Referencing a report

From the How2Write guide:

"*EVERY* statement based on other's work, *EVERY* piece of text written by others must be quoted, *EVERY* method (programs, databases, ...) devised by others (unless already in a text-book) *MUST* be referenced appropriately, *EVERY* piece of research you build on must be acknowledged. This means that throughout the text there appear marks such as "[14]" or "(Smith et al 1999)" when you refer to Smith's and colleagues' work. The corresponding references must be listed at the end of the article in numerical or alphabetical order respectively or in the order they have been introduced if name-tags have been used. Throughout the text you must stick to one system and the reference list must be coherent and complete. Follow either the Harvard or the Chicago system. The minimal information given in a reference is: The name of the author (if one), both authors (if not more than two), both initials of all authors, journal name (in an approved abbreviation), volume (bold or underlined):first page, year. Books must be listed by Author, title, "in:" Editor, book title, publisher, year and city. Web-links are acceptable only if certain resources have not been published or to indicate the source of a download in addition to a proper reference but they do not count as a proper scientific source (and neither does Wikipedia). It is recommended to use pybliographer under Linux (or whatever is available under windows if you happen to use MS products). There is no guideline about an appropriate number of references: for a short report on a novel result some 10 (but certainly not less) might do, for a review up to a few hundred may be appropriate. Generally, as a rule of thumb, there will be between 20 and 70 in an original paper, some 5 - 20 in a short report and around 15 to 40 in an essay or project module report. Naturally numbers for theses will be higher."

Referencing your work is a fundamental part of the scientific process. Some statements which seem obvious to you will definitely not be to others. For reproducibility purposes, referencing the original derivation of the model you use, the origin of your data or even the book where you learned the statistical test you used (instead of just writing "we tested the significance of our results") are very important habits that have to be enforced.

For all the undisputed importance of proper references, it might seem a daunting process at first: "Where did I read about this?", "That guy explained it to me, how am I going to reference it?" (Always check your sources! He explained it to you, but you still have to go and read about it!), "I read about it in Wikipedia, how do I cite it?" (Check the sources of Wikipedia!).

To complicate matters further, different journals have different bibliographic styles, and it is painful to keep a good list of all the references you want to use. For this purpose you should use a bibliographic program. Usually they allow you to input your own notes, automatically search for all the bibliographic details of imported PDFs, export the reference in the desired format... Check the university licenses regularly for bibliographic software. All in all, they will save you a massive amount of work:

  • Multi-platform and widely used: Mendeley
  • Directly from modern browsers: Zotero
  • Also in Linux (but the two options above are much better): Pybliographer or Jabref
  • Mac and Windows only, excellent but not open-source: Papers
  • The standard for using with Office (stay clear unless you cannot avoid it, it is horrible and very expensive): Endnote

Of course the question remains what are the good practices when it comes to referencing, and what different styles look like. You can read a good guide compiled by Timothy T. Allen or in the guidelines of the Bioinformatics Journal.

Do not plagiarise

Like the title says: DO NOT PLAGIARISE!

Bad things will happen if you do. Students in the WWU have been expelled from Masters programs because of it: WWU Biologie news (search for "18.12.2012")

Let us begin with a definition:

Plagiarism is the "appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit" [1].

Notice how I placed a reference there? Do that!

It is useful to understand what plagiarism entails, since it's not just about copy and pasting. It's also about using ideas and arguments from others as your own. Here are two references with an extensive discussion:

As a last note, I should stress that even if you are late for a deadline and think you can copy-paste just a little bit and no one will care, DON'T DO IT! The WWU has automatic plagiarism checkers in place for submitted works. It's actually quite interesting the way they work. If you have some interest in that sort of stuff, take a look at:

[1] Vessal K, Habibzadeh F. Rules of the game of scientific writing: fair play and plagiarism. Lancet. 2007;369:641. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)60307-9.

Authors: Erich Bornberg-Bauer, Paulo Pinto