The Minimum Number of References in a Dissertation

Quality beats quantity when it comes to references included in your dissertation.
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Your dissertation reference list reflects your level of research done in preparation for your writing. While there is no set number of references to supply, there are some helpful guidelines you can follow to ensure you supply an adequately deep and developed list of sources. These tips, from including a broad range of sources to ensuring consistent documentation, can help you construct a well-developed and refined reference list that can make your final dissertation outcomes all the more impressive.

1 Exhibit Ample Knowledge of Prior Research

A key component of a dissertation is a section discussing the state of your research question, which is intended to summarize prior work closely related to your topic. This prior scholarship is an essential component to include in your dissertation references, as it reflects the extent to which you probed prior work in the development of your own, original research question. (See Reference 1, Page 3)

2 Show Depth and Range of Sources

Your dissertation references should also reflect a broad range of sources. For example, you should ensure that you are not providing sources only from one journal or from one scholar’s publications, as this might bias your work or undermine your conclusions.

3 Assess Source Reliability

Your sources should also be assessed for their validity and reliability. Internet sources, for example, unless coming from a reputable journal site or scholarship database, should be omitted, as should articles that are written with explicit bias. You should also cite only primary sources, meaning material taken directly from original documents, rather than secondary sources, which cite these original documents and thus run the risk of altering or misinterpreting the original writer’s meaning. (See Reference 2)

4 Reference Uniformity

Presenting a strong dissertation reference list also involves maintaining a uniform system of reference documentation, such as the American Psychological Association Method, the Chicago Manual of Style or the Modern Language Association Method. You must check as to which method is most accepted in your field -- for example, those working in the social sciences most commonly use the APA format, (See Reference 3) while humanities scholars prefer the Chicago Manual of Style (See Reference 4) -- and then maintain that style’s formatting throughout your writing, reference list and footnotes or endnotes, if applicable. (See Reference 5, Page 7)

5 Additional Considerations

Reviewing the reference list for previously published dissertations in your field can be beneficial, as it gives you both a sense of the scope of references included and access to new sources you might not have previously considered. These mined sources can both amplify your own reference list and contribute to the increasing depth of your scholarship.

Teresa J. Siskin has been a researcher, writer and editor since 2009. She holds a doctorate in art history.