Writing References In Essays
Referencing is a system that allows you to acknowledge the contributions and work of others in your writing by citing your sources. A feature of academic writing is that it contains references to the words, information and ideas of others.
All academic essays MUST contain references. Referencing guards against plagiarism, a serious academic offence. Plagiarism is copying someone else's words or ideas and presenting them as your own.
See Plagiarism and academic integrity
Make sure you are familiar with the referencing style your faculty or school requires. Most have guides specifying the system they prefer. Often Schools/Faculties don't mind which system you use as long as it is consistent. If this is the case, use the system you are most comfortable with.
See The Learning Centre guides to various citation styles
Remember to list all the books and articles you use for the essay in a Reference List. This is a list of all works cited in your essay, and should be the final page.
Next step:Editing your essay
This brief study guide aims to help you to understand why you should include references to the information sources that you use to underpin your writing. It explains the main principles of accurately referencing such sources in your work.
Other useful guides: Effective note making, Avoiding plagiarism.
When you are writing an essay, report, dissertation or any other form of academic writing, your own thoughts and ideas inevitably build on those of other writers, researchers or teachers. It is essential that you acknowledge your debt to the sources of data, research and ideas on which you have drawn by including references to, and full details of, these sources in your work. Referencing your work allows the reader:
- to distinguish your own ideas and findings from those you have drawn from the work of others;
- to follow up in more detail the ideas or facts that you have referred to.
Before you write
Whenever you read or research material for your writing, make sure that you include in your notes, or on any photocopied material, the full publication details of each relevant text that you read. These details should include:
- surname(s) and initial(s) of the author(s);
- the date of publication;
- the title of the text;
- if it is a paper, the title of the journal and volume number;
- if it is a chapter of an edited book, the book's title and editor(s)
the publisher and place of publication*;
- the first and last page numbers if it is a journal article or a chapter in an edited book.
For particularly important points, or for parts of texts that you might wish to quote word for word, also include in your notes the specific page reference.
* Please note that the publisher of a book should not be confused with the printer. The publisher's name is normally on a book's main title page, and often on the book's spine too.
When to use references
Your source should be acknowledged every time the point that you make, or the data or other information that you use, is substantially that of another writer and not your own. As a very rough guide, while the introduction and the conclusions to your writing might be largely based on your own ideas, within the main body of your report, essay or dissertation, you would expect to be drawing on, and thus referencing your debt to, the work of others in each main section or paragraph. Look at the ways in which your sources use references in their own work, and for further guidance consult the companion guide Avoiding Plagiarism.
There are many different referencing conventions in common use. Each department will have its own preferred format, and every journal or book editor has a set of 'house rules'. This guide aims to explain the general principles by giving details of the two most commonly used formats, the 'author, date' system and footnotes or endnotes. Once you have understood the principles common to all referencing systems you should be able to apply the specific rules set by your own department.
How to reference using the 'author, date' system
In the 'author, date' system (often referred to as the 'Harvard' system) very brief details of the source from which a discussion point or piece of factual information is drawn are included in the text. Full details of the source are then given in a reference list or bibliography at the end of the text. This allows the writer to fully acknowledge her/his sources, without significantly interrupting the flow of the writing.
1. Citing your source within the text
As the name suggests, the citation in the text normally includes the name(s) (surname only) of the author(s) and the date of the publication. This information is usually included in brackets at the most appropriate point in the text.
The seminars that are often a part of humanities courses can provide opportunities for students to develop the communication and interpersonal skills that are valued by employers (Lyon, 1992).
The text reference above indicates to the reader that the point being made draws on a work by Lyon, published in 1992. An alternative format is shown in the example below.
Knapper and Cropley (1991: p. 44) believe that the willingness of adults to learn is affected by their attitudes, values and self-image and that their capacity to learn depends greatly on their study skills.
Note that in this example reference has been made to a specific point within a very long text (in this instance a book) and so a page number has been added. This gives the reader the opportunity to find the particular place in the text where the point referred to is made. You should always include the page number when you include a passage of direct quotation from another writer's work.
