Referencing and bibliographies

This brief study guide aims to help you to understand why you should include references to the information sources that you use to underpin your writing. It explains the main principles of accurately referencing such sources in your work.

Other useful guides

Why reference?

When you are writing an essay, report, dissertation or any other form of academic writing, your own thoughts and ideas inevitably build on those of other writers, researchers or teachers. It is essential that you acknowledge your debt to the sources of data, research and ideas on which you have drawn by including references to, and full details of, these sources in your work. Referencing your work allows the reader:

  • to distinguish your own ideas and findings from those you have drawn from the work of others;
  • to follow up in more detail the ideas or facts that you have referred to.

Before you write

Whenever you read or research material for your writing, make sure that you include in your notes, or on any photocopied material, the full publication details of each relevant text that you read. These details should include:

  • surname(s) and initial(s) of the author(s);
  • the date of publication;
  • the title of the text;
  • if it is a paper, the title of the journal and volume number;
  • if it is a chapter of an edited book, the book's title and editor(s)
    the publisher and place of publication*;
  • the first and last page numbers if it is a journal article or a chapter in an edited book.

For particularly important points, or for parts of texts that you might wish to quote word for word, also include in your notes the specific page reference.

* Please note that the publisher of a book should not be confused with the printer. The publisher's name is normally on a book's main title page, and often on the book's spine too.

When to use references

Your source should be acknowledged every time the point that you make, or the data or other information that you use, is substantially that of another writer and not your own. As a very rough guide, while the introduction and the conclusions to your writing might be largely based on your own ideas, within the main body of your report, essay or dissertation, you would expect to be drawing on, and thus referencing your debt to, the work of others in each main section or paragraph. Look at the ways in which your sources use references in their own work, and for further guidance consult the companion guide Avoiding Plagiarism.

Referencing styles

There are many different referencing conventions in common use. Each department will have its own preferred format, and every journal or book editor has a set of 'house rules'.

Whichever referencing system you use, you should check carefully to make sure that:

  • you have included in your reference list/bibliography, footnotes or endnotes full details of all the sources referred to in your text;
  • you have used punctuation and text formatting, such as italics, capitals, and bold text, in a consistent manner in your reference lists or footnotes.

Further reading

More detailed discussion of referencing conventions is to be found in the following publications:

  • Berry, R. 2004: The Research Project: How to Write It. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Gash, S. 1999: Effective Literature Searching for Students (second edition). Aldershot: Gower.
  • Gibaldi, J. 2004: MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (sixth edition). New York: The Modern Language Association of America.
  • Watson, G. 1987: Writing a Thesis: a Guide to Long Essays and Dissertations. London: Longman.


Original author: University of Leicester