same as the final letter of the full form. However, an increasing tendency is to omit punctuation in such abbreviations. What is important is that you use the rule that you decide on consistently.

It is a good idea to use single-spaced entries for references, with double spacing between entries, because it is more readable. Names of authors stand out more clearly if references are entered using what is called a hanging indent. That is, indent the second and subsequent lines of each entry about 0.5 cm as illustrated below. However, check what the university where you study prefers.


Drieke, S. 2009. The shortage of science teachers. In L.L. Lalu (ed.) The Scarce and Critical Skills Needs Dilemma, Longman, Toronto.

In a list of references, title case is used for book titles and titles are italicised or underlined where an italic font is unavailable. Title case means capitalising all key words. You can also write book titles as they are typed on the book cover. If title case is used you also use it and if not, then you also do not. No italics or underlining is used for unpublished works. If a reference comprises more than one volume, the entry must state the total number of volumes comprising the reference.


Seepe, A. 2011. The Devolvement of Education in South African Universities (5 vols). University of Cape Town Press, Cape Town.

In the case of journal articles, the titles of journals are italicised and in title case. Titles of journal articles are in sentence case. That is, capitalise only first words, proper nouns and first words after a colon:


Shalem, P.T. 2008. The link between student identity and self-esteem among adults. South African Journal of Quality Assurance, 30 (5), 45-49.

Alphabetical and chronological order. To locate references quickly in an alphabetically ordered list of references, author’s names always appear with initials following the name. However, in all other cases such as names of editors and translators, initials precede the name. The determination of a strict alphabetical order can sometimes still be a problem. Mc and Mac are listed under M as though the prefix were spelled Mac; and surnames starting with St are treated as though they were given in full (i.e. Saint). The simple way to treat names such as de Jong, D’Orsogna, Le Thomas is to order them alphabetically starting with the first letter of the prefix. If in doubt, a telephone book or electoral roll may be a helpful guide, or simply let your computer software arrange the names alphabetically for you.

In the case of compounded surnames such as P.L. Lofty-Eaton, the name becomes Lofty-Eaton, P.L. and is placed in alphabetical order beginning with the initial letter of the first part of the surname. Initials help alphabetical ordering where names are identical, for example:

Singh, M.

Singh, P.

Stanton, A.

Stanton, E.

Stanton, K.

Where several references by the same author are listed, entries are ordered chronologically from oldest to most recent. If the same author wrote more than one book in the same year, the year can be followed by the letters of the alphabet starting with ‘a’. Often entries need to be ordered alphabetically within a chronological sequence, but in such cases, any works by a single author precede those works in which she or he is the senior co-author:

Majeke, P.S. 2005a. A Reflection on Transformation. Juta, Johannesburg.

Majeke, P.S. 2005b. Student Power, Action and Problems. Juta, Cape Town.

Majeke, P.S. and McFarlane, A.T. 2006. Contemporary Female Debates on Education. University Press, Oxford.

Majeke, P.S., Gibben, T. and Naidoo, R.W. 2004. Syndicate-based Peer Group Learning. Wadsworth, Belmont Canada.

Where you refer in the text to works by multiple authors, it is common practice to distinguish works by more than three authors from works by one, two or three authors. To avoid overburdening the text with names, you note in the in-text reference the first author only and, for the others, use the Latin abbreviation et al. (meaning ‘and others’). Thus, an in-text reference to a work by more than three authors might appear in one of the following forms:


Holtman et al. (2011) disagree with …

Other authors (e.g. Holtman et al.) disagree with …

It is not necessary to italicise the et al. because it is sufficiently common in English usage.

Anonymous publication. Works of anonymous authors are alphabetised under their titles:


Theories and models in distance education. 2011. The Performance Bulletin, 22 (7), 5 – 9.

A reference to this work in the text must use the title (or the first few words of the title in the case of longer titles) in place of the usual name:


Students must apply strict self-discipline if they are to achieve success in distance education (Theories and models in distance education. 2011).

If the author of an anonymous work is known, the name can be placed in square brackets and entered in the reference under the name:


[Sfard, O.] 2007. A Descriptive Reading of Academic Depth. African Trumpet, 11 (3), 13 – 15.