When a publication has several authors, it is usual to give the surname of the first author followed by et al. (an abbreviation of the Latin for 'and the others') although for works with just two authors both names may be given, as in the example above.
Do not forget that you should also include reference to the source of any tables of data, diagrams or maps that you include in your work. If you have included a straight copy of a table or figure, then it is usual to add a reference to the table or figure caption thus:
Figure 1: The continuum of influences on learning (from Knapper and Cropley, 1991: p. 43).
Even if you have reorganised a table of data, or redrawn a figure, you should still acknowledge its source:
Table 1: Type of work entered by humanities graduates (data from Lyon, 1992: Table 8.5).
You may need to cite an unpublished idea or discussion point from an oral presentation, such as a lecture. The format for the text citation is normally exactly the same as for a published work and should give the speaker's name and the date of the presentation.
Recent research on the origins of early man has challenged the views expressed in many of the standard textbooks (Barker, 1996).
If the idea or information that you wish to cite has been told to you personally, perhaps in a discussion with a lecturer or a tutor, it is normal to reference the point as shown in the example below.
The experience of the Student Learning Centre at Leicester is that many students are anxious to improve their writing skills, and are keen to seek help and guidance (Maria Lorenzini, pers. comm.).
'Pers. comm.' stands for personal communication; no further information is usually required.
2. Reference lists/ bibliographies
When using the 'author, date' system, the brief references included in the text must be followed up with full publication details, usually as an alphabetical reference list or bibliography at the end of your piece of work. The examples given below are used to indicate the main principles.
The simplest format, for a book reference, is given first; it is the full reference for one of the works quoted in the examples above.
Knapper, C.K. and Cropley, A. 1991: Lifelong Learning and Higher Education. London: Croom Helm.
The reference above includes:
- the surnames and forenames or initials of both the authors;
- the date of publication;
- the book title;
- the place of publication;
- the name of the publisher.
The title of the book should be formatted to distinguish it from the other details; in the example above it is italicised, but it could be in bold, underlined or in inverted commas. When multi-authored works have been quoted, it is important to include the names of all the authors, even when the text reference used was et al.
Papers or articles within an edited book
A reference to a paper or article within an edited book should in addition include:
- the editor and the title of the book;
- the first and last page numbers of the article or paper.
Lyon, E.S. 1992: Humanities graduates in the labour market. In H. Eggins (ed.), Arts Graduates, their Skills and their Employment. London: The Falmer Press, pp. 123-143.
Journal articles must also include:
- the name and volume number of the journal;
- the first and last page numbers of the article.
The publisher and place of publication are not normally required for journals.
Pask, G. 1979: Styles and strategies of learning. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, pp. 128-148.
Note that in the last two references above, it is the book title and the journal name that are italicised, not the title of the paper or article. The name highlighted should always be the name under which the work will have been filed on the library shelves or referenced in any indexing system. It is often the name which is written on the spine of the volume, and if you remember this it may be easier for you to remember which is the appropriate title to highlight.
Other types of publications
The three examples above cover the most common publication types. You may also wish to refer to other types of publications, including PhD dissertations, translated works, newspaper articles, dictionary or encyclopaedia entries or legal or historical texts. The same general principles apply to the referencing of all published sources, but for specific conventions consult your departmental handbook or your tutor, or look at the more detailed reference books listed in the Further reading section of this guide.
Referencing web pages
The internet is increasingly used as a source of information and it is just as important to reference internet sources as it is to reference printed sources. Information on the internet changes rapidly and web pages move or are sometimes inaccessible meaning it can often be difficult to validate or even find information cited from the internet. When referencing web pages it is helpful to include details that will help other people check or follow up the information. A suggested format is to include the author of the information (this may be an individual, group or organisation), the date the page was put on the internet (most web pages have a date at the bottom of the page), the title, the http:// address, and the date you accessed the web page (in case the information has been subsequently modified). A format for referencing web pages is given below.
