Four easy steps to referencing

Referencing can seem like an enormous and complex task, especially when you have amassed a stack of resources for your essay.

But like anything, once you break it down into manageable chunks, it’s really not scary at all. Referencing can be broken down into four easy steps.

1. Choose a referencing style

Did we say you could choose a referencing style to follow? That’s not quite true.

You can, in some instances, make this choice, but mostly your Course or School dictates which referencing style you are to follow.

It’s your responsibility to find out what referencing style you are required to use, and to locate the correct style guide.

2. Identify the resource type

You need to figure out what exactly it is that you are referencing. 

Is it a book? Is it a print book or an eBook? Is it the whole book, or just a chapter? Is it a journal article, web document or conference proceeding?

The resource type will dictate what details you will need to record. Check the referencing style guide to see what information you need to record for that resource type.

Resource types can include:

  • Books
  • Journal articles
  • News articles
  • Web sites
  • Documents from an online database
  • Encyclopedias or dictionaries
  • Theses or dissertations
  • Annual reports
  • Interviews
  • Audiovisual material (e.g. videos, televisions, music recordings)
  • Legislation
  • Unpublished works
  • Conference proceedings
  • Technical and research reports
  • Course materials (e.g. lecture notes and handouts, online course readings)

3. Collect information

Accurately record all the information about the resource you are referencing. You will need to note who created it, when was it created, what is it called and where was it published.

Be sure to consult your referencing style guide during this step. It will specify exactly what information you need.

The creator of a resource is typically an author. This is true for a book, a journal article or a conference paper. But the creator can also be an editor, organisation, director, or artist. For example, if you were referencing a film you would need to find out who directed and produced the movie.

When a work was published is an important part of a reference. This is usually a year of publication, but you might also need a specific date for some types of sources (like newspaper articles).

Your resource will have a title, and you will most definitely need it for your reference list. But, just to keep you on your toes, some resource types have more than one title. For example, journal articles have an article title, and the title of the journal they are published in. Book chapters have a chapter title, and a book title. In this instance, you will need to record both.

Where your source was published is the final piece of information you will need for a comprehensive reference. The details you need to record will obviously depend on the type of resource you are referencing.

Print books will need the name of the publisher and the place of publication, but an ebook might only need a web address or a Digital Object Identifier (DOI).

A journal article will need the volume, issue and page numbers of the journal it appeared in, as well as a DOI or web address (depending on your reference style).

Once you have collected all the information about the resource, it’s time to put it into your reference list.

4. Write your reference list

At this point, you will have your referencing style guide in front of you, and all the pertinent information about the resource you are referencing.

Now, it’s just a matter of putting the information together in the right order, with the right punctuation and capitalisation. Use the examples from your referencing guide to create a reference and in-text citation for your resource.

Once you have finished writing your reference list, take the time to proofread it. It’s so easy to accidentally miss a comma or full stop.