Tips To Referencing in Academic Writing

If you are at University, it doesn’t matter what course you are studying, knowing how to reference in academic writing is essential. Yes, it’s awful. Yes it’s laborious and yes , it’s quite often confusing. But none the less we need to do it.

As I write this blog, I am surrounded by students who are clearly finishing up a written assignment which is no doubt handed in today. I’m not judging them, I too have been sat at the computer finalizing and tweeking a report with only a few hours left to hand in. Thats natural and a part of the university experience. But one thing I have noticed whilst sitting here and listening to their struggles, they’re not worried about the written content. Their problem is referencing.

I am currently in my third year studying psychology and I learnt quickly how to reduce the pressure of writing an assignment and I’ll share a few tips in regards to referencing.


1. Check your University referencing guidelines.

This is crucial as referencing isn’t a universal system. There are many ways to reference such as APA, Chicago and MLA. It’s important to understand the referencing rules your university implements as this will prevent you from being marked down for referencing.


APA: Dawkins, R., & Krebs, J. R. (1979). Arms races between and within species.Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B. Biological Sciences,205(1161), 489-511.


Chicago: Dawkins, Richard, and John R. Krebs. “Arms races between and within species.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B. Biological Sciences 205, no. 1161 (1979): 489-511.


MLA: Dawkins, Richard, and John R. Krebs. “Arms races between and within species.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B. Biological Sciences 205.1161 (1979): 489-511.


2. Make sure you understand the difference in referencing

As previously mentioned, referencing can be confusing. It isn’t a science but you will fare better off  for understanding the different ways of referencing.  For instance if you are directly quoting from a book it will look something like this:


“Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for it’s own existance” (Dawkins, 2006; p1).


What is important is to ensure the reference is placed after the direct quote and the page number is included within the brackets.

Conversely, if we were to paraphrase (to say that quote in our way to demonstrate we understand what is being said) the reference comes before the paraphrased quote. We would reference like so:


There are many concepts of what it means to be intelligent. For Dawkins (2006) intelligence becomes present when the species understands the reason to their inception.


3. Don’t leave your referencing to the end!

I have sat in the library many times over the last 3 years and heard students scurrying around their notes and carefully analysing the internet history to find the references they used. This can be avoided simply by referencing as you go. By this, I mean that you should jot down the reference on your notes so you understand where the reference came from and can access it easily.

The way in which I compile my notes and references is to collate them all in a digital format, i.e. Word. If I am reading a book I will first write down the whole reference and then type any references of importance that I feel will adequately contribute to my paper. This way, it means that if I use a quote or paraphrase from my notes I know exactly where it came from and can simply copy and paste the references into my reference list. The beauty of this method is that when I complete my assignment, my reference list is already complete.

A quick and easy way to check if you have included the full references which you have used in your assignment is to copy and paste the reference list and paste into a new word document. Then put your essay and reference on screen together so you can swiftly read through and double check all references are present in your references list which you refer to in your written assignment.

I hope these little pointers provided some help into referencing. It can be tricky, but it is important to get right as easy marks can be lost and this can really make or break a good piece of written work.

Good Luck in your studies


Disclaimer: All views expressed in this blog are my own.


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