If you wait till the end of an essay to do your referencing, you’re an idiot

If anything, it’s just really inefficient


It’s surprising that the conversation surrounding the appropriate moment to insert one’s references in an essay is as divisive as it is, given how obvious the answer should be: always write them as you go.

“You alright mate, how’s  the essay going?”

“Yeah not too bad, done it actually.”

“Really? That was quick!”

“Yeah yeah I know, just gotta go and do the references now. Laters yeah?”

Sorry, what? What do you mean now? Who are you? Why on earth haven’t you been doing them as you go along? Adding your footnotes to a piece of written work after you’ve written the main body is a bizarre phenomenon. But so many people are still doing it.

The idea of a full 5,000 word piece (let alone a dissertation) sitting there on a screen without any annotation is just mad. We left those days behind us when we left school. What’s so wrong about a footnote? Why would you want to get through a whole essay, while telling yourself: “It’s fine, just get through this and you can go back and put in all those footnotes you decided to neglect”?

All these books, all those footnotes, all that wasted time

All these books, all those footnotes, all that wasted time

If you’re a humanities student, footnotes can add on at least 10 pages to your work. Besides, how do you know where they’ve come from? Get them out of the way and then when you’re forced to redrafting the whole thing, at least it’s easier.

Those who put their references in after an essay actually belong to one of two ends of the academic keenness spectrum. Think about it, on one end it must take some to-the-word planning to know when and where your footnotes are going to go in. I mean for these students their plans basically are their essays anyway. These are the people who are in the library at 9 because “it takes ages to put the footnotes in afterwards, there so many different types as well!” These people fear the footnote. Muppets. What if, having gone back to page one and reading through your essay, you find that the whole thing’s a dud, and all that planning was for nothing?

At the other end, there are those who have no respect for the significance of a footnote. They’re an afterthought, a chore in the eyes of these people, for whom the crucial part of their essay is having enough words that vaguely make sense before having to go through them again and add references.

They revel in their disregard for their subject, rocking up to the library in those pyjama bottoms which they think qualify for wearing in public just because they have elasticated ankles before asking you how the library catalogue works.At A-Level, they didn’t bother revising, they just rocked up to the exam hall then swanned off with three A*s. Thanks for helping endorse humanities, it’s not like everyone’s already taking the piss out of us, is it?

Working hard, hardly working

Working hard, hardly working

Those who write their references as they go, meanwhile, inhabit a lovely middle ground. To my mind there’s nothing more beautiful in essay writing than inserting that tiny little number one next to the end of the first sentence which warrants it. Doing references as you go allows for a more freewheeling, self-loving kind of essay writing.

If I was to stampede through my essay without checking my references, I’d feel like a lost 16-year-old again, instead of the lost 20-year-old I know myself to be. At least if you put the footnotes in the first time your only concern about the next few times you do a read-through is whether to keep them or cull them, as opposed to realising that half of them were surplus to requirements in the first place – or not even caring, you pyjama-clad idiot.