Student Referencing; the essential guide

Studying for a degree is more than just a fun-filled Freshers’ week, learning to like the taste of coffee in the morning and asking your friends to write up notes so you can skip class for a lie in and watch Jeremy Kyle.

It consists of essays, coursework and one of the most important things you’ll have to learn to do, is referencing.

What is referencing?

Referencing is when you use or talk about someone’s idea in your work or when you quote them or their work. It is used a lot in academic writing and it shows that research has been done and that you have something to ‘back’ up your argument. You can reference in two different ways that are most popular.

What is Citing

Citing is generally referring to when you choose to reference the quote or idea of someone else in the body of your work. This is when you ‘have the idea’ (Johnson, 2001) and the cite is followed in brackets. You can also have it at the beginning with, Johnson (2001) ‘had an idea’. You will then have to include the full reference in the Bibliography. If you choose to cite over footnotes, then you need to include the author(s) and year of publication within, you don’t need to include the publisher or title of the work.


Another popular way to reference is to use footnotes. This is done by writing the quote or idea inside your work, placing a footnote (usually by clicking, insert>footnote, from your toolbar menu in your document, and then a small section underneath the work will be created. It is usually in a smaller font – which you can alter). Inside the footnote at the bottom of the page, you should include the, author(s), title, editor(s) (if there is any), date of publication, publisher and location, Johnson, H.E, Had an Idea, University Compare Publications, 2001, U.K pp. 1, like so. The pp. stands for the page number, and it isn’t set in stone whether the author should be in italics or the title should be underlined, as lecturers have different ways they prefer it to look like, so you should stick to the one they state when writing for them. As long as you have all the information and it is correct you don’t have a lot to worry about.

How to reference a book

If it is a book, then it should look something like this Johnson, H.E, Had another Idea, University Compare Publications, 2002, U.K pp. 12, or (Johnson:2002). You can find the country or countries it was published in, publisher and the date it was published in the inside of the book, within the first few pages with the publication information. The author(s) and/or editor(s) will be on the front of the cover, or on the title page of the book which is also within the first few pages. The page number is referring to the page you actually got the quote or information from and you should write this down when you are taking notes so you don’t have to look back later.

How to reference a website

Some lecturers don’t particularly like websites to be used for referencing as they prefer academic writing to be used as research, but if you do need to reference a website, here is how you do it. You will need the full website address, if there are any authors of the article or work online and the date that you accessed it. This is to show the date that you accessed the information that you are using, in case it is no longer available at a later date. As online can change any second it is less reliable than print.

How to reference a journal

Journals are shorter than books and may come in different volumes. It will state what volume, publisher, date and author of the journal so it is very similar to referencing a book. Remember to include the page number too.

How to reference an article

Articles published in academic magazines or online usually have the same information as books and journals, try to find out the issue number or volume number as there are more than one published you may be scrutinised for not providing this information. Just using the title and author will not prove reliable on trying to find the source of your reference.

How to reference a film

The first time you mention the film or television show in your work you should state the name, usually in italics, and then the year it was first released or ran. Later on, you can just state the name of the film and it will still be referring to the same one.

How to reference an interview or communication

You should use the interviewee as the author for when referencing in an essay, as this is the person that you are quoting.

How to reference a CD or multimedia

CD-ROMs which include electronic books on CD, you can use the title as the author if there is no obvious author stated. With DVDs, you can use the series title as an author reference.

How to reference a direct quotation

You should always use single quotation mark when referencing, and two for direct speech. Using the wrong one may confuse the person marking your work and you wouldn’t have referenced correctly.

How to reference an image

You need to reference any images, illustrations, photographs, diagrams, tables or figures that you reproduce in your work. They should be treated as direct quotes and will need author(s) and the page numbers should be cited in the body of your work (when you talk about it) and as a caption underneath the image or table etc. You should then include the full reference in your bibliography.

The different systems

There are lots of different systems for referencing and citing, and the most popular ones are, Harvard, Vancouver, Oxford, Chicago Arts, Chicago Science, MLA, MHRA and APA. Quite a mouthful, eh?

Does it matter which one?

It doesn’t matter which one you use, only that you use them correctly and only stick to one way of referencing throughout your work, or it won’t make sense and look sloppy when you hand it in. The most common is Harvard which we have shown you above, and it is easy enough to understand and use!

What is different to a bibliography?

The bibliography is the full reference, usually containing the barcode or ISBN number of the book, or the date accessed if you are citing a website.

What if it doesn’t have all the information?

If you can’t find out any of the information, and that includes searching your library database and online then you need to state it in your bibliography. There are such abbreviations, like n.d. which stand for no date. Try to find the information and only state what you couldn’t find as a last call.

Do you lose marks?

If you don’t reference at all in your academic writing then you won’t get high marks. This is because it shows that you have done research and academic reading to back your argument. It will also help you later on if you have to write a dissertation and final project, or which to conduct any research of your own.

What if I don’t reference but still use a quote or use someone else’s idea?

If you are referencing incorrectly then you may be penalised for it and lose marks. Not referencing correctly, or failing to reference something that was someone else’s idea or a quote from a piece of work is seen as pilgrims and is taken seriously. Plagiarism can have you fail your essay or can be taken further in some cases – don’t let it happen to you!

Is it important?

It is very important! Once you get the hang of it, it won’t be too hard to get use to it!

Do you have any tips?

Of course! When taking notes, write the full reference of the book, journal or article you are reading and write it at the beginning of your page. Then all you need to do is write the page number under each quote you use! There are also apps available to make it easier, like ReferenceME where all you have to do is scan the barcode and it makes the reference for you and sends it to you! Simples!

Studying and writing coursework can be really hard to get to grips with within the first year. Most universities don’t include the marks in your first year to let you get used to the style of teaching and grading, so use it to learn the tools of the trade! If you are still having problems understanding, ask to see your lecturer one-to-one so that can give you some support, or ask them to elaborate on their feedback of your work. Good luck!