In academic writing, when you refer to an idea or information created by someone else, you should always include a reference to the publication in which it appears. This acknowledgement of the sources you have used includes a citation within your text and a list of references at the end.

Why reference?

Referencing is an essential aspect of academic writing:

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

When to reference?

You should reference any source of information you use, including web pages, emails, personal correspondence as well as books, chapters and journal articles.

"If the information comes from outside your own head, then cite the source."

…or follow the rule of uncertainty…

"If in doubt, cite it."

When writing ask yourself, "Will the person reading this think that this information originated with me when it did not?" If the answer is "Yes", then you need a citation.

There is one exception to all this: Common knowledge.

This includes general information that can be found in many sources and is known or remembered by many people. Examples might include common sayings, commonly reported facts, or easily observable information.

And finally, as well as other people's work, whatever you've written before becomes a potential source that you should cite when you borrow from it. During your time at University any work submitted for assessment that forms part of your final award may require a citation if re-used. If in doubt always check with your supervisor.

How to reference

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

The mechanics

Include a citation in your text at the point where you refer to another person's work. Include a reference list (works you have cited in the text) at the end of your assignment and/or a bibliography (works you have consulted but may not have referred to in the text).

Many students and staff use reference management software, such as EndNote or Mendeley, to help insert in-text citations as they write and to automatically generate a reference list or bibliography at the end of their document.

Referencing styles determine how your citation appears in the text and how you set out your list of references at the end of your work.

  • Use a standard referencing style to enable your readers to find the relevant information easily
  • The styles that are most commonly used in UK universities are Harvard (Author-Date) and Vancouver (numbered list).  Arts students may be recommended to use the MRHA (Modern Humanities Research Association) style. Law students may be asked to use Oscola (Oxford University Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities)
  • There are many different referencing styles and it is important to ensure that you are following the appropriate style for your subject. Check with your tutor if you are unclear as to which style you should be using

Help and training

For referencing help contact your Subject Librarian.

For help and support with using reference management software please visit our EndNote and Mendeley pages.

Referencing tutorial

This online tutorial from Cite Them Right introduces you to the principles behind referencing, and teaches you how to acknowledge the sources you use.

EndNote referencing software

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

Useful tools

Cite Them Right - helps users to reference almost any source (print, electronic or performance)

Mendeley – alternative reference management software

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