Pseudonymous publication. Pseudonymous works are listed under the pseudonym with the author’s name, where known, following in brackets:


Highflyer [G.J. Alexander] 2017. Touching the Ninth Cloud. Penquin, Johannesburg.

Again, square brackets are used. Citing this work in the text uses the pseudonym, not the author’s name, which is information that has been added. Thus, it can be used as follows:


Highflyer (2017) strikingly describes …

Association or university as the author. Where an association or university is the author, the name of the association or university appears in the author position. The abbreviation for the university may be placed in brackets where such information more readily identifies the university. If the association or university is both the author and publisher, it is best to repeat the information in author and publisher positions:

Example 1:

Association of Private Providers. 2019. Building Communities of Trust. (2nd ed.). Association of Private Providers. Johannesburg, South Africa.

Note that the country is added where other countries might have similarly named associations or universities. To cite such work in the text of the thesis or dissertation you need to follow the usual pattern with the association or university replacing the author.

Example 2:     

UNISA. 2019. Community Engagement in Social support Drives. UNISA. Pretoria.

UNISA is known well enough so that the full name need not be used and the city also need not be specified because “everybody” knows where UNISA is.

If there is no author given. Where there is no stated author, the title is placed in the author position:


The Impact of Learning Communities on Student Success. 2011. Naledi, Johannesburg.

Conference papers and proceedings of conferences. Papers presented at conferences have authors and a year followed by the title of the conference paper, name of the conference, conference venue and dates:


Solomons, E. 2020. Vandalism at South African Universities. Paper presented to a Conference on Skills Development, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, May 23 – 25.

Where proceedings of a conference are published, referencing follows the practice of an article in an edited work, with the association and venue for the conference included in the reference:


Steyn, M. 2018. The Impact of Changing Funding Source on Higher Education. In J.P. Red and W. Blue (eds.), Funding Lifelong Learning. UCT Press, Cape Town, Proceedings of the UCT 23rd International Congress on Lifelong Learning. Cape Town, April 23-27.

To reference conference papers as well as unpublished papers, theses, and newspaper articles the form of referencing in the text follows the typical pattern:


According to Steyn (2018) it is becoming …

Other sources of information. There are several other sources of information that you probably will use. If in doubt, always follow the ‘standard format’. The following are such references:

  • A thesis is not considered published material. Therefore, titles are not italicised or underlined and are in sentence case. Some universities, however, might have different policies in this respect.
  • Magazines and newspapers are arranged and printed much the same as periodicals. Therefore, they are treated similarly to periodicals except that it is normal to put the abbreviation p, or pp. in front of the page numbers as appropriate to avoid confusion with volume or issue numbers.
  • The basic format for films, videotapes, CDs or any other electronic source is similar to any other source except that one can add film, videotape, CD, etc. in square brackets after the title.


You should avoid abbreviating periodical names.

Single-spaced entries for references with double spacing between entries are preferred by many universities.

All key words can be capitalised, or titles can be typed as they are in the original sources.

Author’s names are used to list references in alphabetical order.

Works of anonymous authors are alphabetised under their titles.

Pseudonymous works are listed under the pseudonym with the author’s name, where known, following in brackets.

Where an association or university is the author, the name of the association or university appears in the author position.

Where there is no author given, the title is placed in the author position.

Papers presented at conferences have authors and a year followed by the title of the conference paper, name of the conference, conference venue and dates.

If you use a source that does not fit any of the given types, you should stay as close to the standard format as possible.


You must read the referencing policy of the university where you study, because:

  1. Some academics regard using Latin abbreviations as outdated.
  2. Mixed referencing approaches are sometimes allowed.
  3. Universities sometimes develop their own referencing systems.
  4. Referencing online sources introduced a new challenge to consistent referencing.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 21: Consulting Sources of Information for Your Ph. D. or Masters Degree Research.

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel


Hello, in case you did not see any of my previous videos, I am Hannes Nel.

In this video, I share some ideas about finding and selecting sources of information to use in your thesis or dissertation.

A suggested list of references is a valuable starting point for your research.

You should consult such references first if a list is available.

All professionally written books give recognition to sources which the writer of the book consulted.

You should be able to consult some of them.

It will not take you long to get to know which writers are recognized authorities in the field of your research.

Although you probably know this already.

