Referencing in Academic Writing

All academic writing is based on referencing previous work to help format your own argument. To do this you need to cite the source as you refer to it in your writing and then list the full citation at the end of your document in a reference section.

If you don't cite a work or fail to follow the prescribed style for your university or place of publication you can be accused of plagiarism. Whenever you include information from another source in your work as a direct quotation, paraphrase or summary you need to acknowledge the source. This is something that undergraduate students often have difficulty getting correct.

There are many different systems of citing, see the styles section for more information. One of the most common forms is the Harvard style which I will describe here.

Harvard System

In the Harvard or Parenthetical system the surname of the author(s) and the date of publication is included as an in line citation with the full citation in a section at the end of the document.

In Line Citation

Examples of the in line citations at the end of the sentence would be:

  • Sentence containing information from source (Jones, 2010). – only one author
  • Sentence containing information from source (Jones and Davie, 2010) – two authors
  • Sentence containing information from source (Jones et al., 2010) – three or more authors

Examples of in line citation at the start of the sentence:

  • Jones (2010) states that ... – only one author
  • Jones and Davie (2010) state that ... – two authors
  • Jones et al. (2010) state that ... – three or more authors

The Latin phrase ‘et al.’ meaning and others is used when there are more than two authors listed on the source material. The first authors surname is used and then the phrase et al. is used (written in italics).

If two works with the same name and date are cited, ‘a’ or ‘b’, and so on, should added after the date.

Reference Section

In the citation list all the cited works should be listed in alphabetical order and the citation should be given, as follows:

  • Name of author(s) (Date, year of publication). Title of article. Name of Journal + volume number: page numbers.

  • For example, Jones, J. (2010). Disease control in strawberries. Journal of Strawberry Studies 35: 57-64.

Citation Management Software

There are several electronic reference management software packages which you can use to help with the citing and formatting of citations, for example, Endnote. In these you can specify your specific requirements or select one of the pre-programmed options.


There are many different formats for citations in the text and in the final list. Some are similar to above while others are number based, see the style section for more examples and check your department’s style guidelines for specific policies.

For more examples of using the Harvard system you can go to this site from the University of Birmingham about the Harvard system.

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