University of Leicester Standing Committee of Deans (6/8/2002) Internet code of practice and guide to legislation. Accessed 8/8/02
Full references to unpublished oral presentations, such as lectures, usually include the speaker's name, the date of the lecture, the name of the lecture or of the lecture series, and the location:
Barker, G. 1996 (7 October): The Archaeology of Europe, Lecture 1. University of Leicester.
Please note that in contrast to the format used for the published sources given in the first three examples above, the formatting of references for unpublished sources does not include italics, as there is no publication title to highlight.
If you look carefully at all the examples of full references given above, you will see that there is a consistency in the ways in which punctuation and capitalisation have been used. There are many other ways in which references can be formatted - look at the books and articles you read for other examples and at any guidelines in your course handbooks. The only rule governing formatting is the rule of consistency.
How to reference using footnotes or endnotes
Some academic disciplines prefer to use footnotes (notes at the foot of the page) or endnotes (notes at the end of the work) to reference their writing. Although this method differs in style from the 'author, date' system, its purpose - to acknowledge the source of ideas, data or quotations without undue interruption to the flow of the writing - is the same.
Footnote or endnote markers, usually a sequential series of numbers either in brackets or slightly above the line of writing or printing (superscript), are placed at the appropriate point in the text. This is normally where you would insert the author and date if you were using the 'author, date' system described above.
Employers are not just looking for high academic achievement and have identified competencies that distinguish the high performers from the average graduate.¹ This view has been supported by an early study that demonstrated that graduates employed in the industrial and commercial sectors were as likely to have lower second and third class degrees as firsts and upper seconds.²
Full details of the reference are then given at the bottom of the relevant page or, if endnotes are preferred, in numerical order at the end of the writing. Rules for the formatting of the detailed references follow the same principles as for the reference lists for the 'author, date' system.
1. Moore, K. 1992: National Westminster Bank plc. In H. Eggins (ed.), Arts Graduates, their Skills and their Employment. London: The Falmer Press, pp. 24-26.
2. Kelsall, R.K., Poole, A. and Kuhn, A. 1970: Six Years After. Sheffield: Higher Education Research Unit, Sheffield University,
NB. The reference to 'p.40' at the end of note 2 above implies that the specific point referred to is to be found on page 40 of the book referenced.
If the same source needs to be referred to several times, on second or subsequent occasions, a shortened reference may be used.
Studies of women's employment patterns have demonstrated the relationship between marital status and employment sector. ³
3. Kelsall et al. 1970 (as n.2 above).
In this example, the footnote refers the reader to the full reference to be found in footnote 2.
In some academic disciplines, footnotes and endnotes are not only used for references, but also to contain elaborations or explanations of points made in the main text. If you are unsure about how to use footnotes or endnotes in your work, consult your departmental guidelines or personal tutor.
If you are studying with the School of Law, you are required to follow the conventions of OSCOLA (The Oxford Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities). Full details of how to use this system are provided by the School. Copies of the system are also made available on Blackboard.
Whichever referencing system you use, you should check carefully to make sure that:
- you have included in your reference list/bibliography, footnotes or endnotes full details of all the sources referred to in your text;
- you have used punctuation and text formatting, such as italics, capitals, and bold text, in a consistent manner in your reference lists or footnotes.
More detailed discussion of referencing conventions is to be found in the following publications:
- Berry, R. 2004: The Research Project: How to Write It. London and New York: Routledge.
- Gash, S. 1999: Effective Literature Searching for Students (second edition). Aldershot: Gower.
- Gibaldi, J. 2004: MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (sixth edition). New York: The Modern Language Association of America.
- Watson, G. 1987: Writing a Thesis: a Guide to Long Essays and Dissertations. London: Longman.
There are also software programs, for example, Endnote and Refworks that are designed to manage references. They include the facility to incorporate 'author, date' insertions within your text, and to format reference lists automatically.