Reading such books, articles, official documents, etc. can help you to find some good data and to learn how to discriminate between good and poor sources of information.

The same applies to internet sources.

Many academics still frown upon the use of internet sources.

I agree that much that is posted on the internet is probably not accurate and often also not valid information.

However, I do not agree that one should not use the internet to find information for research.

Many decades ago, people believed that all that was written in books, magazines and newspapers was true.

Some of you will remember how people used to defend their arguments by saying that “it was written in this or that newspaper”, or “that it is true because I heard it on the news.”

Now we know that the books, newspapers, magazines and the radio of back then did not always share the truth.

Regardless of which sources or what kind of sources of information you consult, you need to do whatever you can to verify the authenticity, validity and accuracy of the information that you are offered.

There are many ways in which you can evaluate and confirm the value of information.

An already old, but still effective way in which to do this is triangulation.

All academics do not agree about the value of triangulation as a method to corroborate the authenticity of data.

And yes, I admit that the truth can be dependent on context and time.

What is true now might not be true tomorrow or any other time in the past or the future.

What is true in one country or any other place will not necessarily be true in other countries or other places.

The truth as perceived by one person might not be true for somebody else.

You will see when we discuss the paradigms how differently different people can see the truth.

That is why I always define the information that I share in books, articles, the internet, etc. and I always respect the right of others to disagree with me.

Let’s get back to triangulation.

You need to know the ontology of triangulation to understand what it means in the context of academic research.

Triangulation has its origin in the science of survey.

Many decades ago, perhaps until some fifty years ago, surveyors used directors and later theodolites to find the coordinates for points on the ground. They would take bearings to known beacons on high points, add 180 degrees to obtain back bearings, and plot them on a map or aerial photo. The intersection of three such back bearings, measured from three beacons, would be the true position of the director or theodolite.

Such surveying was called triangulation because you had to use trigonometry to calculate the coordinates of the unknown point, which would be where you put the theodolite.

The rationale behind trigonometry is that the more bearings from known points you have, the more accurately can you calculate to coordinates of the unknown point.

In research, we use the same argument for confirming the accuracy of information. The more sources that contain the same information, the more likely it is that the information is accurate and true.

Of course, you can have more than three sources that corroborate information, but three are generally accepted as the minimum.

Obviously, this is not a foolproof technique. It can easily happen that several writers quote the same information that they obtained from a book or article written by somebody who shared false information, or from one another.

Triangulation does not relate to the source of information only.

Any kind of corroboration of the accuracy and validity of data and findings can be reinforced through triangulation.

Triangulation can refer to data, sources of information (which would include writers) researchers who come to the same findings and conclusions, theories that agree on arguments or points of view and different research methods that deliver the same or similar results.

Not all academics support triangulation as a way in which to corroborate data, findings, etc.

They too can have a point, because of differences in paradigmatic approaches.

It is a good idea to check how writers motivate and explain their arguments. Be careful of loose statements without any explanation or corroboration. Also, be careful of arguments that sound too good or bad to be true. Unlikely arguments are probably not true if they are not properly proven or supported or logically explained.

A simple way in which to find sources of data on the topic of your research is to find just one or a few relevant books on the library shelves or catalogs. There are often more books with similar content on the same shelve or in the same row.

A problem with books is that they become outdated rather fast. The same can be said about articles on the internet, though.

It is a healthy practice not to use books older than five years unless you know or can determine that the contents of the book or other sources of data is still accurate and relevant.

You will probably fall back on much older sources of information if the topic of your research deals with history.

Natural scientists will probably rely on statistics and other calculations for confirmation of accuracy. However, statistics can also be manipulated, as can laboratory tests.

Whatever sources you use, remember to give recognition to the originators.


When looking for sources of information, you should start with a list of references that the university, your study leader or any other expert whom you trust suggests.

See if you can find more sources from the books or other sources on the list.

Check the accuracy, validity and authenticity of the sources by looking for corroboration of the contents of the sources. Corroboration can be found through triangulation, seeking out writers with a known good reputation, and common sense.

Also, check how old the sources of information are. The older the sources are the more likely it is that the contents might be outdated and inaccurate.

Keep in mind that books, articles in magazines and newspapers and even official documentation can be just as false as internet sources.

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