How Many References Should a Research Paper Have?

What is referencing?

Referencing can be termed as the act of acknowledging or recognizing the sources you derived your ideas from when writing any academic work.


Many people involve themselves in this act intentionally and unintentionally. Plagiarism is taking one’s writing or ideas and claiming them as yours without proper acknowledgement. Poor organization and time management can be a major factor in this act. To avoid being an ‘academic theft’, one needs to decline from the habit of stealing people’s ideas (plagiarism) without giving them the credit they deserve, so this is where referencing comes in.

Why is referencing important?

When it comes to research writing be it a journal, article, review papers, projects, thesis etc referencing is an important factor one should never neglect. References help us acknowledge the contributions of other writers and researchers in our field of study.

Regarding the right number of references, just as there are two sides to a coin, there are good and bad reasons why one should use as many as possible references. Let’s take a quick look at the disadvantages.

Flaws of having too many references

  • A major disadvantage of having too many references is that it may hinder the flow of the paper. Secondly, it may show that you are not very well versed in your field of research and have to rely on an overwhelming number of citations.
  • It sends a signal that your work is not very interesting.
  • It puts your work at risk, making other reviewers overly critical of your work.
  • You tend to flood your work with too many ideas.
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Yes, referencing is a way of giving credit to writers from whom you have borrowed words and ideas. However, endeavor not to give too much credit so your hard work wouldn’t have to suffer for it.

Benefits of too many references

The good side to having many references is stated below, It:

  • Enables your readers/reviewers to consult the original articles or sources.
  • Helps identify the salient points when you quote the original.
  • Shows readers the scope and depth of your reading.
  • Incorporates information by evaluating, comparing and contrasting it to show understanding.
  • Relates to other research that leads up to your study.
  • Helps you take a side to a scholarly argument objectively.

How many references is enough?

Having compared both sides of the coin, we conclude that the number of references that should be used in a research paper depends on the relevant literature available in a particular field of research. So, do not go with less and too much either. Let there be a balance in your choice. Just cite about enough sources that are necessary for your paper.

There are no specific ranges that are seen as standard. The number of references also depends on the kind of research you’re undertaking, it may be a journal, an article, a thesis or a review paper.

Overall, do not let your scholarly contribution be drowned in the sea of references.

Do you need help with your referencing? Speak with a consultant.


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