Skills Team

What is referencing and how do you do it?

 Contents


 What is referencing?

Referencing is acknowledging the sources of information (originated by another person) that you have used to help you write your essay, report or other piece of work.

In your work, you should use the existing knowledge of others to back up and provide evidence for your arguments. This makes your arguments stronger and gives them true academic value. The sources of information you use may include books, journal articles, newspapers, government publications, organisational reports, websites, videos, computer programs and so on.

 When must you use a reference in your work?

You MUST use a reference whenever you:

  • Quote directly from a source.
  • Paraphrase (put into your own words) someone else’s ideas. This is often a better alternative to using a direct quotation.
  • Use statistics or other pieces of specific information which are drawn from a source you have read, viewed or heard.
  • Use photographs, diagrams, illustrations or charts that you have not designed and created yourself. 

 Avoiding plagiarism

If you do not use a reference in the circumstances above or follow the conventions of referencing your work, you run the risk of committing the serious academic offence of plagiarism. Plagiarism is taking the work of others and passing it off as your own work (even unintentionally). This may ultimately result in failure or expulsion from the University. Don't panic though, it is easy to avoid if you follow the basic rules.

 How do you reference?

You reference using a referencing system.  This is a set of guidelines to show you what information is needed in a reference and how you should format it, both within your text and in your reference list at the end of the document. There are two common types of referencing system:

  1. Author-Date (e.g. Harvard, APA): Author surnames and date of publication are given in the text and an alphabetical reference list/bibliography is given at the end.
  2. Footnote-Bibliography (Chicago, OSCOLA): A superscript number in the text refers to footnotes found at the bottom of each page and an alphabetised reference list/bibliography is given at the end.

Your department will advise you on the appropriate style to use.

Back to top

 Golden rules

Whichever referencing system you use, there are some general golden rules which should be followed:

  • Be consistent – use only the guidelines provided and stick to them for all your work.

  • Follow the detail in your guidelines absolutely; for example, for punctuation, capitals and italics. If you do this inconsistently, you may lose marks. Referencing is all about attention to detail.

  • If the source of information you are referencing does not fit any of the examples in the guidelines, include enough information for your reader to find and check that source, in a format as near to the appropriate example as possible.


 Other resources

Indiana University plagiarism quiz - A short online quiz to help you understand what constitutes plagiarism.


 Related books and eBooks available in our university libraries

Back to top