Using references in the master's thesis

Why do we use references

You cannot expect to find a topic for your theses where there is no existing knowledge to build upon. To write a good thesis you thus have to make good use of existing knowledge. On the other hand it should be clear what is your contribution, and what is existing knowledge, so you have to tell the reader the source of a claim you make, a method you use or a model you adopt.

What kind of sources to use

It is possible to defend almost any position using inappropriate methods, being ignorant to existing contradictory studies and using sloppy logic. Such weak arguments will be impossible to detect for non-experts. Papers published in peer-reviewed journals are less likely to have such deficiencies, since they are read and evaluated by independent experts. Good publishers and important institutions also have a reputation to defend, and hence they make sure that products meet quality standards. While the system is not perfect, you should expect a quality difference between peer reviewed journals, books published by high prestige publishers and papers and reports published by well renowned institutions, compared to newspaper articles, reports from consultancy firms, or blogs.

In general, seek sources from the first group. You may use newspaper articles or reports from consultancy firms to motivate a question in your thesis, but do not use such sources to support the claims made in the thesis. (There may be exceptions to this rule, but make sure you have a strong argument to present to your supervisor if you make an exception.)

A group of sources that is harder to evaluate are unpublished papers and working papers. A professor may make a working paper available online before it is published. And often papers are published in working paper series before they are published in a journal. Working papers may have different names like Discussion papers or, at our department, Memorandum. If they are supported by well renowned universities and institutions, they should be considered as decent citations. Strand (1983), published at Stanford, is an example. Ask your supervisor if in doubt.

The Language of reference

While some of you speak other languages besides Norwegian and English, you should not refer to sources in these languages unless you have a very good reason. Sources should be available for the referees, who can be expected to read English or Norwegian only. Your reference list should be written in the same language as your thesis.  If this is English, but you refer to sources with titles in Norwegian or other languages, you should include an English translation of the title in partentheses in your reference list.  If the thesis is in Norwegian, translate to Norwegian.

Active and passive citing

There are two ways of citing, active and passive. In active citation, the cited work or its authors become an ordinary part of the sentence, as a noun, either as a subject, an object, an indirect object or a prepositional object. Two examples: Eriksen et al. (2011) studies experimentally the effect of tournaments on effort and risk taking. In Kobila (1991) we find the following proof... By contrast, a passive citation would look like this: There were many other papers published in the same issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Economics (e.g. Fiva and Kirkebøen (2011) or Pesola (2011)).

Note that I do not provide details about the title of the papers or the first name of the author, these details are provided in the reference list below. Note also that Eriksen et al. (2011) have three authors. With more than two authors, we use the abbreviation ”et al.” (in Norwegian, m.fl.). With only two authors, however, we write both like in Fiva and Kirkebøen (2011).

Above I cited journal articles, but sometimes the document has no personal author. While the economic outlook from Statistics Norway is authored by a group of people working at Statistics Norway, none of them are listed as authors, the outlook is presented as a document from the institution. In this case the institution will be treated as the author when we cite Statistics Norway (2006), similarly with reports from e.g. OECD. For NOU's (Norwegian Public Reports) we follow the Norwegian convention of putting a colon and report number after the year of publication, NOU (2000:18).  For publications from the Storting (the Norwegian parliament) we follow the convention of putting the session instead of the year, Meld. St. 21 (2010–2011). Forvaltningsloven (1967).  I referanselisten skal hele lovens navn med, og "sist endret (dato)".

Quotations and page numbers

"females can be incredibly mean and calculating" (de Waal, 2005, p. 158)
Note first that all quoting without quotation marks and references, is plagiarism. Extended quotation without clearly marking it as quotation makes your thesis unacceptable.

Did Franz de Waal, one of 100 most influential people in the world according to Times magazine, really make the claim above? Your work should be verifiable, any reader should be able to check. This quotation is from a book of 250 pages. Without page numbers it will be almost impossible to check. Page number should be included. (It is a real quote, but de Waal is discussing female chimpanzees.)

