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Referencing conventions: representing ideas of others
The art of referring to the words and ideas of other writers involves many rules and requires subtle uses of vocabulary (eg, words of attribution and evaluation) and grammar (eg, verb tense - past and present). A chapter (13) from Anderson and Poole (2001) is helpful for reasonably detailed rules about the conventions/mechanics of referencing, and includes information about referencing electronic sources. The full reference is: Anderson, J. & Poole, M. (2001). Assignment and thesis writing 4th Edn. Brisbane: John Wiley & Sons
The two main referencing systems used in the Faculty of Education are the American Psychologists Association (APA) conventions and the system known as the Harvard conventions.
Some useful websites to help you understand the rules of referencing using these conventions:
Writing about the ideas of others
The following sections look at issues of referencing that affect the ways in which your attitudes to the ideas you are writing about become apparent to your readers. Believe it or not, your 'tone of voice' in what you write is shaped by such apparently small matters as your choice of reporting verb (verbs of attribution), decision to refer directly to an author's name as part of your sentence rather than just including it in brackets later, or even your choice to use the past or present tense.
The section includes:
(Information prominent and author-prominent references)
Swales (1990, pp.149& 153) shows how you can decide whether to focus on the source of an idea or on the idea itself in your writing. He provides two categories of referencing: author prominent, where the author's name appears in your sentence, or information prominent, where the author's name appears only in brackets. An adaptation of his examples follows.
Source: Swales, J. (1990). Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp 149 and 153
Below are some verbs and their synonyms for you to draw on when you want to talk about someone else's ideas or words - a thesaurus of verbs of attribution just for you.
An argument can be:
Note that the above words are value-laden. Your choice of word will reveal to your reader your stance toward the author you are reporting on. It will show whether or not you consider her claims to be substantiated.
Another look at verbs used in critical analysis
Arnaudet & Barrett (1984, pp.153-155) provide a useful resource on verbs of attribution reproduced in the box below
Neutral verbs of restatement
Verbs of restatement with a + or - connotation
Verbs of opinion
This category is used to report the content of another writer's opinion (or conclusion or suggestions).
Reporting opinion (usually neutrally)
Verbs of uncertainty
This category is used to report the content of another writer's expression of doubt or uncertainty.
Source: Arnaudet, M.L. & Barrett, M.E. (1984). Approaches to academic reading and writing. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.
The following paragraph is an excerpt from an essay on approaches to intercultural education. Notice the words that indicate what the writer thinks about the ideas of the other writer's she mentions. How does she use particular verbs of attribution to convey a particular attitude to the work of the writers she refers to? What words or phrases signal her own ideas?
Ballard and Clanchy (1991) propose a continuum of attitudes to knowledge and specify learning approaches and strategies that correspond to these attitudes. Drawing mainly on anecdotal evidence, they suggest that their three learning approaches, namely the "reproductive", "analytical" and "speculative" approaches, are characteristic of certain stages of schooling (in Australia) or of certain cultures (Ballard and Clanchy, 1991, p.11). In their consideration of learning strategies, however, they have presented only a limited understanding of the ways in which the strategies assist learning. For example, they see memorisation as a way of retaining "unreconstructed" (p.11) knowledge. In contrast, the work of Biggs (1996) demonstrates that memorisation serves the purpose of retaining ideas so that they can be considered and understood.
Verb tense in academic writing may exercise a greater influence on your reader's interpretation of your text than you bargained for. Past tense can give more than a time perspective; it can distance the reader from the ideas being expressed. Present tense is often used to make generalisations - you need to be sure you wanted readers to feel this was a generalisable point. Below is a simplified description of the uses and possible effects of tense on the meaning made.
The tense you select for your verbs in your essay, report or literature review reveals a great deal more to your reader than the time frame. It tells your reader whose idea is being proffered (yours or someone else's, something about your attitude towards the ideas you are reporting if you have attributed them to a researcher or theorist, and indicates how general or specific the point is. In brief - and note that this is a simplified description of the use of tense - the three tenses which appear most frequently are used in the following ways:
Consider the excerpt from the previous section. What subtle difference in message might you receive as a reader if it were written as follows?
Ballard and Clanchy (1991) proposed a continuum of attitudes to knowledge and specified learning approaches and strategies that corresponded to these attitudes. Drawing mainly on anecdotal evidence, they suggested that their three learning approaches, namely the "reproductive", "analytical" and "speculative" approaches, were characteristic of certain stages of schooling (in Australia) or of certain cultures (Ballard and Clanchy, 1991, p.11). In their consideration of learning strategies, however, they presented only a limited understanding of the ways in which the strategies assist learning. For example, they saw memorisation as a way of retaining "unreconstructed" (p.11) knowledge. In contrast, the work of Biggs (1996) demonstrates that memorisation serves the purpose of retaining ideas so that they can be considered and understood.