In academic work, when you refer to an idea or information provided by someone else you should always reference the publication in which it appears. This page tells you when, why and how to do so.

4 reasons to reference

Referencing is an essential part of academic writing for several reasons. Here are four of the most important:

  1. It shows that you have consulted and are familiar with the relevant research
  2. It ensures you have given due credit to the creators of ideas and information
  3. It enables your readers to consult the works you have referenced
  4. It helps you avoid plagiarism

Referencing styles

There are many different referencing styles, such as Harvard, APA, MHRA and OSCOLA.

It is important to ensure that you are following the appropriate style for your subject. Check your course or module handbook, or speak to your tutor, if you are unclear as to which style you should be using.

Once you know which style you should be using, the most important thing is to cite sources accurately and consistently.

When to reference

You should reference any source of information you draw on in your work. Here are two good rules to follow: 

  • If the information comes from outside your own head, then cite the source.
  • If in doubt, provide a citation.

Following these rules will ensure that someone reading your work will be able to clearly distinguish between information and ideas that are your own, and information or ideas that you have encountered elsewhere.

General and common knowledge

There are two exceptions to the above guidance: general and common knowledge.

In a piece of academic work it's likely that you'll include examples of one or both of these. In neither case, however, would you have to provide a citation. Click below to find out more.

How to reference

There are three principle ways of working sources in to a piece of writing: summarising, paraphrasing and quoting.

The mechanics

1. Footnotes, endnotes and in-text citations

Depending on the referencing style you use, you will either cite sources in footnotes, in endnotes or in the body of the text itself. Harvard, for example, uses in-text citations, whereas MHRA uses footnotes and Vancouver uses endnotes.

Make sure that you know which referencing style you are meant to use, and follow it accurately and consistently.

2. Different kinds of sources

Over the course of your degree you will likely cite various types of sources. This includes not only books and journal articles, but perhaps also webpages, reports, laws or even AI-generated content.

Different types of sources are cited differently depending on the referencing style you use. For detailed guidance consult Cite Them Right or contact your Subject Librarian.

3. Bibliographies and reference lists

Your written work should not only include citations when you refer to another person's work, but also a bibliography and/or reference list.

bibliography provides the bibliographic information for all of the sources you consulted while carrying out an assignment, including any that you did not cite. A bibliography is ordered alphabetically by author's surname, and appears at the end of your assignment.

A reference list provides the bibliographic information only for the sources cited in your work, and appears at the end of your document (but before the bibliography, if you have both). It is usually ordered alphabetically by author's surname, except in the Vancouver referencing style when the reference list is ordered numerically according to the sources you have cited.

Many referencing styles, such as Harvard, MHRA and OSCOLA will require a bibliography but not a reference list. Others, such as Vancouver, require both.

Cite Them Right is an excellent source of help with creating bibliographies and reference lists. Alternatively, contact your Subject Librarian.

4. Reference management software

Many students and staff use reference management software to keep track of their sources and save time when writing.

The most commonly-used referencing software packages are EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero. Regardless of which one you use, it will allow you to store and organise sources, as well as quickly insert citations into a piece of writing and automatically generate a reference list or bibliography.

A photo of ChatGPT open on a laptop. Cite Them Right

Cite Them Right contains advice on citing many different types of sources, including books, journal articles, and AI such as ChatGPT.

A group of people pointing to a laptop screen. Referencing tutorial

This tutorial from Cite Them Right teaches you how to cite the sources you use, and tests your knowledge of referencing.

An array of stationary and tools for drawing and design on a pink background. Referencing tools

EndNote is the University of Bristol's recommended reference management software.

Mendeley and Zotero are alternative reference management software packages.

A photo of one of the reading rooms in the Wills Memorial Library. Subject Librarians

For further help with referencing please contact your subject librarian, who you can find listed by subject here.

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