Beginners Guide To Academic Referencing

Writing an essay can be very stressful for many. And the added pressure of meeting the referencing requirements can be a tedious process. But, no need to worry! Here is an easy Beginners Guide to Academic Referencing.

For many the hardest part about writing an academic article or essay is not the actual writing. More so, students struggle to get the referencing right. Here is a quick and easy Beginners Guide To Academic Referencing.

Referencing Apps/Tools

There are many apps and tools that exist to help you manage your references. These include:

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Why do we need to reference?

When writing an assignment YOU MUST highlight your use of another author’s words and ideas. Referencing is important for the following reasons:

  • Acknowledging an author for his/her ideas
  • Supporting your arguments
  • Allows the reader to look up the original source if they want to
  • The reader is able to see when and where the author wrote the original source
  • Proof that you have read up on the topic under study
  • To avoid plagiarism

Different Referencing Styles

There are many forms of referencing. A lot of the time your institution will inform you of which one to use. Some of the different styles include:

American Psychological Association (APA)

This style allows for easy communication between the student and reader. Because it is clear and to the point. When a style works best, your ideas flow.

Modern Language Association (MLA)

 Each entry, using this style, has the following key elements which fall in this specific order:

  • Author
  • Title of Source
  • Title of Container (the larger source which holds the source you are using. For example an article is find within a journal)
  • Other contributors
  • Version
  • Number
  • Publisher
  • Publication date
  • Location

You can use this practice template to insert a reference using this style.


This form of referencing is a documentation style. And it was created by the University of Chicago. This style has two forms:

  • Notes and bibliography
  • Author date

Notes and Bibliography

Students studying art, history or languages like to use this style. For example:

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Author Date

Scientists prefer to use this style, as the In-text referencing is more brief. At the end of the paper there is a reference list with full details. For example:

(Pollan 2006, 99–100)

Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

The Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is a professional organisation. This style includes in-text references numbered in square brackets. And a full list of references at the end of the paper.

NOTE: The reference list is in the order of it’s number not alphabetically.


This style uses footnotes and a bibliography. And was created by The University of Oxford. This type of referencing is very complex. But, there’s a style guide which breaks it down.


Harvard referencing is also known as the author-date style. And it is almost the exact same as the APA Style. But, there is no comma separating the author and date in the in-text referencing. For example: …common at the time (Jones 2005).

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Difference between a Reference List and a Bibliography

It is very easy to confuse the two but there are some slight differences. Some institutions prefer a reference list, others a bibliography. But, there are institutions which ask for both.

Reference List

A reference list is a detailed list of references that you have referenced in your actual text.


A bibliography includes the list of references you used. But, it also includes extra readings that you may have read through.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is a serious academic offense. Consequently, you could get 0% for your assignment. You should know plagiarism comes in many forms:

  • The act of presenting someone else’s ideas as your own without acknowledging them.
  • Adding images to your assignment without saying where it came from.
  • Not showing a quote as a quote.
  • Summarising information without showing the original piece of information.
  • Changing a few words in a sentence (paraphrasing) and not acknowledging the author.

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Last Updated: 3 June 2022