How Many References Should I Have – FreeEducator.com

It is common to have lots of sources within your essay. As long as the majority of your references are based on facts and/or events and are not just loaded with statistics, they will not cause a major problem. If your paper contains lots of facts and figures however, it is a good idea to have more. Remember, the more sources you have the better the quality of your paper will be, however it’s important that they are all relevant. In terms of when is the right time to include a source, it all depends on the nature of the research you are undertaking.












If you are researching a historic topic, as in history for example, a source for a detail from the period is a good idea to establish whether or not it is a fact. If you research a specific case and you do not have any specific details then you can skip this. If you don’t have specific information, then the absence of the fact should not impact on your argument. In conclusion, a good tip is to ask yourself whether a source is essential. If you have information but you do not need it, then it might be a good idea to leave it out.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you sure that the source is related to the topic?
  • Have you checked whether or not it is actually an accurate account of the event or occurrence?
  • What happens if you get the details wrong?
  • Does it allow you to help you answer the question or contest the answer you are given?

Whilst it is important to use some sources, in the end it is up to you to decide whether you need to include them or not. Some will be excluded entirely, whereas others can be included depending on the way they contribute to the topic. It’s important to remember to include your own questions throughout the writing process, as well as questions the reader may have.







Some students want to impress and go overboard with referencing. I have seen 2000 words essays with over 200 references. It seems harsh; normally I use around 5 to 10 for a short essay. However, if you have a particular subject that requires lots of references, it is better to include them all to make a strong case for your argument. After you have written a thorough essay, reflect on your thesis and, if necessary, seek outside help to revise it.


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Also, it also depends on the countries and universities. In the UK students expected to include more references than America. But in America you may be marked down for adding too much. It is a personal choice and the individual marking system should not be a reason to stop citing sources.

The following helpful reference guides are by no means exhaustive, but a good starting point.

Ask your professor

For college essays it also depends on the lecturers and professors. I have seen professors demanding over 20-25 references for 2000 words essays. I don’t think that is always fair. Some students, especially those who are not very clever, can add too much and detract from their work, which can be down to a lack of knowledge and research.




It would be best to ask your professor, how many references is ideal? This way they will guide you and they will give you a clear idea of how much can be used. Also, ask about previous essays who have secured high marks as samples. This will surely give you idea about your professor’s intent .

For longer essays which are more than 2500 words you should consider at least 20 references. Ideal would be more but you need to balance it. The more references you use, the better the chance of scoring higher for over 3000 words essays. When adding in extra references you can always consult, compare and decide which ones are essential.

I have also found that the younger students are often not aware of the proper way to cite information. This is another reason why it is so important to engage with your professor and find out how you can incorporate citations correctly. Ask your professor about this as well.

I hope this helps , but do feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments. Good luck.







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