Creating a Reference List for Your Thesis - When Should You Do It?Some students have asked me whether they should create the reference list before or after writing a thesis and the usual answer would be that reference lists are created after a thesis is written. In fact a list of references are decided and then put at the end of the document, thesis or paper and the actual writing of the references can be done after your thesis or paper is complete. However, I would recommend to students that they create the full reference list before writing a thesis and this will help them to be very sure of their research direction. Only when the reference lists are identified, the thesis can move on to the next stage of literature review and data collection. This process is detailed below.
Before writing your thesis you must decide on several things and this includes a plan, a list of resources you will use, the type of methodology you will apply and the expected results or outcomes that will help shape your thesis or research direction. You must also decide on the timelines and the reference list and the reference list must be decided before you actually write the thesis as the resource materials will have to be identified according to the list created for the original thesis. Thus a list is already created for resources that you will use for your thesis and this list is consulted during the first stage of thesis writing and this includes identifying the resources, the resource list and planning which resources will be used. It is always advisable to work with a resource list, although you might just search up your resources on a database and use these references instead of starting with a list of resources compiled and given by your supervisor.
Mostly all resources identified in the thesis project list will be used and once these resources are identified, these will be searched and referred to. All identified resources will be considered for secondary research, literature review and general analysis and the resources will be listed informally initially as all ideas or sentences, statements provided in the thesis will have to refer back to the resources. Thus the references will already be there, only listed either at the end of the document or in a separate document and this list of resources or references will be followed to draw up and look up the resources that will be finally used for the thesis.
The reference list is the starting point of a thesis and provides the direction in referencing the research. The reference list is created at the beginning but finally provided at the end , but the list actually guides research and shows what course of action will be followed and what resources will be used for the thesis. This is because the resources used for the research are primarily selected at the beginning of thesis and the list of resources is then used to guide the research process as secondary research materials or literature review are done as result of the reference list identified. The reference list is usually followed as the thesis moves in a certain direction and the reference list is used to identify the relevant resources and references for the topic studied.
After the reference list is used to identify and study the resources in question, the resources are summarized and critically analysed and used in the literature review and even introduction section of the thesis. All the references are used or summarized in a specific way and the thesis is started with these summarizations and analyses of the resources identified. These references are either books, references as in research papers, published news stories, websites, white papers or other documents that are used for all background research of the thesis or paper.
Once these books, papers, documents are identified, the right content has to be searched and included in the thesis. Especially the relevant points in the research topic concerned will be included in the thesis from these references or resources already identified.
The resources are thus first used in the literature review section and then the remaining parts of the paper. The identified resources which are already listed during the thesis planning or are listed and included later are all listed in the resources or reference list at the end of the thesis. Although it is debatable whether a reference list should be at the beginning or at the end, usually all citation and referencing styles focus on adding a reference list at the end of the thesis. The reference list is created to provide the author's name, book or paper title and publication year, publisher etc. All these details are usually added to the reference list and the list is formatted according to the citation style used for the research paper.
After you have added the references to the literature review and to the methodology and introduction sections, the next step following data analysis would be to use some of the secondary research collected to be part of the systematic review. The resource list is sometimes provided as footnotes, end notes or right at the end in a bibliography. The list is used for reference purposes only, although the researchers and supervisors can gauge the types of reading material and references for the study by checking the list of references. The quality of the thesis is also determined by the list of references used.
Once the references from the list that is determined early in the stages of thesis planning is identified, the selection of the references will be based on availability and the list will be used on google and other search engines, so that finally the list of resources will be completely searched from the internet, journal databases and other sources, and utilized for inclusion in the thesis. The references are usually taken from library catalogs, journal databases etc. and the articles are used for analysis and in some cases, even synthesis. Some theses use systematic reviews whereas some others use critical analyses for the approach towards research.