Essay writing in Human Rights

Because Human Rights is a multi-disciplinary area of study, you can get useful ideas for how to write well by looking at a number of different disciplines, with politics and philosophy probably being the most central. Below we provide some links to websites that you might find useful, but these are by no means exhaustive.

Research Resources on the Web

Referencing and Citation

If you are using someone else’s work – from a book, an article or a website – you must acknowledge the author and the publishing details. Providing references to a passage makes it possible for readers to follow up the sources of the ideas discussed in that piece of writing and, if necessary, place them in a wider context or check the interpretation of the sources used. All sources should be acknowledged, including those from which quotations are taken and those which are paraphrased. For Human Rights, we are not particularly fussy about which type of reference system you use, as long as it is one which is widely known and you apply it consistently.

Below, we illustrate one system that would be a good choice: the Harvard.

For further useful information see Monash Library’s guide to the Harvard system.

Examples of the Harvard system in use

References in the text

All references to books, articles, and other sources are to be identified at an appropriate point in the text by name of author, year of publication, and page number (within parentheses). Someexamples illustrating different situations are provided below.

  • Reference to an individual author’s general argument should be in the form of ‘Clarke (1996) argues that …’.
  • Reference to more than one author should be in the form of ‘various authors have argued that … (Marcus 1987; Clarke 1996)’.
  • Reference to specific page number(s) should be in the form of ‘Clarke (1996: 124) suggests that …’.

More specifically:

(a) Where the author’s name is in your text it should be followed immediately by the year of publication and page reference:

Tasioulas (2002: 84) has argued that Rawls assumes an unacceptably thin list of human rights.

(b) Where the author’s name is not in your text, insert in brackets, at an appropriate point immediately following the quotation, paraphrase or reference, the family name(s), year of publication, and the page number:

Many writers have argued that the UDHR is hopelessly parochial (Narveson 2002: 128-9).

(c) Where two authors are involved cite both family names. Where more than two authors are involved, cite the family name of the first author followed by et al.:

May et al.(1996: 9).

(d) Separate multiple citations by semicolons:

Several recent writers have argued that cultural affiliation is not relevant to determining the content of human rights (Pogge 1986; Beitz 1990).

(e) Where you are referring to more than one source published by an author in the same year, use letters (a, b, etc.) to distinguish between them:

Walzer (1984a, 1984b)

(f) When referring to an author quoted or referred to in another text, give date and page numbers from the text you have consulted, for example:

(Smith in Bloggs 2002: 127)

h) When referring to a paper from a collection of papers, use the author’s name to identify the source, e.g. Pogge’s paper in the book edited by Chatterjee should be written as shown below.

Pogge (1997)


Chatterjee (1997)

Sometimes when using a direct quote the exact author’s words will not ‘fit’ grammatically into your sentence, or else you may wish to omit some of their words. In this case you need to use three dots … to denote an omission of words or square brackets [ ] to denote the insertion of some of your own words into the sentence.

For example:

Walzer (1980: 221) argues that communities have a right to political self-determination. “The idea of communal integrity derives … from the rights of contemporary men and women…”

He admits that “sometimes [however] this instrument [namely the government] is turned against its citizens”.

Reference list

The reference list, located at the end of the essay, should list alphabetically, by author’s family name, all references cited in the text. Do not include references which you have read but not used. Generally speaking the following conventions should be followed:


Author’s surname, initial (year published), Title of Book. Place published, publishing company.

Book Chapter/Paper in Edited Collection

Author’s surname, initial (year published), ‘title of chapter/paper’, in editor’s surname, initial, edited Title of Book. Place published, publishing company. page(s).

Journal Article

Author’s surname, initial (year published), ‘title of article’. Title of Journal, volume number, month. pages(s).

Newspaper Article

Author’s surname, initial,’title of article’. Name of Newspaper, date and year, page(s).

Unit Guides, Unit Readers, Lecture Notes

Previously published papers:

When you refer to articles from the Unit Reader treat the Reader articles as if they were book or journal articles. In your citations refer to the page numbers from the Reader, not the original page numbers (unless you have independently consulted the original). In the reference list or bibliography use the bibliographical details as quoted in the Reader. For example:

Walzer, M. (1980). The moral standing of states. Philosophy and Public Affairs 9: 209-29; reprinted in Ethics of Global Conflict Study Guide, Monash, 2001: 49-56.

Notes from Study Guides:

Barclay, L. (ed.) (2012). Poverty, Ecology, and International Justice Study Guide, Monash: 60-61.

Internet sources

You need to identify the source of material obtained from the internet as you would from a monograph or journal source. For in-text referencing you need to identify the author and date (if known) e.g. (Townsend, 1996). Note that we recommend you do not use websites which do not give the name/s of the author/s.

In your reference list the full details of the author and the date should be provided followed by the title of the article and the URL, that is the internet address at which the sources can be located along with the date of publication and the date you accessed the information.

Format: Author’s last name, first name. (document date or date of last revision [if different from access date]) ‘Title of Document.’ Title of complete work [if applicable]. Version or file number [if applicable]. Protocol and address, access path or directories (date of access).

For example:

Burka, Lauren P. (1993) ‘A Hypertext History of Multi-User Dimensions’, MUD History. (accessed 2 Aug. 1996).

Walker, Janice R. (April 1995) ‘COS-Humanities Style: MLA-Style Citations of Electronic Sources’, The Columbia Guide to On-line Style. (accessed 10 March 1996).