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Exactly, How Many Sources Should You Include in a Research Paper?

If you are writing a research paper, you have to mention sources that you worked with. Your words will have more sense if they have proven scientific grounds. That’s why, mentioning those books, papers, and articles that served as a base for writing your college research paper is a must.

However, only a few scholars know the rules of writing a reference list and including information about the used sources. An average student has too many questions about writing a page with references. And one of the most common questions is about the number of references and citations that shall be included in a research paper.

There are many articles about the issue, however, they don’t answer the question correctly. Some writing services say that the more references you cite, the more impressive your research paper will appear. This is absolutely not correct and may lead to many misunderstandings. Moreover, the famous ‘Quality over quantity’ rule works for your list of references as well.

Another harmful advice that you can find on the internet is not to pay attention to the number of sources your research paper includes. Providing too little sources or using them incorrectly may make your teacher think that your research was not well organized and the data you use to support your statements maybe not correct. This is why sometimes it’s even better to order a custom research paper at WriteAnyPapers, which will guarantee you the highest mark.

More exact and detailed guidelines will help you to find an answer to your question. However, the information may appear too complicated at first glance, that’s why we decided to explain some important issues and to include useful expert tips so you can understand the guidelines better.

The importance of references in a research paper

Before speaking about the number of included sources, we would like to explain why references are important. Unfortunately, students often think that a list of references is nothing but a formality, when in fact it’s a very crucial part of a writing paper.

There are several reasons to be more attentive and inspired, working with the reference lists:

    1. References help to evaluate your work

The number of references shows how many sources you used to write your research paper and what kind of sources they are. It’s sometimes upsetting to see that a student used one or two articles only for making conclusions and writing an essay.

    1. References help to continue and develop your research

When you work with a topic and learn more information about it, you may choose it later for a more complex writing work like coursework or dissertation. In this case, references will help you to refresh the memories about the data you worked with.

    1. References help to know your research is reliable

Writing a research paper, you can make a real discovery. However, any new information shall be grounded and checked. Your teacher may want to know what your conclusions are based on. A proper list of references that includes only trustworthy information will help to understand which information was used for your research and what led you to new discoveries.

    1. References help to understand your writing better

Your writing work can be interesting to someone whose professional field differs from yours or who knows less about the subject. If your reader feels that your writing is very interesting, however, some additional information is needed, references will help to understand which articles or books can explain more about the topic.

    1. References allow you to use someone’s ideas legally

The initial role of references is to use scientific articles of other authors without violating their rights. If people copy or paraphrase information from published articles without proper citing and try to possess the facts as your own ideas, it’s called plagiarism and is strictly forbidden.

In any case, a list of references in APA or MLA is more than a formality, but an important and very useful part of any university work. When you understand the real value of such information, you can realize how crucial including the correct number of references is.

Factors influencing the number of references you use

Why is there no clear answer about the number of references to include in your research paper? Just because the number will differ according to several factors and requirements for your research paper. It’s impossible to recommend one number of references for all writing works. That’s why we decided to explain the main criteria that determine the approximate number of references.

  1. The purpose of your research writing. If you write a literature review, narrative essay, book critique or analytical review the number of references will differ in each case. Working with different research papers you have to use a different amount of sources to reach the aim you follow. If sometimes, you need only a few articles to make a conclusion and to develop an understanding of the topic, in other cases, you need to use lots of sources of information.
  2. The amount of available information. Sometimes high school students choose less studied topics that are difficult to write about. Such a topic can be connected to a relatively new field of science, its understudied themes or innovative phenomena. In this case, you have to deal with a very limited number of articles that become base for your work. If the number of references you provide for your research paper is critically small, check the list of references that are used for your information source and widen your research.
  3. The limits and requirements. While you won’t find a universal answer to your question about the number of references for your writings, your teacher may give you very clear advice. Some professors prefer to give strict guidelines for writing each specific paper. Knowing the purpose of your writing, its size, and topic, your teacher may give you an approximate number of references it shall include. Moreover, the number of references can be limited if you are going to send your paper to a scientific journal.
  4. The length of your essay. If your research paper is 3 pages long, it’s obvious that you use fewer information sources than when you get a task to write 15 pages long paper. The more pages you write and the more important points you include in your thesis, the more references you shall provide.

