The Importance of Reference in Academic Writing


The Importance of Reference in Academic Writing


Referencing is an essential part of academic writing. Many people in higher education depend on ideas and research from other people to write papers and other academic materials. While these sources may support or contradict the ideas of the author, it is important to acknowledge their work and the source of these ideas. Failure to reference sources is considered plagiarism, which carries severe academic penalties. By following a few simple principles, plagiarism can be avoided. There are some exceptions to the referencing rule, but it is better to reference something than to not reference it.

Pluralist approaches to reference

If we are to consider references to be plural, then we have to accept the idea of pluralism, or that they may be more or less related. For example, we may consider a literary work to be a work of fiction and consider it a work of nonfiction. However, in order to evaluate whether a particular work of fiction is a work of fiction, we must examine the novel’s intention, mood, tone, and values in the context of its film adaptation.

One way of understanding pluralism is to compare it to a pluralist approach to political theory. Pluralism is a political theory that advocates acknowledging the diversity of people and groups. Pluralists include Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schleiermacher, G.W.F. Hegel, and William James, among others.

Causal theory

The classical descriptivism approach to reference claims that a description is always associated with a referential token. This approach is a form of intentionalism. It holds that when a speaker makes use of a referential token, he or she manifests the right mental state. Another alternative, character theory, claims that reference is always associated with a character or object. While both approaches rely on conventions, both have their limits.

One of the main weaknesses of this theory is that it cannot imply that names are causally determined. However, the original act of naming (also called dubbing or initial baptism) fixes the referent and ties subsequent uses of the name to the original act through a causal chain. The weaker versions of this position do not call themselves causal theories, but claim that certain events in the speaker’s causal history must be considered in assigning references to a speaker’s words.

Gricean approach to reference

The Gricean approach to reference contends that there is a finite set of sentences that speakers regularly use and whose meanings depend on their communicative intentions. These sentences are made up of constituent words that are associated with a particular meaning. The Gricean approach to reference argues that these outputs can be accessed easily by communicators.

Gail Stine articulated the Gricean approach to reference in 1978, but he first alluded to it as early as 1968. In the Gricean view, relevant intentions for fixing reference are those that aim to get the listener to recognize the referent object, or to act on that knowledge.


There is a wide range of views on intentionality in reference. Some hold that a work is always intentional, while others believe it is not. Both sides have their merits and disadvantages. Intentionalism in reference differs from anti-intentionalism, which advocates free interpretation. Intentionalism advocates consider the audience’s best guess about the author’s intention. They also consider biographical data.

A common objection to intentionalism is irony, which requires that the creator’s intention be known. In this case, the internal evidence of the work of art led the viewer to interpret it as ironic.

Narrow theory of reference

The narrow theory of reference challenges the conventional view of what constitutes content. According to this view, content consists of things with modal and epistemic properties, but the concept of reference is not an essential property of these things. Rather, it is an extra layer that sits on top of content.

While these three theories share a common theoretical framework, they differ in many ways. It is easier to understand them if we start from the theory of reference.

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