The importance of referencing skills

Referencing skills are an important and vital part of academic writing. 

You need to reference or acknowledge the sources you have used and consulted in your written work and this must be done correctly and consistently. Correct referencing and citation also allows the reader of your work to easily identify those sources used in your work and to follow up on them if necessary. It is good academic practice to acknowledge the contributions that others have made to your work.

Referencing - the basics

What do you need to reference?

Information for your assignment may come from a wide range of sources including books, chapters, journals, articles, websites, data, ideas, images, music, computer code and newspapers to name a few.

Every time you use the work of others, you will need to reference. Depending on the type of material, you will need the author's name; the year of publication; the chapter or article title; the book or journal name; editors names if it is an edited item; journal volume and issue number; the publisher and place of publication and if it's an online resource you will need to include the Digital Object Identifier or DOI. This identifies an article, book, or other resource with a permanent and unique combination of numbers and letters and looks something like this:

Citations vs References?

Citing or using citations is identifying the sources you have used in the text of your assignment - an abbreviated version of the reference details at the point it is being discussed in your work. This may be done as:

Anything that is not common knowledge must be cited. The citations will allow the person reading your assignment to locate the full details of the source you have used in the reference list or bibliography located at the end of your work.

A reference is the full bibliographic or publication details of the citation you have used in your work. Typically, the references of all your citations are collated at the end of a piece of work. 

When do you need to reference?

Whether you quote directly from a book using double quotation marks, summarise key points from a journal article or paraphrase another author's ideas, you will need to cite and reference to make it clear where the idea originated. 

Why do you need to reference?

It is your responsibility to ensure your citations and references are accurate and adequate. If you do not cite or reference, this will give the impression that it is your own work when in fact is the work of someone else - this is called plagiarism. 

Plagiarism and Generative AI

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is defined as using another person's work and presenting it as one's own, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Examples of plagiarism include:

  • Use of quotation without the use of quotation marks
  • copying another person's work
  • unacknowledged translation of another person's work
  • paraphrasing or adapting another person's work without due acknowledgment
  • unacknowledged use of material downloaded from the internet
  • use of material obtained from essay banks or similar agencies
  • presenting work generated by AI as if it were your own

Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of material taken from other sources (whether on the internet or in print). This is unacceptable academic practice and may result in mark penalties. Aberystwyth University uses a points-based penalty system for cases of unacceptable practice: UAP Points based system  : Academic Registry , Aberystwyth University

Plagiarism is the most common form of unacceptable academic practice and can be a serious offence, especially where it occurs extensively and/or repeatedly in student work. 

Consequences of plagiarism

In very serious cases, taught students may be unable to complete their course of study or be excluded from the University and research students can have their theses failed. In addition, students may become ineligible for professional accreditation – e.g. membership of the Law Society.

Find out more about what the University considers to be plagiarism in the Regulation on Unacceptable Academic Practice.

Plagiarism and Generative AI

The University guidelines state that "presenting work generated by AI as if it were your own" is a form of plagiarism and therefore constitutes unacceptable  academic practice. Full details on the University's guidelines on unacceptable practice can be found here

Referencing styles

Aberystwyth University does not promote the use of a universal referencing style as some styles are better suited to a particular subject discipline than others. Individual departments will therefore have a preferred referencing style.

In some University departments, you may use any referencing method of your choice – but consistency is the key. For these departments, unless you receive different instruction from a staff member, you can use whatever referencing method you choose, as long as you format acknowledgements and reference lists consistently. You must provide complete bibliographic information, enough for the reader to be able to find the reference in a library.

The main reference styles used at Aberystwyth University include Harvard, APA, MHRA, MLA, IEEE, IOP and Footnote/Endnote. Each department or institute may recommend one or more of these style guides.

Note: there may be small variations among different versions of the same referencing style, especially, for example, with Harvard, which has no definitive, official version.

Unsure how to cite in your assignment? Don't know which referencing style to use? 

The Referencing and Plagiarism Awareness LibGuide provides detailed information and examples on how to cite and reference books, journals, articles, website, images and many more:

  • What referencing style to use?
  • When you have adopted a set style, be consistent with layout, ordering of information and punctuation.
  • Check your Blackboard modules and other information resources in your department to find your recommended reference guide. Always refer to your departmental handbook for further advice on referencing.  

Official referencing guides

The official guides for the various referencing styles are linked below, but you should first consult your departmental or institute guide. 

These guides can be very detailed and extensive. For most assignments you will only need the most common features that refer to the core documents and information expected by your department. If you cannot find examples of how to refer to resources in your departmental guide, official guides can then be very helpful.

Referencing and Plagiarism awareness: a how-to guide

Learn more about how to correctly reference all of the information sources that you use in your coursework, as well as the potential consequences of failing to acknowledge or cite these sources. 

Once you have completed this guide, test your knowledge with our quiz which will take around 15 minutes to complete:

Reference Management Tools

You've written your assignment. But how do you keep track of all your references and making sure you consistently follow your referencing style? 

Try to get into the habit of storing the records for the information sources you find so you don't have to duplicate your work or spend valuable time searching for them again when you are creating your reference list. 

There are online tools that allow you to export search results to reference management software. Put simply, these tools store bibliographic information electronically in a 'library' and allows you to:

  • directly export references from search engines, library catalogues and databases to the selected reference manager
  • store full text PDFs if available with the relevant references so you don't have to find the full-text version again
  • cite references in your chosen referencing style

You may have heard of these reference management software/tools: EndNote, Mendeley or Zotero. 

Explore how these tools can help you


  • You can download Endnote for free from the Software Available from AU site (enter your AU username and password to proceed with download)
      • Available for Windows and Mac


Getting help with referencing

Subject Librarians provide information skills training and in-depth subject support for students and staff.

Contact your Subject Librarian if you have a referencing query or would like more information on referencing: