An Ultimate Guide to Academic Referencing

Why Referencing Is Important?

The process of acknowledging the sources used in an academic paper, essay or assignment is known as referencing. Referencing comes handy when a reader wishes to access the source of the information used in an article. It also allows for easy assessment of academic dissertations as tutors can easily verify the validity of the evidence and arguments on which they are based.

Putting together references and footnotes can be a tricky and complicated task for many students. However, when it comes to essay writing or dissertation writing, using footnotes and references is one of the most important elements of your work. If you don’t use the right references or footnotes, your grades are likely to suffer to a great extent. Most universities are strict when it comes to the right usage of footnotes and referencing. Therefore, it is important for students to understand the finer details of using them.

Academic referencing can be tough and tricky because there are so many referencing guides out there, starting from Harvard and APA referencing to Chicago and Vancouver styles. Each academic referencing system has its own nuances and structure, which can be confusing to say at least. Moreover, there are specific ‘rules’ that apply to each referencing style, meaning the guiding principles of using references do not necessarily apply to footnotes and vice versa.

If you are wondering what the most popular referencing styles look like and differ from one another, your search overs right here. In this article, we have compiled, as we believe, an ultimate referencing guide that not only explains in detail how sources should be cited according to different citation styles. It also provides useful guidelines and tips on how the referencing process should be organised, including the frequency, look, and content of references in your academic papers. By reading to the end of this article, you will know exactly how to properly cite sources of information, as well as make sure you do not lose marks for poor referencing and, more importantly, plagiarism.


What Is a Reference and a Referencing Style?

Put simply, a reference is a way to give credit to the original idea, creative work, or finding produced by someone else that you use to support your research or argument. In addition, references are often used as a means of combating plagiarism, as they allow for locating particular sources and demonstrating that the ideas you are using in your work come from somewhere else. In turn, a reference style is a system that dictates the information needed for a reference, as well as how information about the source is ordered. Punctuation and formatting are also important aspects of any reference style.

Most Common Referencing Styles

The main reason why there are so many referencing styles is that particular academic disciplines work better with certain kinds of text, which makes the use of a certain referencing system more preferable and convenient for its authors.

Harvard Referencing

The Harvard style is arguably the most popular referencing system, which is also known as the ‘author-date’ style. In this referencing system, the in-text citation can be either in the text body or in the footnotes, which makes it highly flexible and suitable for authors in many academic disciplines.

In the text body, the Harvard style uses the author’s surname and the date of publication, whereas the page number is optional in most cases. However, when you use the exact language, which has come from another author, you must provide a page number. In all other cases, the use of page numbers depends on your university’s preferred version. Full details on the cited source are only listed in the reference list.

The following references were designed using the Harvard referencing system, so you could familiarise yourself with how this system works in practice.

Anderson, T. and Smith, A. (2022) “Digitalization of human resource management: Opportunities and challenges in research”, Human Resource Leadership and Society, 5 (12), pp. 54-75.

Strangelove, S., Emmerich, H. and Miller, K. (2022) “Influencer marketing within business-to-business (B2B) companies”, Industrial Marketing and Business Management, 103 (12), pp. 238-252.

Oxford Style

Unlike the Harvard style, Oxford referencing implies putting in-text citations in footnotes at the bottom of the page while it does not allow for putting them in the text body. Another crucial difference between the two is that in Oxford referencing, full reference details are included in the footnotes for the first mention. Afterwards, the author can use a shortened version. In turn, a superscript number in the text body demonstrates where you cite someone’s work.

Given that Oxford referencing is not a system as we understand it but rather a group of related citation styles, there are no ‘official’ guidelines on how to use it. If your university requires you to use Oxford referencing, your best bet would be to check its style guide where the referencing rules should be specified. Here are some citation examples in the Oxford style:

Thomas Anderson and Antony Smith, ‘Digitalization of human resource management: Opportunities and challenges in research’ (2022) 5 HRLS 54.

Sarah Strangelove, Huey Emmerich and Kent Miller, ‘Influencer marketing within business-to-business (B2B) companies’ (2022) 103 IMBM 238.

