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Following on in this mini-series of common errors in extended essays: one of the ways in which IBDP extended essay candidates drop marks for  Criterion I: Formal Presentation (Criterion D: Presentation from 2018) is inconsistency in the formatting of references.

IB examiners are instructed that consistency and completeness of references is more important than notions of accuracy, which is good. Given that students are free to use any referencing style that they wish, it is not possible for an examiner to declare that this or that reference is recorded inaccurately, not according to style guide.

But the criterion requires that references are consistently formatted within the list itself. If the reference list is something like this:

Carrière, Yves, Laurent Martel, Jacques Légaré and Jean-François Picard. 2016. “The contribution of immigration to the size and ethnocultural diversity of future cohorts of seniors”. Insights on Canadian Society. March. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 75-006-X.

Hartley T, Lever C, Burgess N, O’Keefe J. 2014 Space in the brain: how the hippocampal formation supports spatial cognition. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 369: 20120510.

Szpunar, K.K., et al. Overcoming overconfidence in learning from video-recorded lectures: Implications of interpolated testing for online education. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (2014),

Trudy Granby (2005). Evidence-based prescribing [cite this article?]. Nurse Prescriber, 2, e25 doi:10.1017/S1467115805000258

Vermeulen N (2013) From Darwin to the Census of Marine Life: Marine Biology as Big Science. PLoS ONE 8(1): e54284. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054284

then there is gross inconsistency:

  • Most of these references record the titles in “Sentence case” but at least one uses “Title Case.”
  • Most record the title of the paper without extra punctuation, but at least one encloses the title in “inverted commas.”
  • Some use italics to record the journal title but others do not.
  • Most have the journal title in full. but at least one abbreviates the title.
  • The placement of the date in the reference, and the use of parentheses around the date differs.
  • Some use http:// in front of the web address (which in all these cases is a DOI but could equally be a URL) but some do not.
  • One reference uses no web address at all.
  • The use of periods (full-stops) after initials and dates varies from reference to reference.
  • Some use minimal punctutation.
  • Some use full names for authors, some use full names only for the surname, and  initials for given names.
  • For co-authors, some put given names (or initials) before the family name; others after.
  • One reference records the main author in given-name family-name order.
  • Some record all authors, though at least one uses et al after the first author’s name (and this in a paper with three authors; note too that the use of “et al” and the number of authors it stands for varies from guide to guide too).

It would be very easy to think up examples of inconsistent referencing for demonstration purposes, but all the references used here are genuine. They have all been copy-pasted from the actual papers, from “To cite this article: …” advice (see the screengrabs and links below). Clearly, different style guides are used for each of these papers. The inconsistency/-ies occur if they are presented as references to sources used for a single paper or essay, with no editing to make the journal’s suggestion consistent with the writer’s chosen referencing style.

Many extended essay students appear to do just this.  Maybe not as blatantly, there is usually more consistency in reference lists. Nevertheless, many essays include references which have probably been copy-pasted without checking for consistency.  Some may have used the “To cite this article: …” advice on the paper itself. Others may have copied directly from the paper into the fields of a reference generator (such as NoodleTools or EasyBib), ignoring any advice regarding punctuation, word order or similar. And others will have copied a URL or ISBN into an auto-reference generator (such as EasyBib) and again accepted the output without checking for consistency or for completeness.

Copy-pasting is quick. It is easy. And it could be wrong and/or inconsistent, if no check is made, if proof-reading is slack.

It could be very wrong.   Take another look at the reference for the Granby paper. It is not necessarily wrong to use given name before family name, even for a single author;  many reference styles do just this, though usually they are styles which record the references in number order, and the reference starts with the reference number.

Where this reference is surely inaccurate is the copy-paste-use of the recommended reference without noticing that it includes a parenthetical “[cite this article?]” as part of the title of the paper!

Teaching point/s

Proof-reading the reference list may be tedious because you are not reading for sense; you are reading for consistency of very small details. Nevertheless, (especially for extended essay students) it is worth doing as inconsistency leads to quickly-lost points for Presentation.

In particular:

  • Check punctuation in titles, either initial caps consistently or sentence-case consistently.
  • Check titles are in italics (if this is the style used).
  • Check for consistent use – or non-use – of parentheses, especially around dates and URLs.
  • Check for missing details and for correct placement of elements, especially when using an auto-citation generator.

Here are screengrabs and web addresses of the papers and articles used:






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