References: The Basics

An essential part of academic writing is acknowledging the sources that you have consulted. This is called citing references. You will need to make sure you are consistent in the way you do this.

Why should I keep a record of the sources I use during my research?

  • Keeping accurate records makes it easy for you to find a source again. You may not realise how valuable a source is until a later stage in the research. If you have kept a record of your sources, it will be easy to locate and refer back to them.
  • When you come to write up your research keeping a record of your sources saves you valuable time, particularly when citing your references and writing your bibliography.
  • The Safari tutorial developed by the Open University has a section on Organising Information. Parts 1-4 contain useful information about the importance of keeping records.

Why do I need to cite references?

  • To guide other readers to the material you have used to arrive at your conclusions, and to follow up your sources.
  • Citing references is part of academic good practice and it is important to learn this skill. It provides evidence for your arguments and adds academic credibility to your work.
  • It is a way of communicating with your readers. It keeps them appraised of whose ideas or words you are using.
  • To avoid plagiarism. If  you do not acknowledge the sources you have used this violates the rights of the person who originated the idea. At this level of study it is essential that you express your own ideas clearly and indicate when you are referring to another persons work. The University uses anti-plagiarism software so you need to make sure you indicate clearly in your text when you are referring to a source. The University of London page on coursework offences has more information.
  • It is mandatory for all students to cite or acknowledge information that has come from other sources.

What do I need to reference?

You need to reference every time you refer to someone else’s work, this does not just include direct quotations but also when you paraphrase or summarise.

There are a variety of different referencing styles which will be covered on the next page however you will usually be required to:

  • Indicate in the body of the text or in a footnote when you are referring to a source.
  • Provide a Bibliography of the sources that you referred to at the end of your work.

Your references may not only refer to books and journal articles, you may also need to include information from websites, newspapers and visual information such as films or photographs.

You will need to learn the correct way of citing these sources for the reference style your course requires.

Parts 5-8 of the Organising Information  section of the Open University Safari Tutorial covers the importance of citing references and constructing the Bibliography.

Referencing Styles

Each referencing style will require you to provide similar information such as the author, the year the item was published, the page number if there is a quotation, the title of the book or journal etc. However there will be a different format for how you present the information in text and in a bibliography, depending on which citation format you are required use.

On our referencing styles page you can find out which referencing style your course uses and how to reference in that style.

How can I reference easily?

You can save a great deal of time by using Summon or RefWorks to instantly convert a list of readings into a bibliography. You can find out how to do this on our Reference Management Software page.

However you will still need to check your list of references, and possibly make some minor amendments, to make sure they match the referencing style described in your VLE.