Academic Referencing: What is it?

As you are bringing together an argument for your essay question, you’ll need to support your ideas with others’ work and writing. This will give you credibility and clout, as it’ll show you’ve thoroughly researched your subject area and that you’re able to add to the discussion surrounding it.

As you search using your university’s resources (such as the library or online database), you’ll most like find that there has been a fair amount of work that has been explored previously, depending on your subject. This is great! It gives you the opportunity to respond to others’ ideas, to expand on them, to contradict them, and to evolve them.

The most important thing is to credit the original authors whose ideas you include in your work.

This is where referencing and citation come in; it essentially means that you show - both in the body of your essay and in a list at the end - that there are certain aspects of the work which have been pulled from someone else’s writing. This is important not only because it’s respectful and allows people to read further through your sources, but also because misrepresenting or claiming others’ writing as your own is called plagiarism and it’ll land you in a whole load of trouble.


What is expected of me?

This is where it’s a little bit tricky: there is no one way to reference in academic writing. There are several styles of referencing used across institutions all over the world, meaning you’ll need to find which style is used in your university/college department or in the journal to which you’re submitting.

The most-frequently used styles are Harvard, Chicago, MLA and APA, though there are lots more. All of these require you to cite the author, title, and year published for each source. Depending on the type of source, you’ll also need to include chapter and page numbers, web links, or journal name and issue number.

Regardless of which style you choose (or is required), you’ll need two types of references: in-text and bibliographic.

In-text citations refer to when you quote or summarise someone else’s ideas in the main body of your writing. This often means you indicate the source of that quote/idea by putting it in a footnote or by putting the name and date of the author in brackets in the text (you will only need one or the other of these). This allows a reader to recognise exactly which parts of the writing are based on someone else’s work as they go.

References in a bibliography are different — often more thorough or longer — and come at the end of your entire work — be it an essay, article, thesis, etc — in the form of a list. Every single source is shown in one go, giving a complete look at your research into your topic.

I lost marks on my references — why?

In academia, perfection is the standard, especially when it comes to referencing. You are expected to have an appropriate referencing style and to stick to it meticulously.

You’ll need to go through your references and ensure that they are all formatted in the same way; are all your in-text citations written in the same way? Or do they switch between footnotes and in-text brackets? Even in Chicago style — in which both footnotes and brackets are permitted — you can only have one of the two. Do you punctuate each reference in the same way, or do you switch between (Name, Date) and (Name Date)? Do you end every footnote with a full stop?

Bibliographies are particularly tricky because there is often so much to trawl through, but it’s exactly the same; punctuation and formatting must be consistent throughout or else you risk losing marks. To combat this, you might go through your bibliography looking for only one or two things at a time. This could be just the commas and full stops in the names, or whether or not you have a comma after the brackets, or if you write p. or p or pp. or pg or pg. or pgs. — there are many ways your references can differ from one another.

If you struggle to spot those small details, consider asking a friend to review them for you, though make sure they have some knowledge of academic referencing and a style guide to check. You might even consider hiring a professional proofreader (in which case, I hope you’ll join us here at The Loughborough Pen).

Where can I find more information on specific reference styles?

One of the best resources out there for help with academic referencing is Cite This For Me, which will give you both in-text and bibliographic citations in your chosen style.

Your university or college should also be able to refer you to their own resources for their preferred style.

Do post your questions or comments should you have any! I’m here to help in any way I can.

Until next time,


Emily YoungComment