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How to reference

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Published: 25 September 2020

A person writing notes and using a laptopA person writing notes and using a laptop

Referencing is a skill that every university student has to pick up pretty much straight away. From your first assignment, you’ll be expected to indicate where you found the information, include where you found the academic source and add a properly written bibliography. 

That can sound like a lot of work if you’ve never done it before, but read on for top tips you can use for referencing success. 

The four rules of good referencing 

1) Use lots of current sources 

A well-written piece of academic text is always based on the work of the researchers that came before. As a student, you’re not expected to come up with all your ideas by yourselfIt’s more important to have a proper understanding of the work of others in your field and be able to comment on them. That means the more you read, the better.

2) Different perspectives count 

You shouldn’t just reference a lot. Make sure you’re reading a wide range of opinions as well. It’s safe to say that no one academic has all the answers. Make sure you’re going to lots of different sources from a wide range of schools of thought. You don’t have to agree with them all, but it doesn’t hurt to know and be able to talk, about them. 

3) Use your source material well 

The next step of good academic writing is knowing how to use your sources. You should be able to explain, debate and expand on whatever source you’re using. You can compare two sources to each other if, for example, state opposing views. But make sure that, however you use them, you’re saying something yourself as well. Don’t just tell the reader what researchers in your field think. 

4) Critical thinking 

That brings us on to the fourth and final point. You have to be able to critique your sources. It’s one thing to just explain what someone else has said, but a whole other to understand it, review it in your own words and use the facts you have put together to add your own analysis and evaluation. That’s what makes an assignment go from good to great! 

The Harvard system 

At the University of Sunderland in London, we use the Harvard system of referencing, one of the most widely used of its kind.  

It’s also known as the ‘Author-Date’ system because, well, we put the author first, then the date. Simple! 


As the world gets more complex, the number of things you’re referencing will increase. 

These days, you don’t just need to know how to reference books and journal articles. 

You have to think about how to properly reference academic videos, websites, podcasts and others. 

Thankfully, you’re not expected to remember all of this off the top of your head. 

Instead, the University of Sunderland in London uses CiteThemRight [LINK:], a free resource for all your referencing needs. 

Simply log in with your student details and search for the type of source you want 

Doing this for all your references, either as you’re writing your assignments or as a last step before publishing, will make sure your citations are perfect every time. 

Citation vs References 

A citation is the short version of the full reference 

They can look like ‘Smith, 2012’ and You’ll put them in the actual body of your text whenever you’re referring to information from an author. 

For example, “Smith (2012) believed that studying Tourism allows students to become familiar with a range of cultures and broadens their personal and professional horizons.”  

A reference, on the other hand, gives the full details someone would need if they want to find the quote or subject you’re talking about.  

An example would beSmith, R. (2012). Why I love tourism. London: Big Book Publishers, Pages 22-23. 

One thing to make sure you’re doing is, whenever you use an in-text citation, include it in your bibliography of references at the end.  

Double-check you’ve done this every time you use a citation as it’s easy to miss one or two out. 

The Library team offer help and training in a wide range of study skills, including referencing. 

If you’re interested in learning about academic reading, listening, writing, presentations and much more visit the University of Sunderland in London Library website. Find out more by following #WeAreSunLon on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.