Quick Reference

The Telstar Project is looking at how to integrate references to resources into a VLE, making it as easy as possible for students to access the referenced resources, while encouraging students (and teachers?) to adopt good practice in referencing and citations – e.g. Using an appropriate reference/citation style)

If you are immersed in the world of Higher education, and especially HE libraries, the above probably makes some kind of sense to you. However, as I have started to look at the problem I’ve realised that I’m not particularly consistent in the way I talk about references and resources, and that I sometimes want to make subtle distinctions between (what I see as) different types of references/resources. I want to try to establish some definitions, and air some of the distinctions I make in my own mind to see if they are really important, or whether I’m guilty of over complicating things.

To start with some definitions:


I started with a rather narrow view of a resource, but after discussion on Twitter I was easily persuaded that a ‘resource’ was essentially anything. The only caveat I’d add in this context is that you must be able to reference it – although I’m not sure if this is a necessary caveat (is there anything that can’t be referenced?). So my definition is this:

A resource is something that can be referenced.

In the context of teaching and learning materials common resources will be:

Books (print or electronic)
Journal articles (print or electronic)
Book Chapters (print or electronic)


I think my definition of a reference is relatively straightforward.

A Reference is a description of a resource to the extent that the resource could be discovered on the basis of the description.

Essentially a reference has to be enough for ‘the reader’ to be able to go and find the relevant resource.


I struggled a bit more with the definition of a citation. This was because I was actually trying to find a word for a different concept – something I’ll expand on below. This was clearly using the term citation in a way that wasn’t consistent with the common use. So, my current definition of a citation is:

A citation is an in-context pointer to a reference.

A citation would usually appear in a body of text where you might put a reference, but for the purposes of readability you simply put a pointer to a reference usually in a footnote or endnote to the text.

Other concepts

There is another distinction I find myself wanting to make, but I’m not sure if making these fine grained distinctions is useful or necessary – I’d be interested in comments on this concept:

Something that refers to a specific part (or aspect) of the thing that is referenced. A reference would tend to point at say a book or a chapter – would it be useful to have a term for when you refer to a specific part of a resource, when the reference points only at the general resource? If I directly quote from a resource, then I’m not just citing that resource, but a very specific bit of that resource. Does this make a difference?

A similar but slightly different thing is that there is a difference between wanting to point to a website as a general resource, and pointing to a website for the purposes of citation – in the latter case you would want to include the date that the website was accessed for the particular piece of information you are using.

Comments on the definitions, and any discussion of the latter points welcomed!

2 thoughts on “Quick Reference

  1. Nice definition of “resource” 😉 You may want to add video, images, audio, online slideshows etc. to the list of resource examples. On line non-written resources will become more important. And have you thought about Tweets?
    This also makes sense in the light of your remarks about referring to specific parts of a resource (a scene, a track, a slide, etc.). But I am not sure what the difference is with a citation for page in a book?
    I do not have much experience with citations nowadays. I don’t know what the rules are for this type of citations, if there are any.

  2. I don’t think in principal there is any difference between referencing a specific scene in a film, and a specific page in a book. However, what I do wonder is whether it is useful to differentiate between general references and the more specific. To take an example from the APA Guide at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/02/

    “If you are directly quoting from a work, you will need to include the author, year of publication, and the page number for the reference”

    “If you are paraphrasing an idea from another work, you only have to make reference to the author and year of publication in your in-text reference, but APA guidelines encourage you to also provide the page number (although it is not required.)”

    If a page number is quoted, then actually the citation is functioning as more than a simple pointer to the reference – it is actually adding extra metadata. If the page number is not quoted, then the citation is simply an in-context pointer to the reference.

    Are these important distinctions. My instinct is yes – we shouldn’t refer to these two different functions in the same way technically. However, I’m not sure what the implication of this is (in the context of the TELSTAR project anyway)

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