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References, citations and avoiding plagiarism

An introduction to the function and practice of referencing your sources

How to reference

Whenever you directly quote, paraphrase, reproduce or refer to someone else’s idea or work in your own, you must credit the source. To do so, you need key information from the source itself, which depends on the type and form of the original source. You need to present this information in a particular way depending on the referencing style that you are adopting.

When you are referencing a source in your work, follow these steps

1. Identify the type of source you are referencing

In 'Understanding a reference' we discussed how to determine types of sources from looking at the citation in a reference list or bibliography. When you are citing references yourself, you will need to determine what the type of source is from looking at the source itself. This is important because different types of source may require different information to be included in the citation.

In some cases the type of source may be obvious, but in others it may be harder to determine. If you are not sure you could try:

  • Looking at an example of a reference which you think is the same reference type and seeing if you can identify all the relevant pieces of information to cite that source the same way. Look at examples on our Referencing styles pages.
  • Seeing if the type of source is indicated in resources that index the source, e.g. in a library catalogue or bibliographic database.
  • Finding an example of where that source appears in the reference list of an existing publication. Can you determine from the citation what type of source it is? See Understanding a reference for more information.

2. Determine the information you need from that source.

In order to cite sources correctly, you will need to record the following information, as a minimum, from each source:

  • Who created the item? (author, artist)
  • What is it called? (the title)
  • When was it created?
  • If part of a larger work?  What is that called?
  • Where is it published/disseminated?
    • By whom?
  • Page numbers of any quotations

An understanding of what is required in a reference for each type of source is important.  You can check this information on the 'How to reference' page for your citation style on our Referencing styles pages.

3. Establish how to present it in a reference

You need to construct your citations within the text of your assignment or other piece of written work following the appropriate guidelines for the citation style you are using.

Please see our Referencing styles page for:guidance on establishing which referencing style you should use.

See guidelines and examples for commonly used referencing styles on our individual referencing styles pages: