Essay referencing can be a headache at university. How many references do you need? When should you use a reference? Should you use references even when you haven't used a direct quotation? How many references are too many? By knowing how to reference properly, you can reduce the stress involved in your essay writing.
To help make essay referencing easier, we've tackled a few of those niggling questions that should make the process a little smoother.
Why does referencing matter?
Including references in your essay is your way to show your markers that you've truly engaged with your subject matter. It is also important as it proves that you've read the key sources which relate to your topic. They additionally show that you've thought carefully about how each source relates to the subject you're writing about. The more helpful references you include, the more well-informed you appear to be about your topic. It’s not always about quantity, either. Quality sources which really inform your essay are really worth including.
Including a bibliography is good academic practice. If you go on to study further, write more about your subject or publish your work, giving kudos to the writers whose work you took information and inspiration from is essential. A bibliography also provides a helpful resource you can go back to and use for future work.
How many references is too many references?
Of course, it is possible to use too many references. If you are using references just to show off all the books you've read, this will be obvious and will not impress your markers. You need to choose the sources which really contribute to your essay; supporting your argument, contesting it or prompting interesting, relevant questions.
Remember, markers also want to see evidence of your own, original thinking. Using too many references does not leave much room for your personal standpoint to shine through. As a general rule, you should aim to use one to three, to support each key point you make. This of course depends on subject matter and the point you are discussing, but acts as a good general guide.
It can be useful to have a best practice breakdown of your essay to help you work out how many references to use. Here's a rough guide to help you get the balance right for any piece of academic work:
- Your introduction should make up approximately 10% of your essay. You may want to use one or two references to define your topic in this section, depending on your word count.
- The main body of your essay (which will include the key points in your argument) should make up approximately 75% of your essay. For example: In a 2000 word essay, you will have 1500 words to use. Each main point you make should typically use 1-3 paragraphs, which should average around 200-400 words in total. This will give you room for around 5 key points, each supported by 2 or 3 references. Try and use direct or primary references where possible. Sometimes you’ll need to use in-text references, too.
- Your conclusion should account for around 15% of your essay. You may wish to use 1-3 references to lend authority to your concluding statements. Of course, it is really hard to suggest exactly how many references your essay should include. This depends totally on the subject matter and word count. A Philosophy essay, for example, may have a lot of critical thinking and be quite theory-heavy, and for this reason you may need more references than a typical English Literature Essay. This is just an example – you’ll need to consider your own subject matter and topic.
When to use references
References aren't just used to give credit for quotations. They can be used to indicate that an idea, concept, fact or theory has come directly from a particular reference. Other instances when references must be used include:
And if you've used any information or ideas from:
- Computer programmes
- Any external source
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The truth is there is no definitive answer to this question. The number of words it will take to fill a page will depend on a number of factors including the type of font used, the font size, spacing elements, the margins used on the paper, the paragraph length, etc. For example, if the assignment says the writing should be in 10-point font, it’s going to take a greater number of words to fill a page than if the assignment requires a 12-point font.
For those who need a general rule of thumb, a typical page which has 1-inch margins and is typed in 12 point font with standard spacing elements will be approximately 500 words when typed single spaced. For assignments that require double spacing, it would take approximately 250 words to fill the page. For an assignment that requires you to write four pages, you can make the estimation that you’ll need to write approximately 2000 words for a single spaced paper, or 1000 words if the assignment is double spaced. Again, the type of font used can make the word count higher or lower, but it’s a good rule of thumb for those who are simply looking for a general estimation.
Since there can be a large variation on the number of words needed to fill a page, most papers are no longer assigned by page count. They are instead assigned by word count. That is, an assignment, essay or paper will likely be assigned as 1500 – 2000 words rather than 3 – 4 pages. This way it is much more difficult for the writer to “game the system” by using large fonts and excessive spacing to meet the writing criteria.
If you are given a writing assignment with a page number, the best thing to do is go directly to the person who made the assignment and ask for a word count. This will take away all the variations and help ensure your writing assignment meets expectations. If it’s for something informal and you simply need a general guideline, you can find it below.
How many pages is…
The below list is an approximation, and actual pages will differ depending on a number of factors mentioned earlier in this article. Use the below information for a general reference, but don’t assume it will be the case at all times. Here are basic word to pages conversions:
- 500 words is 1 page single spaced, 2 pages double spaced.
- 1,000 words is 2 pages single spaced 4 pages double spaced.
- 1,500 words is 3 pages single spaced, 6 pages double spaced.
- 2,000 words is 4 pages single spaced, 8 pages double spaced.
- 2,500 words is 5 pages single spaced, 10 pages double spaced.
- 3,000 words is 6 pages single spaced, 12 pages double spaced.
- 4,000 words is 8 pages single spaced, 16 pages double spaced.
- 5,000 words is 10 pages single spaced, 20 pages double spaced.
- 7,500 words is 15 pages single spaced, 30 pages double spaced.
- 10,000 words is 20 pages single spaced, 40 pages double spaced.
- 20,000 words is 40 pages single spaced, 80 pages double spaced.
- 25,000 words is 50 pages single spaced, 100 pages double spaced.
- 30,000 words is 60 pages single spaced, 120 pages double spaced.
- 40,000 words is 80 pages single spaced, 160 pages double spaced.
- 50,000 words is 100 pages single spaced, 200 pages double spaced.
- 60,000 words is 120 pages single spaced, 240 pages double spaced.
- 70,000 words is 140 pages single spaced, 280 pages double spaced.
- 75,000 words is 150 pages single spaced, 300 pages double spaced.
- 80,000 words is 160 pages single spaced, 320 pages double spaced.
- 90,000 words is 180 pages single spaced, 360 pages double spaced.
- 100,000 words is 200 pages single spaced, 400 pages double spaced.
Below are basic pages to words conversions:
- 1 page is 500 words single spaced, 250 words double spaced.
- 2 pages is 1,000 words single spaced, 500 words double spaced.
- 3 pages is 1,500 words single spaced, 750 words double spaced.
- 4 pages is 2,000 words single spaced, 1,000 words double spaced.
- 5 pages is 2,500 words single spaced, 1,250 words double spaced.
- 6 pages is 3,000 words single spaced, 1,500 words double spaced.
- 7 pages is 3,500 words single spaced, 1,750 words double spaced.
- 8 pages is 4,000 words single spaced, 2,000 words double spaced.
- 9 pages is 4,500 words single spaced, 2,250 words double spaced.
- 10 pages is 5,000 words single spaced, 2,500 words double spaced.
- 15 pages is 7,500 words single spaced, 3,750 words double spaced.
- 20 pages is 10,000 words single spaced, 5,000 words double spaced.
- 25 pages is 12,500 words single spaced, 6,250 words double spaced.
- 30 pages is 15,000 words single spaced, 7,500 words double spaced.
- 40 pages is 20,000 words single spaced, 10,000 words double spaced.
- 50 pages is 25,000 words single spaced, 12,500 words double spaced.
- 60 pages is 30,000 words single spaced, 15,000 words double spaced.
- 70 pages is 35,000 words single spaced, 17,500 words double spaced.
- 75 pages is 37,500 words single spaced, 18,750 words double spaced.
- 80 pages is 40,000 words single spaced, 20,000 words double spaced.
- 90 pages is 45,000 words single spaced, 22,500 words double spaced.
- 100 pages is 50,000 words single spaced, 25,000 words double spaced.
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