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Referencing

When writing your essays and research paper, it is important to credit the people whose ideas you used. We call this referencing.

This article aims to explain what referencing is and why it is important. It will provide you with examples on how to reference, including in-text citations and the reference list. Finally, it will explain the different referencing styles, such as Harvard, APA, and MLA referencing.

What is Referencing?

Referencing is the act of acknowledging sources in your writing. Referencing typically comprises in-text references and a reference list.

Why is Referencing important?

Referencing is an essential part of any essay or research paper and shouldn't be overlooked. Let’s look at some of the reasons why we should reference.

Supporting your ideas

Referencing credible authors and organisations throughout your essay or research paper shows that your work is evidence-based and trustworthy. It’s also important to show that your ideas and conclusions are based upon previous research and not just conjured up inside your head! Of course, your thoughts are valid, but it’s important to show how and why you came to your conclusions.

In summary, referencing adds a sense of credibility to your work.

Showing the scope of your reading and research

Referencing lets others know how much research you have put into your work, especially the examiner. It’s good to show that you’ve read and understood a wide range of material, including academic literature. When writing an essay or research paper, it’s essential that all of your information doesn’t come from just one source. You need to gain a broad perspective of your chosen topic and compare and contrast multiple sources to create a piece of work with depth and criticality. Correct referencing will highlight when you have done this.

Crediting the original source

It is essential to reference correctly, so you don’t get accused of plagiarism. Plagiarism is taking someone else’s work and claiming it as your own. Any ideas, concepts, research findings, or direct quotations taken from another source must be referenced.

Plagiarism is a severe offence, and even if you didn’t intend to take someone else’s intellectual property, it could happen if your work isn’t referenced accurately.

Letting the readers know where they can find out more

Referencing our work allows the readers to follow up on certain ideas or topics. It also helps them read about key theories and better understand your essay's topic.

Referencing, Image of library, StudySmarterReferencing gives the original author the correct credit - Pixabay

When should I Reference?

You must use references in your essay or research paper every time you use someone else’s work, ideas, or findings. When using others’ work, you can use a direct quotation or paraphrase their ideas. In both cases, it’s important to include an in-text reference (sometimes called a citation) and put that reference in your reference list (we’ll cover reference lists soon!).

Any time you use an in-text reference, you must put that reference into your reference list!

How do I Reference in-text?

Now you have a good idea of why and when to reference, let’s look at how you would reference a direct quote and how you would reference paraphrased ideas. Typically, in-text references include the author’s surname and the publication date of the piece of work.

Publication dates are usually easy to find! For books, try looking at the first or second pages. For online academic journals, the date should be stated near the title.

It’s important to note that there is more than one referencing style. This section will use Harvard referencing to show you examples for in-text referencing.

Direct quotation

Direct quotation refers to taking words from someone else’s work and putting them directly into your own. When doing this, you must copy the quote word for word and use all the same punctuation etc. It is up to you how much text you want to quote, but typically quotes shouldn’t be more than a couple of sentences long.

When quoting directly, place the quote between quotation marks and include the page number where the text can be found.

Crystal (1997) stated that ‘a feature of English that makes it different compared with all other languages is its global spread’ (p.110).

According to Crystal, ‘a feature of English that makes it different compared with all other languages is its global spread’ (Crystal, 2011, p.110).

It could be said that ‘a feature of English that makes it different compared with all other languages is its global spread’ (Crystal, 2011, p.110).

Here we can see that the quote is in quotation marks, and the reference includes the author's surname, the publication date, and the page number where the quote can be found. All three examples are acceptable according to the Harvard referencing system.

As a general rule, direct quotes should come from credible sources and be kept to a minimum. Building an essay purely on direct quotes will not get you good grades; therefore, you also need to paraphrase ideas to show that you understand what you’re writing about.

Paraphrasing

This is when you take work and ideas from others and put it into your own words. Paraphrasing is an essential part of essay writing as it shows you are using credible sources and have a good understanding of what you’ve read. It also helps to summarise ideas and build your argument. When paraphrasing, you don’t need to use quotation marks, but you still need to reference the original authors to show where the ideas have come from.

