You must reference every idea or piece of information that you did not invent yourself. It doesn't matter if you write it in your own words, if you did not invent that idea, then you must acknowledge the people responsible for it.
Here's a relevant snip from the http://www.criticalthinkeracademy.com playlist.
Whenever you are working on an assignment, you should be using information from a variety of other sources. It doesn't matter if the assignment is a report, an essay or a poster presentation, you still need to find information to support your points and claims.
The only time your lecturer is solely interested in the things you already know without help is when you are sitting an exam. If you've been given time to research, then you are expected to research.
Make sure you find a good range of information from a variety of sources (journals, books, web pages and drug databases, as appropriate), and always assume your lecturer is interested in seeing how good your research is.
There are two places you need to think about when referencing:
These two "types" or "places" are actually two sides of the same coin. It's the same work that you are referencing in both places. In your assignment, where you use the information, you will put a small citation (i.e. author and year for APA; a number for Vancouver style) telling the reader to look for the full details in your reference list. The reader then finds that number or the author in the reference list to see the details of that source.
Nothing should be in your reference list unless you have cited it in your text. Nothing should be cited in your text without having the full details in your reference list.
The noble answer:
It's the right thing to do.
When you use another person's work or ideas, you need to give credit where it's due. No one expects you to invent the knowledge you are using, but we do expect you to know where it came from, and to be open and upfront about where you found it.
The obvious answer:
You get marked on your referencing!
Your lecturer does take your referencing into account when marking you - having good references can be the difference between a P and a C. It's a core academic skill.
The scary (but true) answer:
You can fail if you don't reference!
No, seriously. It's called plagiarism, and it can get you into serious trouble. One of the easiest ways to avoid plagiarism is to reference your sources properly.
The people who wrote the information you used deserve to be acknowledge for their work (and the help they gave you).
Referencing "appropriately" is all about acknowledging when and where you have used someone's work to support your own. This is what saves you from plagiarism.
Referencing "well" is all about using the right style. This is what saves you from losing marks.
The short answer is: Carefully.
You need to:
You reference the people responsible for the source you read. It doesn't matter where they got their information from (although you may be interested in following their references to find out more) - you just reference the work in front of you.
For example, if you were reading a journal article written by Smith, and he spent a lot of time talking about the theories created by Brown, you would use Smith in your reference list. Normally, you would only use Brown if you actually found Brown's book and read it for yourself.
There is an exception to this. If you are quoting Brown, but the only place you have read that quote is in Smith's work, then this is a secondary citation. Each style has it's own way for showing a secondary citation, so you should check the guide for that style.
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