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How to Number the Right Sources in a PhD Dissertation

written by: William Springer•edited by: SForsyth•updated: 6/29/2011

Hate figuring out how to cite sources? Detest making up a bibliography? Read on for tips on how to make it easier, and some software that can do it all for you.

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    Sources and Citations

    The most challenging aspect of doing a PhD is unquestionably the dissertation. Even after the research is done, many students struggle with a far more mundane matter: correctly citing their sources. As this is of particular importance in academia, failing to cite sources correctly can lead to the failure of the PhD.

    While there are a number of different styles, and each university and department may have its own preferred style for you to use, the constant is that every style can be a real pain for someone not particularly familiar with it (in other words, everyone who isn't an English major) to get everything right. How do you number sources in the phd dissertation? How should authors be listed? How to do the in-line citations? While it's impossible to give a general guideline due to how widely styles vary, there are some tips that can make things a lot easier for you.

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    Keeping Records

    One of the major hassles is figuring out exactly where each piece of information you cite originally came from; when taking notes, it's good to get in the habit of writing down not just the author, but the paper and page number where you found the information. Aside from helping with citations, this makes it much easier to go back and confirm or clarify something later on.

    In these days of Internet research, you can generally download a full citation record (usually in BibTeX format) that contains all the information you need to find an article again. One simple way to organize these is to put them in order alphabetically by the first author; this seems to work as well as anything else. (Of course, if you want to be more complex, you can put them into a database and avoid the whole sorting issue altogether).

    When you're actually writing your paper, you'll generally want your bibliography to be ordered as above, alphabetically by first author. If you're using a style that requires you to number your sources, this can be a real pain as you need to get all of them, then go through and put in numbers; additionally, adding a new source could require renumbering everything that comes after it! Fortunately, there is software available to do this for you.

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    Software to Number Sources (in your PhD Dissertation)

    Among scientists and engineers, the most popular software for writing papers is unquestionably LaTeX (pronounced lay-tek). Rather than the WYSIWYG model popular with most word processors today, this is all text, and often bears more resemblance to a programming language than a traditional word processor. Indeed, it can be most closely related to the HTML/CSS dichotomy in website design, where content and style are handled separately. With LaTeX, the writer concentrates on the content and structure of the document, and the software decides on the layout; this tends to lead to better-organized documents. One nice feature is using BibTeX to organize your citations for you; when a citation is needed, a reference to that citation is simply inserted. When the document is compiled, the software goes through and replaces your references with citations in the correct form, as well as automatically generating the complete bibliography. Even nicer: not only do you not need to know anything about the style you're using, provided you have correct definition files, but you can change to a completely different style simply by switching definition files at the top of your document!

    LaTeX is not the only program to take advantage of this, however; the BibTeX for Word add-on, for example, gives Word many of the same capabilities.