An Introduction to Referencing

  • A reference, also known as a citation, is the key details (e.g. author, title, year published, etc.) about a specific source of information (e.g. book, website, journal article, etc.). The main reason that we use references is to tell people what we have read. For example, if I told you I had read a book called Global Warming by Archer then this is a type of reference, although not a very good one. Below is a more complete reference for the same book:

    Archer, D. (2007). Global warming: understanding the forecast. Malden, Mass. : Blackwell

    This reference gives the following information:

    Author's name. (Year the book was published). Title of the book. Place it was published : Name of the publisher

    It is a good reference because it includes lots of information that will make it easy for you to find the book if you wanted to read it for yourself.

    Summary: a reference tells somebody reading your work what you have read, and a good reference provides all the details someone needs to find that information source for themselves.

    Typically references appear in two forms: the in-text citation and the bibliography. The two types of references work in partnership. The in-text citation tells the reader that what you have written has been taken from or stimulated by an information source created by another author. The bibliography gives them all the information they need to go and find that information source for themselves.

    Below is an example of an in-text citation:

    Melting mountain glaciers are the most visual indication of climate change (Archer, 2007, p.133) and photographs demonstrating this phenomena have appeared prominently in several national newspapers.

    The part of this sentence that is the in-text citation is "(Archer, 2007)". The in-text citation doesn't contain much information because otherwise it would interrupt the flow of the text. I used an in-text citation in this sentence to show that this opinion about melting mountain glaciers and climate change is not something that I thought of, created, or discovered myself.

    The bibliography comes at the end of your writing and is a list of all the information sources that you consulted to inform what you have written. It is in the bibliography that we put all the details that somebody will need to find the original information source for themselves. Below is an example of a reference in a bibliography:

    Archer, D. (2007). Global warming: understanding the forecast. Malden, Mass. : Blackwell

    Note: a 'reference list' is very similar to a bibliography, but there is an important difference: a bibliography includes all the information sources that you have consulted even if you didn't cite them in the text whereas a reference list only includes the information sources you have cited (i.e. made an in-text citation for) in the text.

    In practice referencing works like this: someone reading the sentence above about the melting glaciers might be interested by the idea and want to read more. They know what the in-text citation tells them (something created by an author called Archer in 2007) so they look in the bibliography for an information source matching those details - note that the in-text citation is almost identical to the start of the full reference in the bibliography. Using the more comprehensive details in the bibliography they can then find that book for themselves and read further into Archer's idea.

    Summary: an in-text citation tells the reader that an idea, opinion, or data comes from an external information source and the bibliography contains all the details that reader needs to find the original information source for themselves.

    We have seen that a good reference includes all the important information about a particular information source. A referencing style determines what information should be included for each reference and also the way that information is presented (e.g. whether the title should be in italics or quotation marks).

    There are hundreds of different referencing styles but the one that is most important to you is Brookes Harvard, which is a variation of the Harvard referencing style, because Brookes Harvard is the standard referencing style used by Oxford Brookes University. If you are a student from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences then Brookes Harvard is the only referencing style you will be asked to use. If you are a student from the Department of Computing and Communication Technologies then generally you will use Brookes Harvard but you should always check with your module leader as they might ask you to use a different referencing style.

    Summary: a reference style determines what information is given in a reference and how that information is presented. The most important one for Oxford Brookes University students is the Brookes Harvard referencing style.

    When somebody, like a university student, is using a lot of information sources (e.g. books, journal articles, websites, lecture notes, etc.) it can be difficult and time consuming to keep track of all the reference details of those information sources. Reference managers were invented to record, store, and organise references electronically. They take a lot of the time and effort out of referencing.

    EndNote is a reference manager. There are lots of different reference managers and EndNote is one of the most popular. It has special features that are particularly useful, which we will come to later. There are two versions of EndNote: a desktop version and a web version. We're going to focus on the web version (called EndNote Web) because it has several advantages over the desktop version. The most important advantage is that you can access your EndNote Web account from any computer with internet access, such as your computer at home.

    Summary: A reference manager helps somebody who is using a lot of information sources record, store, and organise their references. EndNote is a reference manager.

    If you don't use references then this means one of two things, and both of them are bad! Either:

    1. You didn't consult any information sources while writing your assignment
    2. You consulted information sources while writing your assignment but you haven't referenced them

    If the first is true then you will likely score very badly in your assignments as an important part of academic practice is consulting and considering what has been written before on a particular subject.

    If the second is true then you may be accused of plagiarism, which is basically where somebody purposefully or by accident presents an idea or work created by somebody else as their own. Essentially it is academic stealing and you should make sure there is no chance that someone could think you are plagiarising. The way you do this is through accurate and consistent referencing!

    Summary: If you don't use references properly then you may get poor marks or be accused of plagiarism.