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Referencing and Plagiarism

What is referencing and why is it important?

Referencing is the process of acknowledging and recording the sources you have used to produce your assignment

Referencing is about how you present the ideas of others in your work.

When producing a piece of academic writing, be it an essay, report or your final dissertation, you will need to demonstrate that you have consulted, read and understood the thoughts and concepts presented by others in their work, in order to support your ideas.

Referencing allows the reader of your work to locate and if necessary check the information you have consulted, and the evidence you have presented in your arguments.

Referencing is used to:

  • avoid plagiarism by making it clear which ideas are your own and which are someone else’s
  • shows a broad and objective understanding of the topic 
  • provides supporting evidence for your ideas, arguments and opinions
  • allows others to find the sources you have used.

When to reference

You need to reference every time you use an idea or piece of information from another person or organisation AND every time you make a claim.

This can be done using: direct quotes, paraphrases, and summaries

See each subheading below to find out some more information about each of three different types of referencing.


Direct Quotes

A direct quote is when you copy, word for word, someone else’s work and use this in your own writing. However, you need to ensure that you demonstrate that you have done this with the use of quotation marks. The rules for this may vary depending on your referencing style.



This is where you take a specific point and put it into your own words.

Your paraphrasing should have:

  • A different in structure to the original source.
  • Mainly different vocabulary – use synonyms to help you but be careful that these still make sense!
  • Retain the same meaning as the original source.



When summarising you should be briefly describing and explaining the main points of a piece of work.

Your focus is on the overarching idea, main themes and topics, not in-depth or detailed ideas or topics.

Summaries are based on more than just a few sentence or paragraphs (which would be paraphrasing).

You don’t need to use pages numbers, but you do need to use a citation!

Finding and Evaluating Sources

Searching for sources

When planning your search, you might want to start by:

  • Using guidance notes in your module materials (e.g., information covered in lecture slides or during seminars, reference lists or reading lists shared by your lecturers, etc)
  • Thinking about what you already know and decide which key words best describe your topic - You might want to think about synonyms or alternative terms for your subject.
  • Thinking about what sort of information you are looking for and where you are most likely to find it (e.g., you might find information for a basic introduction in an online source, a more detailed explanation in a book, or evidence in a journal article).
  • Deciding on the best place to look: Discovery Library Search, Google Scholar, databases, government websites, etc.

Evaluating Sources

We use sources to support our arguments and develop our topics. For this we need to ensure that every source meets specific standards. Our sources must be:

  • Reliable - The source is published in an appropriate format and from an authoritative source.
  • Current - The information is up to date and still relevant.
  • Appropriate - It provides relevant information that supports the main argument and relates to the assignment question.
  • Unbiased - The source is not produced with the intent of influencing the reader in the interest of a specific group.