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References, citations and avoiding plagiarism

An introduction to the function and practice of referencing your sources

Referencing styles

There are many different conventions, or approaches, to effective referencing, depending on the referencing style being used, and these can be separated into three standard systems for citing sources:

  • Author-date system, e.g. Harvard.
  • Numeric system, e.g. Vancouver.
  • Notes and bibliography system, e.g. MHRA.

There are different versions of each of these approaches, some of which are discipline-specific.  For example, APA is an author-date system that is specific to Psychology, and OSCOLA is a notes and bibliography system only used in Law. 

Be aware, there are many versions of the Harvard and Vancouver referencing styles, there is no single 'correct' style.  If you refer to more than one source for guidance on Harvard, for example, you may notice inconsistencies so always try to stick to one source for guidance. The most important thing is to remain consistent.

Which referencing style should I use?

UCL does not have a standard referencing style for use across the university, but some UCL departments, or even individual academic programmes, may have a preferred referencing style. 

Consult your programme handbook or ask your UCL department which style you should use.

If you are writing for publication, you will find the journal or publisher will have its own style and guidelines

Recognising different referencing styles

Here is an example of an in-text citation in an author-date style:

In their review of the literature (Knapik et al., 2015) some themes emerge …

This style uses an approach in which an author-date are located / identified directly within the text when a source is used, which then allows the reader to find the full reference to the source at the end of the essay on a separate references list (or bibliography).

Here is an example of an in-text citation in a numeric style:

In their review of the literature (1) some themes emerge …

This style uses a numbering system, where an alpha-numeric figure identifies that a source has been used/referenced. The reader can then locate the full reference in the reference list at the end of the essay.

Here is an example of an in-text citation in a notes and bibliography style:

In their review of the literaturesome themes emerge …

This style uses footnotes or endnotes, where the full details of the source are given in the footnote (at the bottom of the current page), or in the endnotes (at the end of the essay). If the same reference occurs again an abbreviated form is used in the footnote/endnote. All references also appear in full on a separate references list (or bibliography) at the end of the essay.