How to reference

Writing citations and references

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Welcome to the amazing world of citations and references. If you've never had to reference before you might not be aware of the complexities involved. If you've tried referencing, you're probably used to encountering situations that leave you wondering “how do I reference a source that has no date?”, or perhaps “I have two different sources written by authors with the family name Smith, how do I cite them, so it's obvious which source is which?” , or even, “How do I reference a TV programme?”.

Referencing can be complicated and confusing, but fear not, we have compiled a list of 30 referencing frequently asked questions (FAQs) although some of them are not asked that frequently! You can use this list to get answers to all your referencing questions - bet you'll find answers to questions you didn't know even know you had.

Many of the FAQs deal with the Harvard referencing system (or author-date system), and if you need to use a different referencing style, you should ask your tutor or librarian for a style guide and advice on using this system. However, many of the answers to these FAQs concern good referencing technique, and this is the same whatever style you use.

1. What is the difference between a citation and a reference?

A citation is a reference that appears in the text; for example:

In their study of human group dynamics Jones et al. (2002) found that...

A reference is all the information that your readers will need to find your source:

Jones, B., 2008. How Humans Interact. Journal of Human Interaction, 34(4), p. 56-60.

2. What's the difference between a reference list and a bibliography?

A reference list is a list of all the references that appear in the text.

A bibliography is a list of all the sources you read - regardless of whether they are cited in the text.

3. Where should a citation appear in a sentence?

The citation should be located as close to the source material as possible; for example, if you start a paragraph with some paraphrased material, the citation should come at the end of the material, not at the end of the paragraph.

You can use a citation to make the author the focus of the sentence:

Jones (2003) reports that 75% of rhesus monkeys responded to the peanut reward.

Or, you can let the material be the focus:

Rhesus monkey colonies showed a 75% response rate to the peanut reward (Jones 2003).

There's a subtle, yet important difference here: the first example highlights the study by Jones, and the second gives more weight to the evidence. If the work you're referencing is important, it's a good idea to highlight the author. Note that the full stop comes after the citation.

4. When should I use direct quotations?

Use direct quotations sparingly, and only when the exact wording is necessary to illustrate a point. You need to be able to interpret and summarise and paraphrase the literature, not just copy out large chunks of it.

5. Do I need to use quotation marks when using direct quotes?

If you include a short in-text quotation, you should use quotation marks:

Latest research shows that sea bird colonies “are on the edge of the abyss” (Gull 2001).

Longer quotations should be separated from the body of the text so they stand out. You should use your own words to introduce the quotation:

The sea bird colonies of the British Isles are also suffering the effects of climate change:

Sea bird colonies in Scotland, South Wales and parts of England are in terminal decline. It would be no exaggeration to say that our sea bird cities are on the edge of the abyss and we are running out of options to save them. (Gull 2001)

6. What if I want to leave some words out of a quotation?

If you only need to include part of a quotation, you can indicate that you have left some words out by using an ellipse (three dots in a line):

“Sea bird colonies in Scotland, South Wales and parts of England are in terminal decline”

would become,

“Sea bird colonies...are in terminal decline.”

7. What if I need to add a word to a quotation to make its meaning clearer?

If you need to add a word or phrase to a quotation to make the meaning clearer, you can use square brackets:

“They [sea bird colonies] may not survive the dramatic decline in the sand eel population” (Gull 2001).

8. Do I need to reference all facts, or are some things 'common knowledge'?

You need to reference all the information you've taken from sources you've read. However, some information is considered to be 'common knowledge', or a 'stylised fact'. This is information that has become an accepted 'truth'; for example,

the battle of Waterloo was fought in 1815

would not need a reference, as it is an accepted fact that this battle took place on this date.

9. What if I have used a number of different sources to support the same point?

If you have a number of different sources that provide the same information, you should list them in chronological order; for example,

Boys have been found to prefer blue (Smith 2003; Holmes & Watson 2005; Jones 2008).

10. What if I have two sources written by the same author in the same year?

If you have two (or more) sources written by the same author in the same year you should use letters to differentiate between the sources; for example,

Jones 2001a; Jones 2001b.

11. What if I have used a text book, but there's a more up-to-date edition available - which edition do I reference?

You should reference the edition that you used. Remember, your readers should be able to find the information you used in your work.

12. If I paraphrase or summarise do I still need to reference?

Yes. You don't just reference a direct quotation. If your information, ideas or inspiration come from someone else, you must acknowledge this with a reference.

13. Do I need to include page numbers in my references?

You should use page numbers if you are giving a direct quotation, or if the information you are summarising can be found on a particular page. It's an especially good idea to use page numbers when you reference books, as a book can be many hundreds of pages long making the information very difficult to find. Referencing the page numbers of journals is usually not necessary, and of course, websites don't have page numbers.

14. What do I do if a source has no author?

If there's no author given for a source, see if you can find the organisation responsible for producing the source; for example,

Department of Health 1998

would be a suitable reference for a government report.