What is the perfect number of references in your research paper?

There is no clear recommendation about the number of sources to include in a reference list; however, there are statistics that can show us how many references are included in successfully written essays and research papers. Below we present some statistics data collected during the two last decades.

1. Maximal number of references per article

According to statistics, the average number of references that students include in their papers is growing. It can be connected with the development of free online libraries and lots of internet sites that provide useful information.

The highest average reference number differs greatly depending on the sphere of study it belongs to. For example, ecology research paper references include up to 58 points, while math and closely related topics have up to 28 information sources mentioned in the list. Economics has 32 or fewer references.

2. Per page average number of sources

Another effective way to count a number of references is counting the average number of sources per page. In this case, the recommended number of information sources to use will depend on both the scientific field and the size of your essay.

For example, an average number of sources per paper for research paper on ecology topics is 6. Writing math papers student’s use less than one reference per page, while writing good economy-related papers needs 1-2 references per page.

3. The average number of sources for different scientific spheres

A number of sources you use for a research paper depending on the sphere of science you deal with. Statistics show that the number of references depends on the themes you choose for your essay.

  • Humanitarian studies (arts, literature, sociology, astronomy, etc.) often have many references. The average number is around 55-58 references.
  • Engineering, design, geometry, and math papers have 28-30 references per an essay or article.
  • Medicine, planetary study, essays on topics that are connected to nature and earth science have around 8-17 references on average.
  • Research papers on biochemistry, genetics, molecular studies have around 50 references.

Shall you rely on the number of references provided by statistics? Surely, no. However, knowing the approximate number of references makes it easier to decide on the optimum range of informational sources that shall be used for your academic papers. We also advise you to use our list of unique research paper ideas, if you can’t find a good topic for your research paper.

Additional tips on using references in your research paper

We hope that all the tips and explanations we provided above will help you to decide on the number of references you use for each research paper. However, we also want to remind you that the number of references is not the only thing you shall pay attention to when setting your list of information sources. Our writing help experts prepared some useful recommendations that will help you to write your references correctly and easily.

1. Do not repeat the information

You may think that the advice is too simple, however, many students double the information in the list of references. Sometimes it happens because the same article can be cited differently in different journals, bibliography lists or on the internet. Try to avoid repeating, paying extra attention to the names of articles you use.

2. Don’t ignore sources with opposite statements

If you are trying to prove your idea to readers, you can use not only those sources that promote the idea you support. It’s ok to show that there are various points of view on a described subject. A talented author creates a feeling of a discussion to intrigue readers and to keep their interest.

3. Cite references in your text

It’s not enough to include the sources you used in reference lists without explanation of what and how you used it from the mentioned articles. Always mention the information you relied on when explaining your statements or ideas.

4. Care about the quality of the information you use

The success of your essay, research paper or another relevant academic project often depends on the information you use for your research. That’s why it’s recommended to check whether all sources you use are trustworthy. For example, it’s preferable to rely on articles from scientific journals where far more literature sources are checked then on internet semi-scientific sites and platforms.

5. Cite sources in different parts of your research paper

Some students think that it’s important to use citing for the body part only. This is not true. You shall mention the sources of information if it’s used in any part of the academic writing, whether it’s research proposal thesis, body part or research paper introduction.

6. Avoid old articles

The scientific spheres are developing very fast and the articles that were written five or more years ago can be outdated. Paper writing experts recommend using not more than 15% of information taken from old sources. This number can be different if you write about some historical events or inventions or compare old and new methods in the sciences.

Effective research paper writing always requires lots of time and attention. However, any student can cope with the assignment after reading some useful tips and training strong research paper writing skills. Nevertheless, if you have a busy time or simply feel too worried thinking about your writing task, you can re-address your assignment to a writing service.

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