How Many References Should I have in an Essay?

Some teachers provide suggested guidelines for how many sources they want to see cited needed in an essay. If this is the case, students should follow this strictly. If teachers haven’t mentioned anything specifically, students should aim to hit around 6-8 references for every 1,000 words of content. This works to about 1 reference for every 200 words or roughly about 1 reference in each paragraph.

However, this is a general rule and should be considered the bare minimum. We’re not saying that every single paragraph of your assignment should have at least 1 reference. Instead, you need to consider the focus of references based on the subsection of the paper. It is important that you do not stuff in your references all in one place. You shouldn’t also make a conscious effort spread them throughout every section of your paper either. You should add in references organically where it would be needed by putting yourself in the shoes of the reader.

For instance, the literature review section is almost always going to need a higher focus on references. This is because the aim of this section is to establish existing ideas within your chosen topic. This in turn requires citations to the existing sources.

On the other hand, the findings, discussions, and conclusion sections are only going to need a moderate focus on references. These sections require you to make your own inferences based on the material you have researched. You should have partially covered the theoretical background for these in the previous sections. Hence there is a relatively lower need to cite sources here unless you are trying to further support your own findings and conclusions.

As we have mentioned in our guide on how to make introduction and conclusions for assignments, the conclusion section must not have new information that you haven’t covered (even if just partially) in the other sections. Instead, you should use this section to go over the key points to emphasize their implications further. In other words, you should not have any external references in the conclusions section.

Can you use too many references in an essay?

too many references in an essay

Yes, having an excessive amount of references in-text dilutes the quality of your paper. Doing this is going to make your paper seem like a very long literature review. Instead, your professors want to see that you have read through existing literature and engaged with it to form your own ideas. We cover in this some detail in our guides on how to prepare a literature review and how to critically analyze information.

Having said that, it is generally better to have too many references as compared to too few sources cited. While both approaches are not ideal, in case of over-citing with proper interlinking of the points from different sources), it shows that you have taken the effort to look up multiple sources. So, while you would have fewer original ideas in this case, the actual content should be of a high quality.

On the other hand, having too few references gives the impression that you probably wrote the paper at the last minute. When we don’t rely on enough external sources, we are likely to end up with generic statements or going off on a tangent.

So, to get an idea of how many citations is too many, you should ask yourself the question of whether you have been able to include enough original content of your own as well. If you’re dealing with a topic which has multiple viewpoints with arguments and counterarguments for each, then it is fine to even have even two or three references clustered together in consecutive sentences. However, just make sure that you follow up these consecutive referenced sentences with what you have inferred from them.

How many times can you cite one source?

You can cite the same source multiple times, as long as you do it the right way, without making it seem like you have relied too heavily on the same source. Teachers expect to see that you have tried to explore different viewpoints on an issue. Simply citing the same sources over and over could make you susceptible to the same biases of those authors.

How do you reference the same author multiple times?

If you’re following the standard Chicago style, when citing the same source consecutively, the use of the word ‘Ibid’ is typically recommended. This word comes from the Latin word ‘ibidem’ which conveys the meaning of ‘in the same place’.

Example: Every industry is characterized by certain factors like structure, economics, or technical aspects which influence the competitive landscape of that industry (Porter, 1979, 138). Companies must ensure to take their respective industry environments into consideration during strategic planning (Ibid).

However, it is worth noting that the Chicago 17th Edition does not favor the use of ‘Ibid’ and instead recommends shortened citations.

Other referencing styles like Harvard and MLA do not recommend the use of ‘Ibid’ and instead encourage shortened references instead. In the APA style, there is no specific recommendation to use ‘Ibid’ either. If you’re following one of these three referencing styles, then you don’t necessarily have to repeat the in-text reference for the source in each sentence. You just need to make it clear that you’re referencing the same source again.

Example: Porter (1979) mentions that every industry is characterized by certain factors like structure, economics, or technical aspects which influence the competitive landscape of that industry. He further explains that companies must ensure to take their respective industry environments into consideration during strategic planning.

Should Ibid be italicized?

The general consensus in academic circles at present is that foreign words which are used commonly do not need to be italicized. This includes Latin words like ibid., et al., passim, fait accompli and de facto, so you do not need to italicize these words.

Is there a comma after Ibid?

You should follow up the word ‘Ibid’ with a comma and include the page number if you have to be referencing different pages of the same source. If not, then there’s no need to have a comma after Ibid.

Example: Every industry is characterized by certain factors like structure, economics, or technical aspects which influence the competitive landscape of that industry (Porter, 1979, 138). After studying these competitive forces, companies can formulate suitable strategies that can make the most of their environmental factors (Ibid, 143).

Can you have two citations in one sentence?

Yes, you can have two or more citations in one sentence. However, if you if do this, take care to phrase the sentence properly. To avoid making the sentence too long, you can break up the citations as shown below. Alternatively, you can potentially combine the references in parentheses as explained in the next section.

Example: Factors like structure, economics, or technical aspects influence the competitive landscape of industries (Porter, 1979) and the success of strategies of companies is based on such industry characteristics (Nandakumar, Ghobadian and O'Regan, 2010).

How do you cite two or more references within the same parentheses?

If you want to cite multiple references within the same parentheses, you should separate them by using a semi colon (;) in between. This is shown in the following example in which two closely related points from different sources are combined together.

Example: The competitive landscape of industries is influenced by factors such as structure, economics, or technical aspects influence and the combination of these factors can impact the success of business strategies (Porter, 1979; Nandakumar, Ghobadian and O'Regan, 2010).

Calculator for number of References Needed

Here’s a calculator to get a ballpark estimate of the number and type of references which you need for your assignment. Please follow the instructions below to get an idea of how to use this calculator.


Nandakumar, M. K., Ghobadian, A., & O’Regan, N. (2010). Business‐level strategy and performance: The moderating effects of environment and structure. Management Decision. 48(6), 907-939.

Porter, M. E. (1979). How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy. Harvard Business Review [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 14 November 2021]

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