Greenpeace 2003

would be a suitable reference for an un-authored report or document you read on the Greenpeace website.

If you can't find an organisation or sponsor for the source, use the title as the name:

In a recent report on declining sea bird populations (When the Cliffs are Silent 2001)...

15. What if there is no date for a source?

It should usually be possible to find a date somewhere. If you're referencing a web page, look for a date at the bottom of the page. You need to think carefully about including sources without dates: how can you be sure the information is current and accurate? If you really need to reference a source with no date, write 'no date'.

16. What if my source references another source which I want to include, but haven't read? (A secondary reference)

If you need to reference an author who appears in the work of another author, you should reference both authors:

Smith (Jones 2008) reports that...,

or you could write,

Smith (cited in Jones 2008) reports that....

Or even,

In his 1999 study, Smith (quoted in Jones 2008) found that....

You would only include the source you had accessed (in this case, Jones 2008) in your reference list. If you haven't read the original Smith study, you can't put it in the list of references. At postgraduate level, it's advisable, if possible, to read all your sources, so you shouldn't need secondary references.

17. If I reference an author who has been cited in another source, who do I add to the reference list?

Citing the work of an author who you have read in someone else's work is called a secondary reference. In your reference list you should only include sources that you have accessed and read. So, if you have cited

Jones (cited in Smith 2008) writes that...

you would add Smith 2008 to your list of references, and not Jones.

18. How would I write this secondary reference in my list of references?

Jones, A. (2001). Cited in Smith, P ...

followed by full reference for Smith.

19. What if I have two sources written by different authors with the same family name?

If you have two sources written by different authors with the same family name, you should use the authors' initials to allow your readers to easily distinguish between them:

Smith C.J. 2008; Smith E.F. 2005

20. Do I need to reference graphs and diagrams if I have taken them from someone else's work?

Yes, you must reference the work of others - whatever form it takes.

21. If I have altered a graph or diagram, do I still need to reference it?

If you've used a diagram, illustration or graph from someone else's work you must acknowledge it, even if you've altered the work in some way. You should reference in the normal way, but indicate that you've made changes by adding, for example:

...adapted from Jones 2008.

22. Do I need to reference lecture notes?

It's not a great idea to use course notes as source material. Lectures and other course material are generally just introductory material; you'll be expected to carry out your own research often using primary sources of information.

23. How do I reference a source with more than one author?

If your source has up to three authors, you should include all the names:

Jones & Smith 1998; Jones, Smith & Brown 2004.

If there are more than three authors, in your citation you should use the first authors name followed by et al.(an abbreviation of the Latin phrase et alia, which means 'and others'), so...

Busby, Rushmore, Stone, Lettuce and Gregg

would become...

Busby et al.

However, you should include the names of all the authors in the reference you include in your list of references or bibliography.

24. What does et al. mean and why is it used?

et al. is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase et alia, which means 'and others'. It's used to when a source has more than three authors to avoid having to cite a long list of names in the text.

Remember, et al. is an abbreviation, so you need a full stop.

It's not usual to use et al. in a reference list or bibliography; you should list all the authors in the order they appear in the source.

25. What does op. cit. mean?

Op. cit. is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase opere citato - 'in the work cited'. You can use op. cit. when you've cited a source previously in your text and you cite that source again later on having cited other sources in between (Smith op. cit.).

If you're using the Harvard system of referencing, you should never use op. cit., but it helps to know what it means if you come across the it in the literature.

26. What does ibid. mean?

This is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase ibidem - 'the same place'. Ibid. is used to indicate that a source is the same as the previous source. If you have used a source before, but used other sources in the intervening text, you should use op. cit.

Caution: ibid. should not be used in the Harvard system, but it's useful to know what it means if you come across it in your reading.

27. If I use the author's name in the text, do I still have to include the name in the citation?

If you use the author's name in the text, you just need to add the date in the citation:

Smith (2001) states that...


Smith (Smith 2001) states that...

28. How do I arrange my list of references or bibliography?

In the Harvard system the list of references or bibliography are arranged in alphabetical order. However, other referencing systems list the references in the order they appear in the text (for example, the number-date system). Check the protocol for the system you are using.

29. How do I reference material from the internet?

How you reference material from the internet depends on what it is you're referencing: journals, books and websites, for example, will all require a different style of reference. However, there are some basics you should be aware of when referencing internet sources:

  • Give your readers all the information they'll need to find the source for themselves.
  • If the address (URL) is very long, just include enough of the address to allow your readers to find the site.
  • If the document is more than one page long, or is a series of linked pages, give the address of the first page, or the contents page if there is one.
  • Give the date that you accessed the information, as information on the internet can change quickly.

30. How do I write the references for my bibliography or list of references?

There are many types of information that you might need to reference. Anglia Ruskin University library provide a guide to the Harvard referencing styles for all the different types of sources. You can access the pdf version of this guide here. This guide will tell you how to reference television programmes, pod casts, radio broadcasts and many other forms of media.

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