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How many references are enough?

It depends!

Disciplinary expectations

In some disciplines, an assignment demonstrating wider reading (and, hence, more references) will gain higher marks. In others, it is important to focus in on a handful of relevant references. It will be important here to pay attention to the nature of the task and what your lecturer expects.

The assessment criteria for your subject will provide a useful guide to determining 'how many references are enough'.

Each disciplinary area places an emphasis on wider reading. Click the highlighted text to see some examples of criteria in:

  • Education
  • Nursing
  • Sociology

In each case wider reading is encouraged if the student wishes to aim for a higher mark. In each case, too, the criteria point to the importance of using the wider material well to support arguments, perspectives, contentions.

Look for your assessment criteria and discussion in the Unit Guide and MUSO site for your subject.

Nature of task

The nature of the assessment task also needs to be taken into account. Here is an example. In Global Sociology, an introductory unit, the lecturer wanted students to gain familiarity with the competing perspectives on the newness of globalisation. He advised his students to focus on the readings he had supplied for their first assignment. Whilst wider reading is encouraged in Sociology, it was not necessary in this assignment because of the focus of the task.

In first-year Education, in contrast, the lecturers wanted their students to demonstrate their reflection on the semester's work. In this case, the students were expected to consider and examine the subject's topics and to demonstrate their academic engagement by reading and integrating a wider range of reading beyond that supplied. In this case, a longer reference list (perhaps 15 references used well), would attract higher marks.

Typical case

If you are unsure of 'how many references are enough', you could clarify this with your lecturer. A useful 'rule of thumb' is that for a typical 2000 word assignment, a list of 12 to 15 references, used well, will tend to gain higher marks. Again, though, this will depend on the discipline and the task.

Education
Grade: D
Supporting evidence An extensive range of research-based evidence utilised to support contentions and very competent use of examples.
Nursing
Grade: HD
Content and knowledge
Use of literature/ evidence of reading
Scholarly articles. Refereed Articles. Has developed and justified ideas based on a wide range of sources which have been thoroughly analysed, applied and discussed.
Sociology
Needs work Satisfactory Very good
Source Material
Evidence of wide reading
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