What is Referencing?

Referencing is a standardised method of formatting all sources of information used in your academic writing. Referencing is a formal acknowledgement of the source of the information (an idea, concept, diagram, fact, figure or theory) that you are using in your writing.


What is Academic Writing

Academic writing tasks and assignments are generally set by your lecturer or tutor for a module within your course and may take the form or an essay, report or a research paper (and more). You will receive clear criteria against which your academic writing will be assessed. Academic writing should be clear and concise to help the reader understand the information. General characteristics of writing an academic piece of work mean that you:

  • Answer the question that has been asked
  • Demonstrate your understanding of the subject area
  • Support all information with evidence (e.g. citing a published source to back-up the point you are making)
  • Reference all sources of information
  • Adopt a formal writing style that is impersonal, objective and balanced

 The Academic Writing Centre (AWC) within the James Hardiman Library at NUI Galway offers free one-to-one tutorials on essay writing skills for all levels. Visit the AWC page for greater details.


Why Reference and Cite my sources?

Here are some of the reasons why referencing is essential in academic writing:

  • Giving a full reference to the source of information allows you to credit an author when you use their ideas.
  • Referencing allows the reader to fully and accurately access the information you cite in your work, should the reader wish to do so.
  • Avoiding plagiarism: Referencing means that you are not suggesting that the idea you are using is your own.  If you make a point and then back that up by showing that a published-author agrees with the point that you are making, then that strengthens your argument.
  • Referencing adds to your credibility as a writer.
  • Evidence of referencing displays the rigorous review of the literature you have undertaken.


How do you Cite and Reference Material?

You must refer to all sources you quote or paraphrase within your document, and this is known as referencing.  Then you put the author's name and year of publication in parenthesis and this is citing (or a citation).  You should always briefly cite the sources you use in your work within your academic writing as this will refer your reader to your reference list or bibliography where you will provide the extended details of the source. Finally, you provide a full reference showing the author's name, year of publication, where published etc.  

 If you use the words of another author, you must always use quotation marks to indicate that these words are not your own and you must acknowledge the source, including the page number in your brief in-text citation.

If you express another author’s ideas in your own words, this is called paraphrasing and you must still acknowledge the source of the idea.

The Reference list is usually placed at the end of a text (essay or chapter).  It contains the list of citations for sources that you have cited within your text.

The Bibliography is placed at the end of your work and comprises the complete list of all references you consulted in preparing the document, whether you cited them in your text or not.  It can also include titles useful as background reading.

Referencing styles

A referencing style is a particular set of rules telling you how to present your sources of information. There are many styles in use but most can be categorized in author-date or numerical styles. Different Schools have preferred styles, check with your lecturer or tutor if you are not sure which style to use. 

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