American Psychological Association (APA) Style

APA referencing is often referred to as a variation of the Harvard referencing style. Indeed, both referencing systems share many conventions, including brief author-date citations in the text body given in brackets, as well as full-detail citations in the reference or bibliography list. However, unlike Harvard referencing, a reference list is a preferred option in APA rather than a bibliography.

Websites are also cited slightly different in the APA referencing style, as there is no need to include a retrieval or access date. One major difference, however, is that in APA referencing guide, each reference in the reference list must have a digital object identifier (DOI) or a link to a website where the referenced source could be found. Some examples of references in the APA style are presented as follows:

Anderson, T., & Smith, A. (2022). Digitalization of human resource management: Opportunities and challenges in research. Human Resource Leadership and Society, 5(12), 54-75.

Strangelove, S., Emmerich, H., & Miller, K. (2022). Influencer marketing within business-to-business (B2B) companies. Industrial Marketing and Business Management, 103(12), 238-252.

Modern Language Association (MLA) Style

The MLA referencing style is widely used in the humanities and other areas of academic writing. Unlike the aforementioned referencing styles, MLA referencing uses an author-page system to provide in-text citations. Another key difference is that MLA does not imply using a reference list. Instead, it uses a Works Cited page, which, nevertheless, serves the same purpose as the reference list. The same goes for the Works Consulted list, which is similar to a bibliography. Examples of references included in a works cited list are presented as follows:

Anderson, Thomas, and Antony Smith. “Digitalization of human resource management: Opportunities and challenges in research.” Human Resource Leadership and Society 5(2022): 54-75.

Strangelove, Sarah, Huey Emmerich, and Kent Miller. “Influencer marketing within business-to-business (B2B) companies.” Industrial Marketing and Business Management, 103(2022): 238-252.

Chicago Style

Just like Harvard referencing, the Chicago style offers two options for citations, namely notes and bibliography or author-date references. In the first case, Chicago referencing has much in common with Oxford referencing, as both styles use numbers in the text that correspond to footnotes or endnotes, which contain the full reference. In turn, when using author-date references, you need to insert brief author-date citations in parentheses in the text body, similarly to the Harvard referencing style.

Another major difference between the two versions of the Chicago style refers to the use of a reference/bibliography list. When using footnotes and endnotes, you are required to list all the sources you used in your work, plus any other sources you read but did not reference. In turn, you can only include sources you have cited in the text body when using author-date references in the Chicago style. Here are some examples of citations in this style:

Thomas Anderson, and Antony Smith, “Digitalization of human resource management: Opportunities and challenges in research,” Human Resource Leadership and Society 5, no. 12 (2022): 54-75.

Sarah Strangelove, Huey Emmerich, and Kent Miller, “Influencer marketing within business-to-business (B2B) companies,” Industrial Marketing and Business Management 103, no. 12 (2022): 238-252.

Vancouver Referencing

The Vancouver referencing style implies assigning a number to each source that corresponds to the order, in which it can be found in your paper. If you refer to the same source again in your text, you should use the same number. When using this referencing style, the reference list must be presented in numerical order. Each number has to match and refer to the one in the text body. If you wish, you may also include a bibliography that lists articles, books, and other sources you used as part of your research but did not include in the text.

Anderson T, Smith A. Digitalization of human resource management: Opportunities and challenges in research. Human Resource Leadership and Society. 2022;5(12): 54-75.

Strangelove S, Emmerich H, Miller K. Influencer marketing within business-to-business (B2B) companies. Industrial Marketing and Business Management. 2022;103(12): 238-252.


How Often Should You Reference in Your Paper?

Now, that you know how Harvard referencing is different from APA or Vancouver, one important question remains: How often should you reference in your work? One of the trickiest tasks for students while writing essays is not only to follow an appropriate referencing style but also to assess how many references are needed. Referencing is a critical component of essay writing, and it indicates that the student has read the relevant sources of information. It also allows the markers to understand whether the student has made use of original thinking. So, here are some useful pieces of advice that will help you in understanding how often should you reference in your paper.

