Referencing and citations

Advice and resources to support you with referencing and citations, and avoiding plagiarism.

The basics

At university you are expected to read and research, and then use the ideas, information, data and a range of other sources in your own academic work and assignments. However, it is important to make absolutely clear where each idea or piece of information comes from by referencing it (giving your sources) in your own work.

What is referencing? (PDF)

What is referencing? (Word rtf)

When done properly, reference adds credibility and strength to your arguments, as well as demonstrating the effort that you have put into research and reading. There is more information on using your reading and developing your argument in the Reading at university and Academic writing pages.

Reading at university

Academic Writing

Different subjects and disciplines use different referencing styles (or systems). You may even find that different assignments on a course use different styles, depending on the format of the assignment. The different styles, e.g. Harvard, Chicago, OSCOLA, look very different. But when and why you need to reference does not change. There is further information on Different styles in the Go further section of this page.

You need to make sure you know how you are being expected to do this and you should refer to your course, assignment, or programme information provided by your School about what style you are expected to use. If you are unsure, you need to ask someone who teaches you.

Citations vs references

In your work, you need to explicitly indicate and acknowledge when you have used or referred to someone else’s idea or data etc. However, if you were to include the full reference (or bibliographic details) of your evidence, it would disrupt the flow of your argument.

Instead, it is academic convention to give an abbreviated version of the reference details at the point it is being discussed. This is known as a citation or in-text citing. The citation should make an explicit link between the point being presented or discussed, and the evidence you are using.

A reference is the full bibliographic or publication details of a citation. Whilst the in-text citation tells your audience that there is evidence to support your point, the reference gives them all the information they would need to find that evidence and review it themselves. You may cite the same source several times in your argument, however it only needs one reference as it is the same source each time.

Typically, the references of all your citations are collated at the end of a piece of work. Depending on your discipline and the style you are using this may be called a reference list (or works cited), or a bibliography. Everything you’ve cited in your work must be included in the references or bibliography. However, in some subjects, a bibliography may also include other sources which you have consulted but have not cited in your work. You need to check the information provided by your course or School about what is required.

Tips for accurate referencing (PDF)

Tips for accurate referencing (Word rtf)

Most word processing software has a citation or referencing function so you do not necessarily have to format them all yourself. However you will still need to check that the software has done it properly and in the style that is required. You should be able to find instructions on how to do this for your software in the Help section or by searching online.


It is your responsibility to ensure the accuracy and adequacy of your citations and references. You need to make sure that your citations unambiguously link to the correct reference. You also need to make sure that you have citations everywhere they are needed. If you forget or miss a citation, then the impression you are giving is that the work is your own, when it is in fact someone else’s.

This is called plagiarism and is a form of academic misconduct. Typically plagiarism is due to unintentional, inadequate referencing, but it can also be deliberate.

What is plagiarism? (PDF)

What is plagiarism? (Word rtf)

You should also read the University of Edinburgh’s official guidance and policy on plagiarism:

Academic Services – Plagiarism

The Good academic practice page has additional information and guidance on what’s expected, academic misconduct and support.

Good academic practice

Go further

Different styles

The way a reference is abbreviated into a citation, and the format of the bibliographic details at the end of your work differ, depending which style (or system) you are using. Styles generally fall into two categories and relate to what the in-text citation looks like:

  • Author-date e.g. APA, Harvard,
  • Numeric e.g. Chicago notes and bibliography (NB) format, OSCOLA and Vancouver.

Some styles also include footnotes, which have a distinct purpose and format depending on the style. Be sure to check course or assignment information on if and how to use footnotes.

Information Services provide access to Cite Them Right online, which offers guidance and examples of how to cite and reference different sources (e.g. journal articles, books, web pages) in different styles. If you are not on the University network, you may need to login in via your institution for full access.

Cite Them Right

Reference managers

Once you are accustomed to referencing (including when you need to do it and what it needs to look like), you could start to use a reference manager. Reference management software can automatically format citations and build a reference list or bibliography for you. They can also allow you to store, annotate and groups references in your own personal database. The Academic Support Librarians have put together a Referencing and reference management subject guide with information on the different tools and training available.

Referencing and reference management