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Why reference?

From reading academic articles and books, you should be familiar with the scholarly practice of making references in the text to other people's work and providing listings of relevant source material at the end of the text. Why is this done, and why should you adopt this approach in your own work? There are several reasons:

  • To enable someone reading the document to find the material you have referred to or consulted
  • To demonstrate your width of reading and knowledge about a subject
  • To support and/or develop points made in the text
  • To avoid accusations of plagiarism: using somebody else's work without acknowledging the fact and
  • Because you may be required to do so by your department


Citation: a reference made in the text to a source of information. This can be in the form of a direct quotation, summarising or paraphrasing.

References list: an organised listing of the works cited in the text, placed at the end of the document.

Bibliography: a full listing of all material consulted in relation to the research, including any source material not directly cited in the text, placed at the end of the document.

Referencing or citation style: refers to the way in which your references are presented within your document and in your bibliography/reference list. Most will fall into the following categories:

  • Author-date: In-text citations are indicated by the author surname (and often date of publishing) in brackets. A reference list at the end of the document is ordered alphabetically by author surname. Examples include Harvard and MLA
  • Numeric: In-text citations are indicated by consecutive numbers (usually in brackets or superscript). A reference list at the end of the document is ordered numerically to correspond with this. Examples include Vancouver and Nature
  • Footnotes: In-text citations are indicated by superscript numbers which correspond with footnotes at the bottom of each page. A bibliography at the end of the document is usually ordered alphabetically by author surname. Examples include Chicago and Oxford

It is therefore important that you are clear exactly what your department, tutor or publisher requires you to do. For more in-depth guidance, see our Plagiarism and Referencing tutorials on Moodle, or for a quick guide, see referencing styles.

Anatomy of a reference

In principle, most references will at least include the following elements:

Author Date Title Publication
Who wrote or created it? This might be an author, journalist, artist or institution. When was it published, put online or released? What is it called? Where did you find it? This might be a journal issue, book or web address.

Tips for referencing

  • Keep a careful record of the sources you use as you are doing your searching, reading and notetaking. You may wish to:
    • photocopy the inside pages of books you access
    • keep a list or spreadsheet
    • use a reference manager such as EndNote Online to help with this
  • Be consistent in the way you format your references. For example, if you choose to indicate page numbers with 'pg.', ensure you do so throughout
  • For some types of sources, particualrly those online, you may not find a template to follow in your in style guide. Adapting a template for a similar source will often suffice; the key is to include all the relevant details you can so that the source can be located by the reader and to be consistent
  • If you make direct references to your sources, or include a quotation, you will normally be expected to include a page reference. Make sure you note these as you go along
  • Check which style(s) your department or supervisor is happy for you to use before you proceed