You can reference paraphrased ideas by placing the reference at the end of your sentence, like so:

It could be argued that English is different from other languages due to the fact it is used around the world (Crystal, 1997).

References can also be used at the beginning of a sentence by integrating the author’s name into the sentence, like so:

Crystal (1997) suggests that English is different from other languages due to its global use.

As you can see, both references include the author’s surname and the publication date.

Useful tips

  • How to reference If there is more than one author:

End of the sentence = Discourse plays an important role in maintaining power structures in society (Fairclough & Wodak, 1997).

Beginning of the sentence = Fairclough and Wodak (1997) suggest that discourse is often used to maintain power in society.

If there are more than three authors, you can use the phrase et al. - this is an abbreviation of the Latin term ‘et alia’, which means ‘and others’. When using et al., write the first author’s surname followed by et al.

E.g.

End of the sentence = English is now widely accepted as a global language (Shin et al., 2011).

Beginning of the sentence = According to Shin et al. (2011), English should be considered a global language.

  • How to reference if you don't know the author:

If you’re referencing articles from online news sources, there is a chance you won’t know the author's name. In this case, you should reference the name of the news site.

E.g.

It has been reported that English is now spoken by more than 1.5 billion people (BBC News, 2020).

Referencing Illustration of girl writing StudySmarter

Illustration of a girl writing an essay - StudySmarter Original

When not to Reference

You do not need to reference your work when:

  • You are drawing your own conclusions.

  • You are sharing your original thoughts, ideas, or personal experiences.

  • You're writing up the results of your research.

Making a Reference list

Remember, referencing includes the in-text reference and the reference list. Your reference list should be a complete list of all the sources you used throughout your work, and it should be placed at the end of your work. Typically, reference lists are in alphabetical order by the authors’ surnames. References in the reference list are more complete than the in-text reference and contain more information.

References in the reference list typically include:

  • All of the authors’ surnames and initials (do not use ‘et al.’ in reference lists)

  • The publication date

  • The title of the book (in italics) or

  • The title of the article

  • The name of the publisher, if it’s a book, or

  • The name of the journal (in italics )

  • The place of publication and publisher (this isn’t needed for websites or journals)

  • The DOI (digital object identifier) - the DOI is a unique link to online journal articles. You only need to include DOIs for online articles.

It’s useful to remember the WH question words when writing your reference list:

Who, When, What, Where

How to reference different mediums

Let's take a look at how you would write a reference for different mediums, such as books, journal articles, and web pages.

Book

Template = Author's surname, initial. (Year). Book title. City: Publisher.

One author = Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. London: Routledge.

Two authors = Fairclough, N. & Wodak, R. (1997). Critical Discourse Analysis. London: Sage.

What about books read online? When an online book is presented like a printed book (i.e. it has the publication details included), you can reference it the same way as a printed book.

Chapter in a book

Template = Author's surname, initial. (Year). ‘Chapter title’, in Editor's surname, initial. (ed./eds.) Book title. City: Publisher, pp. page range of chapter

Hazen, K. (2011). 'Labov: Language Variation and Change', in Wodak, R., Johnstone, B. and Kerswill, P. (eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Sociolinguistics. London: Sage, pp. 24-40

Journal article

Template = Author's surname, initial. (Year). Article title, Journal Name, Volume(Issue), pp. page range of the article. doi link.

Jenkins, J. (2009). English as a lingua franca: Interpretations and attitudes. World Englishes, 28(2), pp.200-207. doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.2009.01582.x

What's a DOI, and where can I find it?

DOI stands for digital object identifier. It is a unique link that will lead the reader directly to the journal article. You should be able to find an article's DOI at the top of the webpage.

Online news article

Template = Author's surname, initial. (Year). ‘Article Title’, Newspaper Name, Day Month of publication. Available at: URL HERE (Accessed: Day Month Year).

