Once you have found a source you want to use, it has to be incorporated into your text. On this page you will learn about:

  • what referencing is
  • why it is important to refer to your sources in a proper way
  • some useful tips on how you should use the references in your text
  • reference styles

What is referencing?

Incidentally, a sin one more degree heinous than an incomplete reference is an inaccurate reference; the former will be caught by the editor or the printer, whereas the latter will stand in print as an annoyance to future investigators and a monument to the writer’s carelessness.”
Bruner (1942)

Referencing means citing other works, i.e. your sources, in your own text. The references are cited in the running text, and in a reference list or bibliography, usually at the end of the document. The in-text citation is a link to the complete reference in the bibliography. The complete reference is a further link to the original work being cited, and functions as an address to the original work.

A reference is a bibliographic description of a published or unpublished work. The reference should uniquely identify the work in question. In addition, the reference should inform the reader about the document type of the work, e.g. research article, book, conference paper etc. The bibliographic data required for a reference vary with document type.

Basic bibliographic principles

The basic principle of a reference is to identify who is responsible for the work, what the title is, and where and by whom it was published. Most reference managers let you determine the type of reference (document type). This is very useful as it helps the program give the right output in the reference list.

You will at times encounter new document types or material where you are uncertain as to how to write the references. Keep in mind that your should provide enough information for your reader to identify and locate the material.

A basic bibliographic description should include the following:

  • who is responsible for the work, preferably an author or an organisation
  • a title
  • when it was published
  • who published, or made the work available
  • where it was published
  • a web address or digital object identifier (doi) if distributed electronically

Referencing codes of conduct

By correct referencing you

  • show openness about your sources
  • use information that enables verification
  • acknowledge other researchers’ contributions
  • put your own work into an existing context
  • open up for critical discussion by mentioning earlier contributions
  • enable your readers to find your sources easily

Paraphrasing and direct quotation

The two most common ways of citing in-text are paraphrasing and direct quotations. Paraphrasing means to express the information that other authors have provided, but to write it in your own words with a reference citation. A direct quotation is a word-for-word transcript of another author’s words written within quotation marks, and here the citation will include a page number. The rules of paraphrasing and use of quotations are given for specific reference styles in the relevant style manuals. Publishers and journals may have their own regulations and you can find this information in the author guidelines.

Reference styles

There are two main forms of reference styles, author-date and numbered, often called Harvard-style and Vancouver-style, respectively.  In the author-date style, the citation in the text consists of the author and date of the work enclosed in parenthes, and the reference list is organized alphabetically by the author. The numbered style has the citation in the text indicated by a number, and the reference list is organised in the same sequense, e.g. citation No.1 in the text is reference No.1 in the list. The preferred reference style varies with the discipline.

Over the years standards have emerged in reference styles, both for numbered and author-date styles. These styles have developed style manuals to guide the writing of citations and references. Consulting a style manual is particularly useful when writing references for special or uncommon material, like maps or archival material.

When preparing a manuscript for submission, you need to pay particular attention to the reference style requested in the instructions to authors from the publisher. Many journals have developed their own reference style. However,  in most cases, they have based their reference style on one of the standard formats. If you use a document type not accounted for in the author guidelines, you should check with an appropriate style manual.

Style manuals and help pages for reference styles

Below you will find a list of style manuals for standard reference styles, as well as links to the help pages of some of our institutions.

  • American Psychological Association. (2010). Concise rules of APA style. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
  • American Psychological Association. (2010). Mastering APA style: instructor’s resource guide. Washington, DC.: American Psychological Association.
  • American Psychological Association. (2010). Mastering APA style: student’s workbook and training guide. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
  • Chicago manual of style. (2010). The Chicago manual of style (16th Ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Gibaldi, Joseph. (2008). MLA style manual and guide to scholarly publishing. New York: Modern Language Association of America.
  • Iverson, Cheryl. (2007). AMA manual of style: a guide for authors and editors. New York: Oxford University Press.

Help pages for reference types and styles from:


Bruner, Katherine F. (1942). Of psychological writing: being some valedictory remarks on style. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 37(1), 52-70.

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