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Why reference?

  • To acknowledge the sources of your information
  • To gain marks by:
    • Providing evidence to support your arguments
    • Enabling your tutors to check the accuracy and dependability of your sources
  • It also enables others to follow up your area of research

What is a reference?

A reference is the way that you acknowledge your use of other people’s work. There are two parts:

  • The citation is a pointer in the text of your work, saying that you are using someone else’s ideas.
  • The reference gives the full details of where the information came from. You put it in a reference list at the end of your work

An example of a citation and reference in Harvard format

The following is a basic example. Your  course may require references to be formatted in a slightly different way. Go to the Library's referencing page to find the referencing guide for your course. 

 Example of a reference in Harvard format.

The citation consists of the family name of the author followed by the year of publication in brackets. So if you were citing a work written by Albert Einstein in 1945 it would be cited as (Einstein, 1945).  For a direct quotation, you also include the page from which the quoted material was taken.

An example of a citation and a reference in numeric format

The citation consists of a number indicating the order in which the citations appear in the essay.

Example of a reference in numeric format.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Always make it clear when you are using somebody else's work.

You need to point out in the body of your assignment every time you draw on something that you did not create or discover yourself, and separately give the full details of everything used so that your lecturer can find your sources. This is called 'citing and referencing'. The Library has made available online guides to referencing for each subject.

Citing and referencing is an integral part of writing your assignments. Make sure you cite and reference every source you use while you are doing the writing. Do not think of it as a separate job and leave it until the end: you could end up missing some places where you need to cite, or running out of time to do it properly.

The headings below give some details on how you will need to do your work to make sure that you do not plagiarise.


When you are reading for an assignment, keep full records of all the things you use. This includes the author, title, page numbers and so on for books and the web address and so on for websites. Read the Library's guides on citing that tell you which details you need to write down.

Make it clear to yourself in your notes where each piece of information you are taking down comes from. That way, when you come to do your writing you will be able to put in the pointers that tell your lecturer where you found out everything.

The library has a lot of books on study skills for University students, which include how to make notes that will be effective in doing your writing. Academic Skills Advice have created online guides on note-taking for you to consult.

Time management

Make sure that you give yourself enough time to find the sources you should be reading, read them thoroughly so that you understand them, do your own writing, and revise and change your work if you need to, without panicking. You will probably need more time than you think. The sort of reading and writing that you have to do at University level is different from what you have done before: you need to develop the skills for choosing trustworthy sources, scanning a source for information, reading critically and drawing on many pieces of information to write a logical assignment.

When reading, you need to make notes which include all of the information you will need to reference the source correctly. If you do this you will not have to find the source again when you are writing your assignment.

You also need to know that your lecturers have a lot of work to do and you will not always be able to get hold of them quickly. Do not leave it until near the deadline to ask them for comments on your work, or you might have no time for changes if they are needed.

The library has a number of books on study skills for University students, which include how to manage your time. The Academic Skills Unit has online guides to time management.

If English is not your first language, it will take you longer to do your reading and writing, especially if you are also not used to the critical and analytical way that British universities expect you to read. The advisers in the Academic Skills Advice service and the International Study Centre can help you come up with strategies to use your time well.

Quotation vs. paraphrasing


Quoting is when you use the exact words of someone else's work.

You must make it plain exactly which words you are quoting, and acknowledge the source that they came from.

Please note that direct quotation of words is strongly discouraged in science subjects and engineering.

Items such as charts, diagrams, photographs and code which are directly copied from someone else's work also count as direct quotes.

A quotation looks like this:

"Academic writing is not an uncomplicated task. It involves a wide range of different kinds of skills and if you are going to do it properly, it means that you have to know clearly what is required of you and how to deliver it." (Moore, 2010, p 96.)

Notice the " " quotation marks telling us where the quoting starts and finishes and the exact page number from which the quote is taken.

(From Moore, S. (2010) The ultimate study skills handbook. Maidenhead: Open University Press).


Paraphrasing takes place when you read someone else's work, think about it, and rewrite or summarise it in your own words, keeping the facts and ideas of the original source.

It is considered good academic practice to paraphrase, because it shows you have understood the original work. Some departments want you to paraphrase anything you use and never to directly quote at all. You must acknowledge the source of anything you paraphrase or summarise, because you did not come up with the facts by yourself.

A paraphrase looks like this:

To succeed in academic writing, you need several different skills, including understanding what you are supposed to do. (Moore, 2010).

There are no quotation marks, but the source of the information is still shown.

Source: Moore, S. (2010) The ultimate study skills handbook. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Remember: if you learn and subsequently use anything from a resource you have read you must acknowledge where it came from even if you are not using the same words as the original source.

Direct Quotation in the Sciences

If you are studying a science subject you should never use direct quotation but instead always put ideas into your own words (paraphrasing). You still need to acknowledge sources you have paraphrased.

You will still need to label items such as images, graphs and tables of data that have been copied from other sources as direct quotations