Citing and referencing - Citing, referencing and avoiding plagiarism

Success in Academic Writing - Trevor Day 2018

Citing and referencing
Citing, referencing and avoiding plagiarism

The argument in this chapter is that citing and referencing are key to academic integrity (intellectual honesty). By full and correct acknowledgment of the sources of facts, ideas and arguments, the author’s contribution and the contributions of others’ work that has informed the author are made apparent to the reader.

You are a member of an academic community. By knowing the sources you have used in completing an assignment, and that you have used them appropriately, an assessor can determine the strength of your argument. He or she can also establish the extent of your contribution to that argument.

Academic integrity is also the starting point for considering plagiarism - the act of taking others’ ideas, arguments, data, tables or figures and passing them off as your own in writing, whether accidentally or intentionally. Plagiarism, by a strict definition, is ’literary theft’ but it can also apply to other elements integrated with the text.

Understanding plagiarism, and how to avoid it, can take weeks or months to fully appreciate. You do so by paying careful attention to the sources you use, deciding how you are going to weave them into your argument, and then paying scrupulous attention to tracking your use of that information, and acknowledging it correctly. Proficiency in these processes only comes with practice.

9.1 Citing and referencing

Citing is the use of a note in the text to refer the reader to the source of information (a fact, idea or argument). The note is called a citation. The citation refers to the source. The full publication details of the source are normally included as an entry, called a reference, in a list of references at the end of the document.

Two methods of citing and referencing are popular:

✵Harvard style (author-date method)

✵Numerical style (involving a numbering system)

Harvard-style citing and referencing

When citing a source using the Harvard style (author-date method), the citation gives the surname(s) of the author(s) and the source’s date of publication. For example: ’Pussycat and Dogmanger (2011) argue persuasively for giving students the opportunity to use plagiarism-detection software to help them improve their academic writing’ or ’Enabling students to use plagiarism-detection software on their own work is a means of raising their awareness of the degree to which they must both acknowledge and adapt the work of others (Pussycat and Dogmanger, 2011).’

In Harvard style, references are listed in the references section alphabetically by author. For example:

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: Freeman. Blakemore, S.-J. and Frith, U. (2005). The Learning Brain. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Claxton, G. (2006). Learning to Learn: The Fourth Generation -Making Sense of Personalised Learning. Bristol: TLO.

Locke, E. A. and Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9): 705-717.

McNeil, F. (2009). Learning with the Brain in Mind. London: Sage. Zimmerman, B. J. (2008). Goal setting: A key proactive source of academic self-regulation. In Motivation and Self-Regulated Learning, ed. D. H. Schunk and B. J. Zimmerman, 267-295. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

The book you are reading right now uses a version of Harvard for citing and referencing.

Numerical citing and referencing

In this system the citation is a number. The citation may be given in brackets:

Aardvark and Womble [1] argue persuasively for giving students the opportunity to use plagiarism­detection software to help them improve their academic writing. Deer and Badger [2] suggest that this approach should come after a period of acclimatisation to academic writing, by which time the student will be aware of the need to avoid plagiarism, and the challenges in doing so.

Alternatively, the citation can be given in superscript (raised above the normal line of text):

Aardvark and Womble1 argue persuasively for giving students the opportunity to use plagiarism­detection software to help them improve their academic writing. Deer and Badger2 suggest that this approach should come after a period of acclimatisation to academic writing, by which time the student will be aware of the need to avoid plagiarism, and the challenges in doing so.

In most numerical systems the references at the end of the piece of work are listed in the order in which they are cited in the text. For example:

1Aardvark, T. and Womble, P. (2012). Strategies for Avoiding Plagiarism. Wonderland: Nowhere Press.

2Deer, W. and Badger, C. (2013). Academic Writing in the Round. Atlantis: Over The Rainbow Press.

If a source is cited more than once, it uses the number from the first citation. So, if Deer and Badger (2013) were referred to several times in a document, the citation in each case would be [2] or 2.

A reference list or a bibliography?

Traditionally, a reference list and a bibliography are slightly different. In a reference list you give only the source documents you have cited in your text. A bibliography lists all the sources you have consulted in writing your document, including those you have not cited.

A bibliography can be useful because it shows the depth and breadth of your reading, which can provide useful information for an assessor. Items in the bibliography reveal key influences that might have shaped your thinking.

Sometimes the term ’reference list’ and ’bibliography’ are taken to mean the same thing. Check with your assessor whether he or she wants you to list all the sources you have consulted, or only those that you have cited.

Styles of citing and referencing

Although two styles of citing and referencing have been referred to so far - Harvard-style and numerical - within these categories there are numerous styles of referencing. The Harvard-style (author-date) system is used by various versions of Harvard, including British Standard (Harvard). The American Psychological Association (APA) style, common in social science disciplines, uses an author-date citation system. Systems vary in detail as to exactly how citations are given, e.g. (Aardvark and Wombat, 2012) or (Aardvark & Wombat 2012), and exactly how punctuation and abbreviations are used in reference entries. For example:

Aardvark, A. and Wombat, T. (2012). Foraging strategies among burrowing mammalian herbivores. Global Life Sciences, Vol. 4, pp. 260-295.


Aardvark, A. and Wombat, T. 2012, ’Foraging strategies among burrowing mammalian herbivores.’ Global Life Sciences, 4: 260-295.

The Chicago referencing style is an author-date system in which the full reference entry is given in a footnote on the same page as the citation. The Modern Languages Association (MLA) system, popular in the arts and humanities, cites author and source page number or author and title rather than author-date.

There are many hundreds of versions of author-date referencing, and some universities have even developed their own version, e.g. the University of Bath has its own version of Harvard ( Whichever version you choose, and your department or institution will usually specify which one, use it with consistency within your document.

For numerical referencing there are several systems in common use. Three of the most prevalent are British Standard (Numeric), Vancouver (commonly used in life sciences, humanities and mathematics), and IEEE, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (in computer science and some engineering disciplines).

All citing and referencing systems have their strengths and weaknesses. They are often elegantly adapted for their specific discipline. For example, in certain contexts engineering and science disciplines use a numerical referencing system because it allows text to be compact. Numerical referencing is less likely to interrupt the flow of dense, fact- or data-rich sentences that refer to several sources. A disadvantage is that the reader has to turn to the reference list to locate the author(s) and date of a given source. Knowing the date and author for a citation, as you read text, can be invaluable in judging the quality of the account. For example, does it use the latest sources? Does it rely too much on only one or a few authors, and therefore might it be biased?

Useful guides to citing and referencing include Neville (2010) and Pears and Shields (2016), while Godfrey (2013) considers how to bring your researching, reading and writing together, to appropriately draw upon and acknowledge sources. The University of York Academic Integrity webpages ( give style guides for several different referencing systems.

For a student, the key to using a referencing system is to find out what your tutor or department wishes you to employ for that assignment and similar ones. You need to be absolutely consistent in the way you cite and reference within that system, and develop confidence and expertise in using it.