Referencing is an important part of studying in higher education. It is a technical system that allows you to give credit to other people’s ideas; provide evidence of your reading and engage in debates with other authors on your subject. However, it takes practice and even experienced academics will consult referencing style guides for more unusual sources. Have a look at the answers to the following questions to get started:

A reference – also known as a citation – is an exact note of the source of a piece of information. A typical reference or citation for a journal article, for example, would include the following elements:

  • author(s) name(s)
  • title of the article
  • journal title
  • year, volume or part when published
  • page numbers

Referencing has two parts – a citation in the text where you have used the source (this is normally written in a shorter form) and the full details of the source at the end of the text in a Bibliography (list of all the sources you have read for your essay, even those you have not cited) or a Reference List (list of all the sources you have cited).

There is no single system within the university for creating a reference. You should consult your course handbook or speak to tutors in your school to find out the system used in your school. Below are some quick guides to the most common referencing styles, although please note that within each of these styles listed below, different Schools will approach them slightly differently so please do read your course handbook for the precise guidelines to follow for your course.

Common referencing styles:

  • Harvard (from Anglia Ruskin University)
  • Vancouver (from the University of Manchester)
  • Oscola for Legal sources (from the University of Oxford)
  • MLA (from the University of Northampton)
  • Numerical (from the University of Worcester)
  • Chicago (from the University of York)

Referencing shows the reader of your work that you have read widely and provides evidence to support the claims you are making. It also ensures that you give proper credit to the author of the source to avoid accusations of plagiarism.

When a piece of coursework or an assignment is assessed, you may be penalised if you quote a piece of information without including the reference – and there may also be a penalty for using an incorrect reference! Remember: quotation without citation = plagiarism.

To find out more about plagiarism and the consequences of doing it – innocently or otherwise – check the Avoiding Plagiarism page.

There is software avaliable to support you with referencing including an in-built referencing tool in Microsoft Word and more sophisticated packages such as Mendeley or EndNote which allows you to store and organise your references. For information on how to use EndNote see the Library guide.

The university also has a subscription to Cite Them Right Online, which is an interactive guide to help you learn how to correctly reference a huge variety of sources; references can then be exported straight into coursework.

Websites such as Neil’s Toolbox¬†(Harvard & Vancouver) are also useful tools for automatically generating references. However, department guidelines for referencing styles can be very specific, so if you use tools such as these, you should always check the references that they generate against your course’s style guide.

A guide to using the Harvard method of referencing developed by Anglia Ruskin University