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How to reference at university level

What is referencing? Here we explain everything you’ll need to know about how to correctly reference your work at university 

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    Grace McCabe

    Content Writer, THE Student
    December 7 2022
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    Whatever subject you are studying, you will need to include references any time you use ideas or quotes from previous research and books in your essays, papers, reports or assignments.

    What is referencing?

    Referencing is when we include where we got our sources in our writing. By including references, you can support your ideas and ensure you don’t plagiarise (claim someone else’s idea or words as your own).

    There are lots of referencing styles, but most include:

    - A citation referring to the source of the text or idea 
    - A reference list or bibliography with the full details of all sources 

    Why do we reference our work? 

    - To give the original author credit when using their ideas 
    - Validate your points 
    - Allow the reader to follow up on sources 
    - Allow the reader to see how recent the sources are 
    - Prove that you have read up about the subject 
    - Avoid committing plagiarism 

    What is plagiarism? 

    Plagiarism is the copying of ideas and presenting them as your own, either directly or indirectly. This can include copying and pasting text or images without saying where they are from, not marking a quotation or summarising without including the original source. So, make sure you always include the original author. 

    Plagiarism is an academic offence and universities will not take it lightly if you have been found to plagiarise your work. If you are found plagiarising work at university, you will probably be failed, receive a warning and may even be removed from your course.  

    Most universities ask for a signed declaration from students to confirm all work is their own and will scan your submissions using anti-plagiarism software. 

    What are the referencing styles used at university? 

    There are many different referencing styles, and your university and tutors will confirm which style they want you to use. It can vary across faculties so make sure you know which style is preferred for your chosen subjects. 

    Common referencing styles include: 

    - Harvard style 
    - Modern Language Association (MLA) 
    - American Psychological Association (APA) 
    - Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA) 
    - Oxford University Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA) 
    - Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 
    - American Medical Association (AMA) 
    - Chicago/Turabian style 
    - Vancouver style 

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    Which referencing style should I use? 

    Your university will have a referencing style guide for all students that gives examples of how they want you to reference your sources. However, if you are given the choice, many find Harvard style the most straightforward and easy to use.

    Harvard style is most common in the UK, MHRA is used in humanities, APA style is used in social sciences, Vancouver is often used in biomedicine and OSCOLA is used for referencing in law. 

    How do I use in-text citations? 

    If you use quotes, paraphrase other’s comments or refer to other people’s points of view, you need to include an in-text citation. Quotes need to be shown using quotation marks to show that it is a direct copy of someone else’s words.

    In a similar way, paraphrasing, where you rephrase the original source, still needs a citation but does not need quotation marks. The format of your in-text citation will change depending on what style of referencing you must use.

    For example, in Harvard referencing you will write the quote followed by (author’s surname, date of publication) in brackets.

    How do I write a bibliography or list of references? 

    The bibliography is where you include all the information related to any sources you have cited throughout your essay, project or assignment. Some referencing styles such as OSCOLA or Chicago style don’t require a bibliography at the end of the piece because they have full source information included in the footnotes throughout, therefore the information has already been provided. 

    Most of the time these lists are formatted alphabetically by the author’s last name and will include information about the source so others can refer to it if they wish.  Sometimes you need to include sources that you read but may have not used in your final piece, depending on the style of referencing you choose. 

    These lists are an excellent way to stay organised because you can add your sources as you are reading and studying and then you will have a great source to refer to once you start working on your assignment. 

    An example of a bibliography entry in the Harvard style would be: 

    Author’s last name, first initial(s) (year of publication) name of book/source, edition, company and location 

    Are there tools to help me reference sources? 

    There are some sites and tools that can help when it comes to referencing. Often universities will make it clear whether you are allowed to use these tools and which ones they would recommend for their students.  

    Universities will also provide guides to referencing.  

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