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What is referencing?

Referencing is a system used in the academic community to indicate where ideas, theories, quotes, facts and any other evidence you have used to support your assignments can be found.

When you are writing a piece of work and use someone else's words or ideas you must reference them.

This means that you need to include details about all the sources you have used, both within the text of your assignment (in-text citations) and at the end of your work (reference list). 

The style of referencing you need to use depends on the course you are studying.  Most students at Staffs use Harvard, although if you are studying Law or Psychology (including Sport and Exercise modules) you will need to use a different system.

Indicating the sources you have used in the text of your essay (citing) and creating a list of references of sources you've used is an important part of the assignment writing process. 

Accurate referencing of all the sources you have used will help you avoid accusations of plagiarism. There are other advantages as well:

  • Referencing the sources you have used means your arguments will be clearly supported by evidence.

  • An accurate reference allows your reader to find the source you have used for themselves.

  • Your lecturer can see how widely you have read and whether you fully understand the work.

  • Including references means your work follows good academic practice.

There are two places in your assignments where you will need to acknowledge when you have used someone else’s ideas, theories etc to support your research.

  • In the body of your work – called in-text referencing or citing. 
    This is when you refer to known theories and ideas to support your own work in the body of your assignment. This might be through a direct quotation (marked out the use of "....") or by paraphrasing the original author's words.

  • At the end of your work in your Reference List or Bibliography. 
    This is where you link the in-text references or citations included in the body of your assignment to a list of all the resources you have used at the end.

Refererence List or Bibliography?

Understanding the difference between a Reference List and a Bibliography can be tricky as the terms can be used incorrectly.

  • Reference List is a list of all the sources you have cited in your work
  • Bibliography is a list of the sources you have read to help you write your assignment but not cited.

In most cases you will only need to create a Reference List, but remember to check with your tutor if you are not sure what is expected.

Reference List format

Your reference list appears at the end of your assignment and should always be in alphabetical order by author/editor/corporate author, no matter what the format of the source is (book, e-book, journal, website etc.).

A bibliography would be presented in the same way as your reference list and would be a separate list following your reference list. 

All the information that you have used in your assignment which came from books, journals or websites will need to be acknowledged. This includes*:
  • Quotations: Using someone else’s written or spoken words.

  • Paraphrased text : Information converted from someone else’s ideas into your own words

  • Summaries: when you summarise someone else’s work or ideas

  • Theories or ideas

  • Statistics and other forms of data

  • Images pictures, graphs, multimedia, tables

  • Music

  • Designs or plans

* This list is not exhaustive and you may use different types of sources, so remember, if you use anything in your assignment which has been written by someone else, please acknowledge their work by referencing or citing them correctly


There are a few occasions when you do not need to add a reference:

  • When you express your own ideas, theories, arguments, or conclusions 
  • Where surveys and experiments have been designed and carried out by you 
  • When you are including very basic common knowledge: For example, London is the capital of England

But remember what is common knowledge for you, and others in your subject area, may not be common knowledge to everyone. Also, even basic statistical information such as in the following example, must also be cited:

"Birmingham is Britain's second city in terms of population with 1.074 million inhabitants." (source should be cited!)



A lecturer talks about the importance of referencing...