There are many other cases where page numbers are warranted. If a particular result, a particular model or a particular method is discussed over a few pages in a book of several hundred pages, a reader cannot easily find the discussion. In this case page numbers should be included.
Hint: If you fail to write down the page number the first time, you have to go through the 250 pages later to find at which page it was written. Thus, make sure to note the page number the first time.

How to write the reference list

See the reference list below for an example of how to set up a reference list. Note first the reference to Eriksen et al (2011).  Since the references are ordered alphabetically by the last name of the first author, we always state this first. Thus we write ”Eriksen, K.W.”, with the first name initials after the last name. (Observe also that particles like "von", "de", "de la", in front of the last name are considered part of the name also for the alphabetical ordering.) For the remaining authors we do not have to think about alphabetization, so we start with their initials. ” O. Kvaløy and T.E. Olsen”. You may also use full names, in this case: ” Eriksen, Kristoffer W., Ola Kvaløy and Trond E. Olsen”. If so, be consistent and use full names throughout the reference list.

For the rest of this reference, note that when referring the name of the article, it is not necessary to use quotation marks, though you may if you are consistent. Name of journal is then listed in italics, followed by volume number, issue number and page numbers, if applicable. In various journals and other publications you will find a variety of styles of reference lists, regarding the sequencing of the information, punctuation, fonts, etc.  The main requirement is to be consistent throughout.  Notice the sequence, fonts, capitalization, and punctuation used in our example at the end.

Note that Scandinavian Journal of Economics paginates continuously throughout the volumes. Eriksen et al (2011) is published in issue number 3 of volume 113, but as the pages 729-753 are only in issue 3, stated in paratheses. For Isachsen and Klovland (1982) the number is required. This is because the Norwegian journal ”Sosialøkonomen” starts at page number 1 within each number, thus there are many pages 11-13 within the same volume.

For books, like Johansen (1982) and de Waal (2005), the title of the book is in italic, then the city where the book is published and the publisher.  Note that there are no page numbers in the reference to de Waal (2005), page numbers are given in the text when we cite. On the other hand, the book is printed both in paperback and hardcover. The page numbers in text refer to the paperback edition, and hence this should be stated in the reference list.

For chapters in books, like Kobila (1999), the first part of the reference is similar to that of a journal paper, but rather than listing the journal and issue, we state the editors of the book, the title and publisher.

Finally, there are some sources where internet addresses are needed. Note that while you may find all the other references online, they are defined by journal or publisher. Internet addresses should not be provided. For Statistics Norway (2006) however, the internet address is needed. Note that content on the net may change, thus state when you accessed the site.

Note also that all citations in the text should refer to a reference in the reference list.

Further reading

For a more elaborate discussion of how to cite, see

For more examples se the discussion of the Harvard style. Note that, unlike the Harvard style, the recommendations below do not use quotation marks on the title of books or articles. But observe that there should nevertheless be quotation marks on titles of unpublished work, working papers, Memoranda, etc.


de Waal, F. (2005): Our Inner Ape, paperback edition, New York: Riverhead Books.

Eriksen, K. W., O. Kvaløy and T.E. Olsen (2011): Tournaments with Prize-setting Agents, Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 113 (3), 729-753

Isachsen, A.J. and J.T. Klovland (1982): Pengemengde og inflasjon, hvordan gikk det? (In Norwegian, Money and inflation, what happened?) Sosialøkonomen 36 (1),  11-13

Johansen, L. (1982): Kriser og beslutningssystemer i samfunnsøkonomien (In Norwegian, Crisis and decision system in economics.), Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Kobila, T.Ø. (1991): Partial investment under uncertainty, In D. Lund and B. Øksendal (eds.) Stochastic Models and Option Values. Application to Resources, Environment and Investment Problems. Amsterdam: North Holland.

OECD (2005): Long-term Care for Older People, Paris: OECD.

Statistics Norway (2006): “Vekst i fastlandsøkonomien fortsetter”, (In Norwegain. “Continued growth in the mainland economy”),, accessed 24/4-2006.

Strand, J. (1983): "Structure and efficiency of reputational labor contracts", Stanford Workshop on Factor Markets, Research Paper No. 46

Published May 27, 2016 12:56 PM - Last modified Jan. 31, 2018 10:43 AM