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Copyright 2006, 2011 by Dr. Jim Jones
of West Chester University

Go to the HIS480 Syllabus or Assignments.

Why do you need to think about reference notes? Reference notes are the way that you give credit to your sources. Without reference notes, you are plagiarizing, and that is theft. As the Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary (Chicago, 1940), defines it, to plagiarize is "to steal or purloin the thoughts or words of another in literary composition." A person who plagiarizes is a "literary thief." In other words, anyone who copies, paraphrases or borrows from another writer without giving credit is plagiarizing.

To avoid becoming a plagiarist, you must include a reference note for everything in your paper that you learned from someone else. It doesn't matter whether you use a footnote at the bottom of the page or an end note grouped with the rest of your reference notes at the back of your paper. The purpose of a reference note is to give the reader enough information to check the accuracy of your information. This is essential if you wish your research to be taken seriously. Normally, that means you have to tell them in what book or article you found your information and on what page it was located.

There are a number of styles in which to compose reference notes, and they all work well. The essential requirement, for ease of use on the computer, is to be consistent. If you make the location of each type of information the same in all of your reference notes, you will be able to easily convert your reference notes from one format to another. Look at the following example, and note the following characteristics:

Claire Robertson & Martin Klein, editors, Women and Slavery in Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983), 193.
  1. All of the author information comes before UNDERLINE-ON .
  2. Only the title is underlined.
  3. The place of publication comes after the sequence of three characters-- UNDERLINE-OFF SPACE LEFT-PARENTHESIS .
  4. The publisher's name comes between the last colon before the two-letter combination of RIGHT-PARENTHESIS COMMA .

Using this format, you can locate the author's name by moving your cursor to the beginning of the reference note and copying everything up to the comma before the first underlined character. To copy the title, got to the first underlined character and copy everything up to, and including, the last underlined character. Similar rules govern the location of the rest of the types of information in the reference note.

For non-traditional types of sources, the goal is the same, but the techniques vary according to the type of information. In some cases, you may refer to "personal observation" as a reference for a piece of information, such as something that you saw while walking past the scene of some historic event. In that case, your reference note would read:

John Doe, personal observation (West Chester, PA: September 12, 2006).

REFERENCE NOTES FOR MATERIAL FROM THE INTERNET: For Internet material, the first step is to read the information and see if it already contains a copyright notice. A copyright notice will contain the name(s) of the author and a year, so it should be easy to spot. If you find it, then begin with the copyright notice and add the location where you found the file. For example:

Bozo the Clown, "Economics and Exploitation Under the Big Tent: An Expose of the Barnum and Bailey Empire" (1998) available by FTP at wuarchive.wustl.edu/pub/text/CIRCUS.TXT.

If you get your file via GOPHER, then change the last line to "available via GOPHER from [name of computer]. If you found it in a newsgroup, then give the name of the person who submitted the original material, the date it was submitted, and the newsgroup in which you found it. If you got it from a web page, give the name of the web page and its address, plus the date that you accessed it.

HOW TRUTHFUL IS MATERIAL FROM THE INTERNET? There is nothing inherently untruthful about information on the World Wide Web, but the Web offers more ways for information to become garbled or distorted than printed matter. In addition, much history that exists on paper has not been transferred to the Internet. The best solution is always to go to the original written source if you can.

The simplest example of distortion involves a computer glitch that results in the disappearance of a single character, like a minus sign in economic data, that completely changes the content of the source in a way that is undetectable to the researcher. Other problems arise when people inaccurately scan or type written data into the computer, or deliberately alter data to promote a point-of-view that may not be explicitly stated. All of these problems exist with written data, but the uniform look of Web pages, plus our predisposition to trust computer-generated data, makes them even more of a problem on the Internet.

The solution, as far as this assignment is concerned, is to use only written sources in your reference notes. You may use information from the Riggtown History Homepage, but use discretion with material from other Webpages. (In general, you can trust a Web site that presents historical data with the original references, and identifies the person who created the Web Site.) Since you are conducting research on something that happened before the invention of the Internet, the original form of all relevant data will br words or pictures on paper. Whenever possible, you are expected to use the original source.

You can use the Web to locate sources and to get an idea of the type of sources that might be applicable to your research paper. For instance, by searching Google, Yahoo, et al for the keyword "slavery," you can obtain a long list of Internet documents that pertain to your topic. One such document is an anonymous account called "A Slave's Story," which is available at


The introduction to this document mentions that it was originally published by Putnam's Monthly Magazine of New York in June 1857, and gives the volume and page numbers. That is enough information to help you locate the original printed source, but since it does not allow you to identify the exact page number where information appears in the article, you cannot simply refer to the on-line version in your reference notes.

This restriction on using the Internet as a primary source means that you have to begin your research on the Internet early enough to allow you to track down the original written version of the material you find. As soon as you receive the assignment for a research paper, go to the Web and conduct a search of relevant keywords. Identify useful documents and make a list of the ones you need to locate. Visit the university library first to see what they have, then go on-line to see if any of the neighboring library have some of your items. Then submit interlibrary loan requests for anything that you can't locate yourself, and while you are waiting for that material to arrive, conduct an "old- fashioned" search through the stacks of your university library to see what other sources they have.

REMEMBER: The majority of historical sources are not on the Internet. If you limit yourself to sources listed by Internet search engines, you will miss most of the material that will help you write a thorough and well-balanced paper.

Go to the HIS480 Syllabus or Assignments.