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References, citations and avoiding plagiarism

An introduction to the function and practice of referencing your sources

Getting started: Academic practice

Acknowledging your sources

When it comes to convincing a reader, providing evidence to support an argument/statement using another person’s/expert’s work to corroborate your assertions is generally good practice in many forms of (written) communication.  Whether it is a newspaper article or academic essay, a non-fiction book or a journal article, public policy or a tweet, on a very basic level we are more likely to be convinced by an argument if the speaker/writer shows:

  • why they believe what they are saying,
  • what has lead them to come to this conclusion,
  • and why this evidence is reliable/believable. 

So, whenever you (a writer) refer(s) to or include(s) someone else’s words or work, whether it is a direct quote, a reproduction of a photo, or a description of an idea you (they) should always reference the source of where you (they) found that information. 

In this respect, using other people’s work and effectively referencing your sources will:

  • show that you are writing from a position of understanding of your topic.
  • demonstrate that you have read widely and deeply.
  • enable the reader to locate the source of each quote, idea or work/evidence (that was not your own).
  • avoid plagiarism and uphold academic honesty.

To get started with academic research and writing, you need to understand the elements that make up a reference so you can identify the type of material it is and refer to that source:

Avoiding plagiarism

If you do not acknowledge your sources correctly, you risk passing off someone else's ideas as your own, which could constitute academic dishonesty. Having a grasp of what plagiarism is, and the different forms of plagiarism, can help you avoid this malpractice.

To get started, have a look at our guidance on plagiarism and UCL's guidance on academic integrity.