Lustig, R. (2018). 'Can English remain the 'world's favourite' language?', BBC News, 23 May. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-44200901 (Accessed: 27 May 2022).

You can reference many other online sources, such as blog posts and podcasts, but the ones you're using must be reputable and credible. For now, let's focus on online news articles from credible news sites, such as BBC News and The Economist.

It's important to remember that the title of the place where the work is published is usually italicised.

Example Reference list

Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. London: Routledge.

Fairclough, N & Wodak, R. (1997). Critical Discourse Analysis. London: Sage.

Hazen, K. (2011). 'Labov: Language Variation and Change', in Wodak, R., Johnstone, B. and Kerswill, P. (eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Sociolinguistics. London: Sage, pp. 24-40

Jenkins, J. (2009). English as a lingua franca: Interpretations and attitudes. World Englishes, 28(2), pp.200-207. doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.2009.01582.x

Lustig, R. (2018). 'Can English remain the 'world's favourite' language?', BBC News, 23 May. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-44200901 (Accessed: 27 May 2022).

As you can see, the reference list is in alphabetical order per the author's surname.

This reference list is in the Harvard referencing style. You will likely see variations in how a reference list looks. That's why it's always best to check with your teacher on how you should be referencing and remember to stay consistent.

Don’t leave your reference list to the end. Keep track of all the sources you are using as you go in a separate document or reference organiser.

Referencing styles

As we previously mentioned, there are a few different referencing styles available, and different subjects and colleges will use different styles. Each referencing style follows the same principles but differs slightly in terms of layout and use of punctuation.

It’s important that you speak to your teacher or lecturer and ask them which reference style you should be using. They should provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to accurately reference using the preferred style.

The main referencing styles you might use are Harvard referencing, APA referencing (The American Psychological Association), and MLA referencing (The Modern Language Association).

Here are some handy charts offering reference examples across the three different referencing styles.

Harvard Referencing

Harvard
BookCrystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. London: Routledge.
Journal articleJenkins, J. (2009). English as a lingua franca: Interpretations and attitudes. World Englishes, 28(2), pp.200-207. doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.2009.01582.x
Online news articleLustig, R. (2018). 'Can English remain the 'world's favourite' language?', BBC News, 23 May. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-44200901 (Accessed: 27 May 2022).

APA Referencing

APA
Book Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language. Cambridge university press.
Journal Article Jenkins, J. (2009). English as a lingua franca: Interpretations and attitudes. World Englishes, 28(2), 200-207. doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.2009.01582.x
Online news article Lustig, R. (2018, 23 May). Can English remain the 'world's favourite' language?. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-44200901 (Accessed: 27 May 2022).

MLA Referencing

MLA
Book Crystal, David. English as a global language. Cambridge university press, 2003.
Journal Article Jenkins, Jennifer. "English as a lingua franca: Interpretations and attitudes." World Englishes 28.2 (2009): 200-207. doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.2009.01582.x
Online news article Lustig, Robin. 'Can English remain the 'world's favourite' language?'. BBC News, 23 May 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-44200901 (Accessed: 27 May 2022).

A few key differences are:

  • APA always puts the publication date inside brackets, whereas Harvard sometimes leaves out the brackets.

  • MLA uses the author's full first name and surname.

  • As of 2019, APA referencing no longer requires the place of publication.

  • MLA puts the date at the end of the reference.

  • The use of commas, full stops, brackets, and italics differs. Don't worry; you don't need to know this off by heart, but you should constantly refer to your referencing style guide until you have gotten used to the formatting.

Referencing - Key Takeaways

  • Referencing is the act of acknowledging your sources in your writing. Referencing typically comprises in-text references (citations) and a reference list.
  • Referencing is important because it supports your ideas, shows your work is credible, gives credit to the original authors, and shows your reader where they can look for further information.
  • You must use references in your essay or research paper every time you have used someone else’s work, ideas, or findings.
  • You can communicate others' ideas in two ways: direct quotations or paraphrasing, and both must include a reference.
  • You must include a reference list at the end of work. Your reference list should be a complete list of all the in-text references used. Typically, reference lists are in alphabetical order.
  • There are several different referencing styles. The main referencing styles you might use are Harvard, APA, and MLA. The most common referencing style in the UK is Harvard.

