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Using references in your work

This guide covers the basics of academic referencing, including:

Printable version of this guide (this is designed to be printed double-sided on A4 paper, then folded to make an A5 leaflet).

Correct referencing is the cornerstone of all academic work. It gives due credit to the authors of any sources you may have used in your study, as well as demonstrating your understanding and familiarity with the resources.

Many students are unsure about how and when to reference, and how to get the balance right between demonstrating research and using their own ideas. Developing this knowledge is an essential part of academic study, and will help you to avoid the risk of unintentional plagiarism.

What does your department do…?

Different departments or disciplines may use different styles of referencing, so it's important to check which your department prefers, and how they want you to use it. The examples in this guide use Harvard referencing, which is the style most commonly used at Reading. Check in your course handbook (usually available online if you don't have a copy) to see which style of referencing you are expected to use. Most of our advice on how to use references will be relevant to your studies whatever the style. There are also some external links listed at the foot of this page that give advice on other referencing systems.

What is referencing?

Referencing is a way of acknowledging the books, papers and other published and unpublished materials that you have used while researching your essay or report. This acknowledgment has to be made twice: once in the body of your text (or sometimes in footnotes) in the place where the source is referred to; and once with full details at the end of your work in a reference list or bibliography.

References acknowledge that part of your work is based on the work and material of others. All academic work is part of a greater body of knowledge. Showing where your work fits into this is an important part of academic practice at university.

  • References show the range and nature of your source materials.

  • References to published sources should provide sufficient detail to enable anyone to find for themselves the work you are citing.

  • Good referencing is a key part of the presentation of your work and you may lose marks for poor referencing.

  • Failure to acknowledge that some of your opinions and information have come from others may be regarded as plagiarism (See Avoiding accidental plagiarism for more on this).

Academic writing involves using sound evidence to support and strengthen your own arguments. You are trying to demonstrate how widely you have read but also that you have understood what you have read and can interpret it in relation to the essay question you are answering and the argument you are making. Use your references to support your arguments, not to replace them.

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Citation in the text

When you are writing, every time you use or refer to an idea or piece of information that you learnt from a text, you should include a reference to the source. This is called a citation. You should include a citation with:

  • direct quotes
  • paraphrases of someone else's writing
  • references to other people's ideas and works
  • discussion and analysis of other people's ideas 

In the Harvard referencing system, which is the most widely used system at Reading, include a brief reference in the body of the text (authors' surname, date of publication, page number if appropriate), and add the full details of the text to your bibliography or reference list.

Here are two possible examples of using citations in the text of your writing:

a) Smith (2005) proposed a three stage model of memory.

b) A three stage model of memory has been proposed (Smith, 2005).

If there is more than one author then give all the surnames on the first mention (Shahabudin, Reid & Taylor, 2007). On subsequent mentions, if there are more than two authors you can use just the first author and add "et al." meaning "and others" e.g. (Shahabudin et al., 2007).

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How and when to use direct quotes

In UK academic culture, it is poor practice to use a lot of direct quotes from someone else's work - your assignment should be mostly your own arguments in your own words, using evidence from your research to support or challenge them. When it is appropriate to use direct quotations, these should generally be kept as brief as possible. Always interpret the quotation and show how it relates to the argument you are making and the essay question.

  • Include the author, date & page number in your text.

  • Integrate short quotations into your sentence & use quotation marks.

For example…

Turner (2007, 14) suggests that you should work 'better not longer'.

  • If you need to use a longer quotation

- begin on a new line

- indent the whole quotation (that is, reduce the margin on both sides of the paragraph)

- use the exact wording and punctuation

- use … if you omit words and [ ] if you add words of your own

- do not use quotation marks (except for quotations within the quotation)

For example…

Working better not longer is an important concept … [you should] learn to work more effectively in the time available … rather than working longer hours (Turner, 2007, 14).

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Citing a cited source

If the author of a book or article (Author A) cites another author (Author B) then the best idea is to follow up the reference to author B and read the original. If you are unable to do this then it is acceptable to cite author B as being referred to in author A.

For example…

It has been suggested that redintegration is sensitive to item length and familiarity (Brown and Hume, 1995, cited in Turner, 2000, 460).

It is only necessary to include the source you looked at (Turner, 2000) in your reference list.

Every reference that appears in your text must be included in the reference list or bibliography at the end of your work. This list should include full details of the references in alphabetical order, carefully formatted in accordance with your school handbook (also see Citations and bibliographies). The key is to be consistent, especially if you have to reference unusual sources like TV or radio programmes; find an example of how to cite these sources in your school's preferred style and stick to it.

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For more advice on referencing, see...

Citations and bibliographies

Avoiding accidental plagiarism

LearnHigher Referencing website

Citing references - joint Study Advice and Library guide.

Harvard Referencing Examples - a comprehensive guide to Harvard Referencing from Staffordshire University, with examples of how to reference a wide range of unusual sources including TV programmes, lectures, and Acts of Parliament.

Guide to the Harvard system of referencing - a very useful guide to the practice and details of referencing and writing citations from Anglia Ruskin University Library.

BUFVC Audio Visual Citation Guidelines - from the British Universities Film and Video Council, includes film, television and radio programmes, podcasts, adverts and many other audiovisual sources.

Effective note-taking

Download a printable version of our Study Guide on Using References in Your Work. (These guides are designed to be printed double-sided on A4 and folded to A5.) 

Other styles of referencing

Oxford referencing system - basic principles from the University of New South Wales

Oxford referencing system - more detailed guide from Deakin University, Australia

APA referencing style - basic principles - once you've opened the tutorial (uses Flash), use the outline to navigate to the sections on referencing. For more detailed information, the full manual is accessed via the Publication Manual tab.

MHRA Style Guide - a link to download the full manual. Once you have downloaded it, use the bookmarks to navigate to Chapter 11 on References.

Chicago Manual of Style Online - includes a Quick Guide to using Chicago style for citations, and the Chicago Q and A which is a bank of questions and answers to more complex referencing queries: useful guidance for postgraduates working with more unusual and less easily-referenced materials, whatever style of referencing you are using.

OSCOLA - specialist referencing system for Law. You can download the whole guide here, but you will probably only need the Quick Reference Guide.

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