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Round up your thesis with a resourceful reference list

Learn how to create a flawless reference list for your term paper or thesis. All you need to know about the perfect structure, correct citation and exceptional cases. Learn all the rules for making an accurate and error-free reference list under 10 minutes. Watch now for free!

Welcome to the tutorial “Create the perfect reference list for your thesis“. The reference list is an integral part of a scientific text. Thus, it has an influence on the overall grade of your work. This means that if your reference list contains errors, your work may be penalized with a lower grade. However, this does not have to happen if you know what to look out for. Unfortunately, this is often where the problem lies: because there are quite a few details and subtleties to consider when creating a reference list, which can cause a lot of confusion and frustration. In order to avoid undesirable side effects like these, you should get a comprehensive overview of what is important when creating a reference list. In this tutorial you will learn all the basics you need to know to create a flawless reference list for your term paper or thesis.


What is a reference list good for?

Let's start by asking what a reference list is and why you need it in the first place. A reference list is a list of all sources that have been directly or indirectly cited in an academic text. Thus, the reference list is not to be confused with a so-called bibliography, which, in addition to the cited sources, also contains sources that you have merely read during your research.
The purpose of a reference list is to ensure traceability. By citing the exact source, you indicate which sources you have worked with. This allows readers to look up and locate a source as needed. Also, creating a reference list protects you from committing plagiarism – provided that the sources cited match those in the body text. The reference list is placed at the end of the work, immediately after the conclusion.


What should a reference list include?

Now that you know the purpose and use of a reference list, let's turn to the structure of a reference list. Depending on the requirements, it may be necessary to sort your used sources by categories. This has the advantage that the reader can quickly get an overview of the different types of sources. Examples of such categories are "monographs and edited books," "journal articles," and "online sources." Likewise, a further categorization according to "primary literature" and "secondary literature" is possible. If there is no specific requirement, you can list all sources without categories.

The listing of the individual sources is alphabetical according to the family name. In case of several authors per source, separate the individual names by a semicolon or a slash. If there are more than three authors per source, you do not need to list all names, but instead, depending on the citation rule, the addition 'et al.' is sufficient.

If you use several works by one author, then you list the oldest source first. If the works are from the same year, then you must place a lower-case letter after the year.
Finally, it can happen that an author is not only represented with his or her own publications, but has also published together with other authors. Here, the rule is to list the sole publications first and then the publications with other authors.

Next, the question arises as to what information must be taken into account in each case when citing a source. In this context, the decisive factor is the type of source. If the source is a monograph or an edited book, the following information is important: the surname and first name of the author or editor, the year of publication, the title, the edition (if there are several editions), the place of publication, and optionally the name of the publisher.

For articles from journals, this information should be provided: the author's last name and first name, the year of publication, the title of the article, the name of the journal, the volume, the issue, and the page numbers of the article in the journal.

If you want to list articles from edited books, you must include the following information: the author's last name and first name, the year of publication, the title of the article, the title of the edited book, if necessary the edition number, the place of publication, optionally the publisher, and the page numbers of the article in the edited book.

Finally, in the case of Internet sources, the following information is relevant: the surname and first name of the author or the name of the website, the year or date of publication, the title of the source, the URL, and the date of retrieval, including the day, month and year. Depending on the type of Internet source, other information may be added, such as the name of the blog in the case of a blog article.


Major exceptions & special cases

However, there are also exceptional cases. Because sometimes it happens that not all information is available, for example the name of the author, the year of publication, or the place of publication. In these cases, you use alternative designations and put them in the appropriate place. If the author's name is missing in the source, mark it as "Anonymous". If the year of publication is missing, enter "n.d." for "no date". If no place of publication is given in the source, use the abbreviation "n.p." for "no place of publication".

However, that is not all that needs to be considered. Depending on which citation style you choose, the source information is formatted differently. Therefore, our advice is this: First of all, deal with the individual citation styles in detail. You can use the APA citation style, the Harvard citation style, the German citation style or the MLA style. Then choose the one you are most comfortable with. If a citation style is prescribed by the university or faculty, you only need to deal with this. However, the citation style you use in the reference list must be consistent with that in the body text.
No matter what citation style you choose though, you should always make sure that you are consistent by sticking to one form of listing throughout and not switching between or mixing multiple ways. Also make sure that your specifications are always complete.
In addition, there are differences in the formatting of line spacing in the reference list. While double line spacing is mandatory for the citation style according to the APA guidelines, there is no requirement in this regard for the Harvard and German citation styles. In addition, it is quite common in the styles mentioned to make a hanging indent from the second line of a source citation.

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