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2008 ElementE Ltd

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Oh, the headaches this causes some people! Here are some tips to avoid the angst.

Why bother?

Quite apart from the fact that any academic course will require 'references' or 'a bibliography', you want to present a professional face.  Referencing:

  • Is ethical: you are showing you give credit where it is due to other people

  • Shows you think.  It is very hard to be unoriginal if you have to show how two or three (or more) ideas fit together.

  • Gives you a resource for your own future work.  If you have a record of where you found something, you can go back and re-examine it in the light of new needs.

  • Makes it possible for assessors and peers to check your sources and constructively critique your work.


There are a number of different referencing systems in use and, if you are enrolled on a course, you should check your Student Handbook or Regulations to see which one is preferred.  However, the principle of all reference systems remains the same: anyone who

  • Sees an idea/model quoted by you

  • Sees a quotation in your work

should be able to find the original source with ease. 

This means all your references must follow the same format as each other.  For example, no-one should have to try and work out if Stefan George is the same as George S or Stefan G because all names should be the 'same way round' and, if the first name is abbreviated the first time, then it is always abbreviated.

Page numbers are required in some systems but not others.  If you use page numbers, you must give editions.  Courses with lots of short texts or with lots of online texts do not normally need page numbers.

Internet references provide a relatively new source of complication and, if your subject area is new, nearly all your references will be online.  You have no choice: tell people the last date on which you checked all the references and make sure you give the full web page address.  It is not acceptable to give the home page when the article or quotation is on a sub-page.  If you have a lot of internet references, give a separate section.  If you only have a few internet references compared to print ones,

Audio/TV references.  These are rarely suitable but, when they are, you need to give the broadcaster and the transmission date because determined research can find the transcripts.

Simple bibliography system

Your college/university may not like the following system but it shows the principle and, if you have a choice and want to stick to something that is easy to use, try this.


For books

lastname, first initials, Italic title, date, publisher

Smith, AN, Referencing fun, 2007, ElementE


For pages

As above but add the page at the end:

Smith, AN, Referencing fun, 2007, ElementE, p2


Chapters.  If you want to reference a chapter in a book, use the following system:

Lastname, Initals 'Chapter inside inverted commas' in Title of book, Bookauthorlastname, Initials, Date, Publisher

Palmer, G "Writing your thesis" in Lifelong Learning, Pooley, AP, 2008, PearsonEd

Journals and newspapers

Give the date of publication as accurately as possible (to the day, for newspapers) and always reference the article writer using the same system as 'chapters' above.


For web references

If you have lots of references, create a separate section and give the date when you last verified all the links. If you have more web references than book/paper references, or they are more important, it is acceptable to put them first.  Remember: one click on the link should take people straight there.  If the website requires a password, use a screen-grab (PrintScreen) and make this an attached pdf instead.  Do not crop/edit it.

Remember: wikipedia is very rarely a suitable academic reference. (See Secondary references)


For TV/Radio

Something similar to this:

Palmer G in Education Today, 6 June 08, NY-TyneRadio 1600 GMT


Some systems require you to give these, others do not.  They are the best way of identifying a work but that is no comfort if you have forgotten to record them so do develop a system for this (see below).


Secondary references

When you want to make a reference to something you have read by 'Bloggs' in a book that was in fact written by 'Smith', this is called a secondary reference.  You should always read the original and reference that if you can but there are times when you need to use the intermediary.  For example, a very authoritative report may cost thousands of dollars but a reputable summary may be free and all you need is the basic information available in the summary.  Some university systems require you to list 'Secondary sources' separately.  Most will allow you to list them using the same system as 'Chapters'.



If more than a few words, these are usually indented and the author and date are given right aligned underneath. E.g.

"Quality control is essential to preserve academic quality, create mobility and protect privacy"

Palmer, 2008

The reference section then shows the full source:

Palmer, G "Portfolios and PDP for EU Mobility", European Integration - Realities and Perspectives Conference, Danubius University, Galaţi, May 2008


Personal narratives

Some courses and portfolio systems require 'Narratives'. This is not an invitation to write a version of your journal/diary.  Evaluators may cry with you, laugh with you and like you (and your family) enormously but that is not the point and not what they are there to check.  All the writing should be in the third person e.g. 'People should', 'It is expected that...' 'Usual procedures include...'  You then have to make these generalised examples fit with documents that can be put in the bibliography.  That means you have to do very careful referencing because your assessor will have almost no time to look and check and if they cannot look and check, guess what: you fail.  One of the biggest worries for assessors is that they can see people are able but they cannot give academic credit when people do not follow academic rules.  It is unfair to say 'ignore wikipedia' but that is not normally a good finishing point.  Also, if you have a long document on the internet that is divided into chapters, it may be better for you to take that document and make a pdf so you can reference specific pages.  (NB: it helps if any scans and pdfs are the right way up!!!  Assessors can be on planes or in hotels or conferences and have no access to a printer.)


Appearance in main text

Again, your institution may have a different method but here is a simple system that, if you apply it consistently, will normally be accepted.

  • If you use the author name in your sentence, just put the date in brackets immediately afterwards e.g

Palmer (2008) synthesises these ideas and ....

  • If you refer to ideas without naming the author(s) in the sentence put them, in the order to which they were referred, in brackets at the end of your sentence

...following the relevant university and corporate governance models (Palmer, 2008; Sarbanes-Oxley, 2002)

  • If you have references to more than one work by the same author, use supercript numbering e.g.

    (Palmer2, 2008; Palmer1, 2006)

Every mention like this in the main text must receive a full reference in the Bibliography. 


Models and diagrams

If you invent these yourself, you need to give them a name.  Whether you put the name above or below the diagram, centred or right aligned is up to you (or your institution) but the position and format must be the same on all your diagrams.  That sounds silly - until you see an essay that has lots of diagrams one after the other and you have to work out which title belongs to which diagram.  If you are using someone else's diagram you must always cite the shortened reference at the end of the title (e.g. Simplified Corporate Governance Model, Palmer, 2008) and put a full reference in the bibliography.


Basic organisation

There is nothing worse than trying to find a missing reference at 3 a.m. when the essay has to be in at 8 a.m. Develop a system to avoid such nightmares. 


  • For books and paper items, write down all author and publisher details before you start reading.  Make sure your notes list the author's name so that you can then relate the one to the other later.  An Excel record for the names/publishers and a Word record for the notes means that you can search your computer for the match when, as inevitably happens, you misfile something.

  • For online references, set up a Bookmarks/Favourites/Delicious  folder for each assignment or paper and as soon as you see an item that could be useful, put the entire page address into that folder.  You will have to prune and organise it later, but at least you will have the basic information.  Remember: home pages are not sufficient references if the link is to a later page.  If you are really not sure about the referencing, use the Print Screen function (PrtSc key) which copies the whole page to the memory.  Then open a Word file and Paste it (Ctrl+V) into that just as it is.  For portfolios and essays where you are allowed Appendices, you may want to save each of these as separate pages and refer to them instead of the website.