Create a Link

In terms of essay writing, the best way forward is to understand the need for references. They are meant to create a link between your original thinking and the existing sources that you are using. References indicate to the markers that you have studied the concept in great detail. Further, it also indicates that you are formulating your own ideas based on previous work. But you need to be careful not to include any new references while writing the conclusion section. You should look to add a reference whenever you feel the need for creating a link.

At Least One Reference per Idea

Another important thing to remember is that each new idea that you are presenting should have at least one reference attached to it. This way, you will be able to make your report writing process much more streamlined. Essay writing is something that requires you to use references in order to attribute the base of your ideas to a particular source. Therefore, it is critical to have at least one reference per idea. In fact, you could use up to three references for a single idea.

Multiple References

Assignment writing is something that may require you to use multiple references on occasion. In these cases, you could make use of signal phrases in order to avoid cluttering. Signal phrases such as “according to” can help you in inserting multiple references within a single paragraph. But you also need to be careful in terms of not overdoing it. For example, if there is an idea that you are presenting in your paper, it may also need to be countered in the same paragraph. In such cases, it is better to use connectors such as “however” and add separate references for each idea.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Using References and Footnotes

It’s time for you to learn some ‘rules of thumb’ on how to properly use references and footnotes to make sure they look professional and convey the information you want them to convey.



  • Use the appropriate number of footnotes on each page. Make sure that you are not cluttering any pages. If you feel that there are too many footnotes on a page, you can move them to the next page
  • Insert footnotes that are in the correct numerical order. This is extremely important in order to ensure that the reader is not confused
  • Check and double-check the placement of the footnote. Each page should include the sources that have been used
  • Ensure that you are following the correct style of referencing. There are several differences in the styling of the footnotes based on the type of referencing, and some referencing styles do not require footnotes at all
  • Use footnotes only when they are absolutely necessary, and they provide actual citations and references
  • If you’re using Microsoft Word, it is always a good practice to insert footnotes using the references tab. This will automatically number your footnotes, saving time and effort


  • Don’t use any short-form words or unknown abbreviations in the footnotes. There is a set format that needs to be followed
  • Don’t use any informal language in footnotes. Even though they are not part of the main text of the essay or the dissertation, footnotes need to be written in a formal way
  • Don’t mix up two footnotes. This is a major risk in case you are using two studies from the same author. Mixing up the footnotes will mess up your work
  • Don’t use a combination of numbers and symbols to mark your footnotes. This will unnecessarily complicate your work, and you may lose track of the numbering
  • Don’t make your footnotes too long. You need to keep them brief and only provide the required information to the reader. Longer footnotes can take up a lot of the space on your page, while also distracting the reader.



  • Use correct referencing as it enhances the presentation of your work and is a major component of good academic practice. It displays that a dissertation is based on information and data from appropriate sources; so, make sure you include all the sources used.
  • Make proper use of recent sources and arrange them alphabetically in your work, so that anyone who reads your work can trace the sources and connect them with the development of your work. This will also help you get credit and good marks for your research efforts and quality.
  • Use good quality information from various sources such as books, journals, web articles, discussion papers, and industry reports. Give more priority to journals and books. They must constitute the largest part of your reference list. Tutors observe reference lists very keenly.
  • Learn the differences between different kinds of journals and how they rank in terms of quality of content. Search for high-quality journals such as 4 and 4* journals. This is especially important for your final dissertation.
  • Pay attention to small details in different referencing styles such as Harvard, APA, Chicago or Oxford and make sure the format of references is consistent.


  • Do not use repetitive references. We know referencing can be a tedious task but using a single source too frequently will make your work look not critical enough.
  • Do not miss any source of information used in your work as you might get accused of plagiarism. Thus, recheck your entire work before submitting and include all the relevant sources of information used in your writing.
  • Do not list down the references in your bibliography based on its occurrence in your work. The reference list should be in alphabetical order.
  • Do not use forums, Wikipedia, Investopedia, or twitter as a source of information and do not include them in your reference list.
  • Do not overuse direct quotes from the sources you reference. It is always better to paraphrase an idea than to put it in quotation marks.
  • Do not leave large parts of text unreferenced.
  • Do not use too few references or you may lose marks.
  • Do not use sources in foreign languages.
  • Do not use very old sources unless it’s archival or historical research.


