How to reference

Referencing: the basics

when you've finished this page, you will be able to...


Referencing: you know you have to do it, but it's a real chore. We will try to demystify the process and help you to feel more confident about referencing. We're going 'back to basics', so if you're confident about referencing, skip this bit.

Let's start with some definitions:


Appears in the text and alerts your readers to a reference; for example, (Smith and Jones 1997 ), or Bloggs (2003), or Tiger and Fox [1]. Citations often take the form of surnames and dates, or numbers.


A record of all the information your readers will need to find the source for themselves; for example: Smith, A. (2003). Referencing is your friend. Oxford. Oxford University Press.


A full list of all the references you have used to research and write your assignment. Can include sources that are not referenced in the text.

Reference list:

A full list of the references that are cited in your text. Should not include anything that is not cited.

Referencing can be stressful because, as you are probably aware, universities take a very Dim View of plagiarism. Trying to pass off the work of others as your own can lead to a mark of zero or, in extreme cases, lead to you being thrown out of university.

Why bother with correct referencing?

Apart from the obvious reason that if you're caught you'll be in big trouble, why worry about referencing? You may be thinking “won't it look more impressive if they think I came up with these ideas?”, but always remember, your tutors are not silly (generally); they are experts in their fields and will know what's been written and who wrote it. You are very unlikely to 'pull the wool over their eyes', so don't try. It's also very bad manners to try to pass-off someone else's ideas as your own.

Referencing is considered important at university because the academic style of writing requires you to respond to the ideas and writing of other people. The skill lies in how well you can understand and respond to other people's work.

Referencing your source material also allows your readers to find your sources and read them for themselves, which is very important in the academic world.

Recommended Further Reading

When do I need to reference?

Whenever you use someone else's ideas in your text. Even if you have just used someone's work to guide what you have written, you still need to acknowledge this in your references. Obviously direct quotations need to be referenced. Changing the wording of your source doesn't prevent you from having to reference: paraphrased or summarised sources still need referencing. Statistics, facts, examples from other people's work, diagrams, images and photographs all need referencing too.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is passing off other people's work as your own: it is intellectual theft. Plagiarism can be obvious: 'cutting and pasting' work, copying word-for-word, or buying an essay written by someone else, or it can be more subtle: using someone else's ideas without acknowledging where they came from. Both forms of plagiarism are equally serious.

I'm scared! How do I avoid plagiarising?

You're right to take plagiarism seriously, you can bet your university will. But don't worry, there are ways you can ensure that you are not plagiarising. Follow the tips below and relax.

Warning! Ignorance is no defence: accidental plagiarism is still a punishable offence.

Activity: referencing quiz - 5 minutes

The business of referencing can be confusing, but there are a few things that are fairly straightforward to remember. If you can master the basics, you can check more complex issues with your tutor or a librarian.

Try the referencing quiz to see how much you know about referencing. It will help to remind you of the basics.

1. Read through the list of statements about referencing in the table below.

1.Decide whether each statement is true or false.

True False
Information on the internet is 'free'. Anyone can use it without having to reference it.    
As long as I use speech marks, I don't have to say where the quotation is from.    
I can copy pictures/diagrams/photos without referencing them.    
If I summarise other people's ideas, I still need to reference them.    
If I paraphrase or rewrite the information, I don't need to reference it.    
Some information is 'common knowledge', so it doesn't need to be referenced.    
I must never reference work I have not read.    
Statistics don't need to be referenced.    
If I cite someone once, I can use their ideas later without needing to cite them again.    
Plagiarism is copying published work; I can copy my mate's work because it's not been published.    
How did you do?

When you've made your decisions, click below to reveal the answers.

Now you should have a better idea of when and where you need to reference. The next few pages will help you perfect your referencing technique

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