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This is because rather than just saying "Jones (1999) claims that chicken theft is a significant issue in agricultural communities", you can say all that followed by, "I go further than Jones, showing why this is not just an issue in farming communities but in your own argument.So, you should reference an author even if you're going beyond what they've said.
When people ask how many references they ought to have, what they're really trying to ask is often "how much reading do I need to do?
"If that's the question you're asking, and you genuinely think that markers just go through your bibliography and count the number of sources as a heuristic for the quality of your grade, then I'm here to tell you that you're mistaken.
As the numbers go up, the amount of effort you need to put in to reading for it probably increases.
Ditto for how much the essay matters: if it's formative, you probably don't need to worry as much as if it makes up a significant chunk of your final grade.
Likewise, you don't need to add in a gratuitous number of references from different people saying the same thing.
The exception to the latter rule is if you're trying to demonstrate the multiplicity of work in an area.
With that said, let's say that you spend 10 hours reading in order to write a 2500 word essay. You could probably read a couple of books, maybe 10 articles in depth, or you could read 10-20 if you skimmed some and close-read others.
In addition, you're probably going to supplement that peer-reviewed material with some newspaper articles and grey literature, especially if you're trying to make a lot of fact-based claims or your essay has contemporary relevance.
Given that all the references are likely to come in the body of your essay, and that takes about 75% of the word count, then you're probably looking at one peer-reviewed reference for roughly every 200 words, based on a 2500 word essay.
I'm pretty comfortable with that as a figure, but I'm going to caveat it in the next paragraph. You should be critically engaging with the works that you cite.