Frequently Asked Questions about Referencing

Referencing is when we credit the sources we have used in our work. We also reference to acknowledge other people's work that has influenced our own. When referencing, we use an in-text reference and place that reference into a reference list at the end of our work. 


Here is an example:

In-text reference 

Crystal (1997) suggests that English is different from other languages due to its global use.


Reference list 

Crystal, D. 1997. English as a global language. London: Routledge. 

Referencing involves two steps. First, reference the source within your work - this is called an in-text reference or in-text citation. Next, put that reference into your reference list. 

Referencing is when we acknowledge and give credit to the sources we used in our work. Referencing is important as it supports your ideas, shows your work is credible, gives credit to the original authors, and shows your reader where they can look for further information.

APA referencing is a specific referencing style used in colleges, universities, etc. APA stands for the American Psychological Association. 

MLA referencing is a specific referencing style used in colleges and universities. MLA stands for The Modern Language Association; therefore, you might use this referencing style if you are studying languages.

Final Referencing Quiz

Question

What is plagiarism?

Show answer

Answer

Plagiarism is when you take someone else's work and try to pass it off as your own.

Show question

Question

In what order are reference lists typically in?

Show answer

Answer

Alphabetical order.

Show question

Question

When do you not need to reference?

Show answer

Answer

You don't need to reference when

  • You are drawing your own conclusions.

  • You are sharing your own original thoughts, ideas, or personal experiences. 

  • You writing up the results of your research.

Show question

Question

When do you need to reference?

Show answer

Answer

Anytime you are using someone else's ideas, findings, work etc.

Show question

Question

What punctuation is needed for direct quotes?

Show answer

Answer

Quotation marks.

Show question

Question

If you are using a direct quote, what information do you need to provide in-text?

Show answer

Answer

The author's surname, the publication date, and the page number(s).

Show question

Question

True or false, you should use quotation marks when paraphrasing?

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

What does the Latin term 'et al.' mean?

Show answer

Answer

And others.

Show question

Question

In the reference list, which part of the reference should be italicised?

Show answer

Answer

The title of the place where the work was published i.e. the title of the book or the title of the journal article. 

Show question

Question

What is a DOI?

Show answer

Answer

DOI stands for Digital Object Identifiers. They work as direct links to online journal articles.

Show question

Question

What needs to be included in your reference list?

Show answer

Answer

Any in-text citations

Show question

Question

What's wrong with this in-text citation?

English is now considered the world's lingua franca (Crystal 2011).

Show answer

Answer

You should include a comma between the surname and date, e.g. (Csrystal, 2011)

Show question

Question

What's wrong with this in-text citation?

English is now considered the world's lingua franca (David, 2011)

Show answer

Answer

You should include the author's surname, not first name.

Show question

Question

When should you include the page number for in-text citations?

Show answer

Answer

When using a direct quote

Show question

Question

What is paraphrasing?

Show answer

Answer

When you rewrite an idea in your own words.

Show question

Question

Choose the correct reference:

Show answer

Answer

(Fairclough & Wodak, 1997)

Show question

Question

What is MLA referencing?

Show answer

Answer

The Modern Language Association reference style

Show question

Question

Can you reference the BBC news?

Show answer

Answer

Yes you can 

Show question

Question

Which part of this reference list reference should be italicised?

Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. London: Routledge. 


Show answer

Answer

The book title, e.g.

Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. London: Routledge. 



Show question

Question

Which part of this reference list reference should be italicised?


Jenkins, J. (2009). English as a lingua franca: Interpretations and attitudes. World Englishes, 28(2), pp.200-207. doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.2009.01582.x 


Show answer

Answer

The title of the journal. e.g. 

Jenkins, J. (2009). English as a lingua franca: Interpretations and attitudes. World Englishes, 28(2), pp.200-207. doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.2009.01582.x 

Show question

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