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Professional Ethics and the laws of copyright require that you acknowledge your reliance on other people’s ideas whether you quote their words or use your own. The conventions for citing sources differ extensively from journal to journal, editor to editor, publisher to publisher, and discipline to discipline. In electronics-based engineering fields, for example, the traditional referencing conventions are those sanctioned by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).


In this approach, all references to a single source are followed by the same number, and the full reference is given in a numbered list at the end of the document. Unfortunately, this system was a major drawback for writers prior to the widespread use of word processors because every time they added, deleted, or reordered sources, they had to change the numbering system and reorder and renumber the reference list. More recently, of course, this problem has been resolved as the references can simply be treated as a type of endnotes when word processing.


Another, perhaps more important, drawback is for the reader who must check the reference list to discover the authority being cited. Because the IEEE convention was designed neither for the writer nor the reader, but to save space in the journal, it is not the best choice for reports, theses, or project documents.


For this reason, unless a supervisor requests otherwise, theses can generally use the more practical and user-friendly author-date system which is a general set of conventions widely used in the pure, applied, and social sciences. In this system, sources are cited by author and date (in parentheses within the text) and an alphabetically ordered reference list is provided at the end of the report.

The following outlines some issues to consider when using the author-date system. For a complete discussion of referencing conventions, please consult Strategies for Engineering Communication (Whitmore and Stevenson, 2002, John Wiley and Sons).

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