5 Free Websites for Finding Source Material Online

Having learned the basics of referencing, you might wonder where you can find reliable and credible sources, so you could properly cite them in your paper. The good news is that there is a myriad of academic databases and libraries waiting for you on the internet. However, with so many research portals available online, it can be difficult to find a source which is both trustworthy and offers free access to research papers, journal articles and books. Here are the top 5 free websites with some great source material.

Google Scholar

This is one of the most widely used websites for conducting academic researches. Google Scholar is a web search engine which specialises in scholarly literature available across a wide array of publishing formats. From full-text journal articles to technical reports, thesis, books, web pages and other documents, you will get everything scholarly on this website.

Microsoft Academic

A yet another leading search engine for academic resources, Microsoft Academic offers over 48 million publications written by more than 20 million authors. This search engine boasts indexes ranging from engineering and technology to biology and social science. Furthermore, users can even conduct customised searches based on topic, author name, journals, etc.

Science Open

Science Open is a great hub for researchers looking for scholarly publications. A highly professional and completely free website, Science Open specialises in article aggregation, peer review, indexing and smart search. Users can even publish their own papers or share scientific write-ups and information in addition to reviewing the papers available on this website.


Sci-Hub gives its users free access to millions of books and research paper irrespective of the copyright. This website is widely used by researchers all over the world has received both appreciation and criticism for providing free access to academic and scientific knowledge generated by the academic community.

Library Genesis

Another database consisting of more than 2.7 million books and over 58 million science journals, Library Genesis offers free access to its database. These books and journals cover a vast number of topics based on various subjects. Users can easily access PDF formats of these books and even download it for later use.

How to Make the Most of Your University Library

While online databases are great instruments that enable you to find source material, not all of them provide their services for free, which creates formidable access barriers for many students. Luckily, you can always find relevant books and journal articles in your University Library. It is a place essential for nearly every degree because of its astounding resource and study spaces. However, it can be a tough place when you feel intimidated or out of your depth. Therefore, this quick guide is all about making you feel more comfortable and more able to make the most of your University Library.

Why You Should Use the Library

Some people have the point of view that the library will offer out of date sources or not even have them at all, and instead they turn to online reading or buying books. Do not approach research with this fixed idea.

The library offers many types of different sources, staff that can assist you in your research and provide excellent study areas. Therefore, do not underestimate the value you will gain from the library itself.

Take the Tour

Do not pass the up opportunity for a library tour. Sometimes there are hidden spaces and resource areas that you will want to take advantage of from the get go.

The tour will give you an overall introduction of the library, how to use its search tool, the organisation system, specific study areas, computer and photocopy rooms and its relevant staff. All will be useful during your essay or dissertation research and study time.

Find Your Space

The library is a great place to study alone and a great place to study as a group. Not only do you have instant access to the resources around you, you can collaborate and work in a distraction free, versatile environment. If you’re a night owl and need some quiet space to focus, a 24 hour library could be your go to.

No Limits

Just because it is a library, does not mean it only has books. The computers and other electronic devices will access to online journals, articles, videos, interviews and more. This is in addition to physical magazines, archives, documentaries and written journals.

The University is also able to gain exclusive access to electric resources because it is an educational institution. They may also pay for important industry publications that you otherwise would have no access to.

Know the System

It saves a lot of time finding sources when you understand the system they are organised in. There are usually sections for specific subjects, however, so not use this a general rule to find what you are looking for. Subjects overlap, reference numbers are long and the extent of resources in the library can be overwhelming. Therefore, use the search tool to find the reference number, get familiar with the organisation and position of certain categories so you can locate everything as quickly and smoothly as possible.