What is the right way to write references?

There are quite a few different ways of writing references (also called citations). The referencing conventions (also called citation styles) are usually named after a university or professional body which uses them, or which wrote the rules (e.g. Harvard, American Psychological Association, Oxford). Generally, each discipline, school, department and/or faculty has one or more systems which they prefer students and other scholars to use.

Students should be told which system to use by their lecturer, school, department and/or faculty at the beginning of the year or semester – either in a set of general guidelines, the outline for the unit of study or in the instructions for a particular assignment. Occasionally, students will be allowed to choose the citation style they prefer, as long as it is consistently used. If you don’t know what referencing system is expected, however, it is a good idea to ask.

References in an essay or other academic text usually have two parts. The first part is inside your text, immediately after the source material you are paraphrasing or quoting. This first part is very short: depending on what system you are using, it is usually either just a number - e.g. 5 for a numbered set of footnotes, or [5] for a numbered set of endnotes - or else a set of brackets enclosing the author(s) and year of publication - e.g. (Oppenshaw & Rata, 2007).

The second part of the reference/citation contains the complete details about the source. Depending on the system you are using, it is either in a footnote at the bottom of the page, in a numbered list of endnotes at the end of your paper, or in an alphabetical reference list at the end of your paper.

Different citation conventions have different rules about the order of information and formatting such as underlining, italics and punctuation. These are set out in published referencing/citation style guides for each system, which you can find in the library. You can use software such as Endnote if you have a lot of references, to automatically apply the right format to each reference. Endnote can be downloaded for free from the library’s site. The library also runs classes on using Endnote. (See links to the library, on the right.)

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