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Frequently asked questions

Why do I have to reference?

When you refer to another piece of work you must always acknowledge the source of that information. This is

  • to avoid plagiarism;
  • to give appropriate credit to the person who did the work you are using;
  • to enable a reader to trace your sources and follow up your work;
  • to enable a reader to distinguish your ideas from someone else’s and show the range of your reading; and
  • to demonstrate the evidence supporting your arguments; this supports your ideas and theories and adds credibility.

The rules for referencing support these principles. They also ensure your references are clear and consistent for someone reading your work to follow them. It is more important to get the spirit of giving credit for other people’s work right than making sure all your commas are in the right places.

What do and don’t I have to reference?

You reference all information from your reading that is used to build your work, whether you quote it exactly or put your understanding of it in your own words, i.e. paraphrase it.

You do not have to reference:

  • Data that you get from your own experiments, provided this is the first time you are presenting them.
  • Your own ideas and conclusions.
  • Facts that are generally known and undisputed.

Some students are nervous that they might come up with similar ideas to someone without knowing it. You could do a search to find out if anybody has published something like your idea, reference their work, and then discuss how your idea is different from theirs. Students can also worry about which facts are "generally known". You should be able to search and easily find several people talking about a well-known fact, so you can reference them to show that it is commonly talked about.

I'm not sure how to reference this thing I've used. Might I get in trouble for a badly done reference? Should I just leave it out?

You do need to provide a reference to anything that you have taken information from. If you make a good try at a reference (following the pattern of how references generally work in your subject), you might lose a mark or two for not getting it exactly right. However, if you leave a reference out, you will definitely be concealing a source, which is a form of plagiarism.

Try to construct a reference for your source, giving enough information to enable your lecturer to trace the source.

How do I find the information to write a reference?

It can often be difficult to locate the pieces of information you need for your reference, especially for electronic resources. Try the following sources:

For books - If you have the book to hand, use the title page, copyright statement and table of contents to find the author and publication details for the whole book and chapters themselves.

Alternatively, the library search gives you all the information you need to reference a book.

If the book is not on our catalogue, try COPAC the combined catalogue of the 90 biggest research libraries in the UK.

For journal articles - All the information you need should be at the top of first page of the article, or sometimes at the foot of the first page. Sometimes information such as issue numbers is omitted from PDF versions of articles. In that case you should look at the HTML version or the search page of the database in which you found the article.

For electronic resources - If you can’t find a publication date, you can use the 'last updated' date at the foot of the page.

Look at the web address in the bar at the top of your browser– this will often give you the publishing organisation. For example, is the University of Bradford’s homepage.

If you can’t tell much about the website from the page you are on, visit their home page or About Us page to find out who they are.

If you can’t find a title, use the heading of the browser window.

For all sources - Type the details you have into Google. Someone will usually have referenced the source before you! Bear in mind you will have to change the referencing style, but this should help you find the relevant information.


If I read a book that draws from another author’s work and I want to use that information, how do I cite and reference it?

Pears and Shields (2010: 8) explain this as "In some cases you will read a source that refers to the work of someone else, known as a secondary source. Preferably you should find and read the item referred to. However, where this is not possible and you still wish to include the work referred to, you can mention it as a citation, known as secondary referencing."

For example, you may read a book that brings together lots of different theories about a topic to give students an overview. If you just want to mention that there are a lot of different theories, you can refer to the textbook, but if you need to use one of the theories in depth, you should track down and read the original theorist’s work so that you know you are getting their full ideas, not just a shortened and reworked version.

If you can’t get hold of an original source, it is possible to use "Secondary referencing" to show what you have read. See the section on Citing secondary sources for how to create the citation in the body of your work, and see Secondary references for how to write the reference.

It varies between subjects how important it is to only read primary sources, and therefore how acceptable it is to use secondary referencing. If you have questions, it is best to check with one of your lecturers.

There are times when you do not have to use secondary referencing. For example, if you read a biography of a scientist, the writer has assembled their information about the scientist from lots of different sources. You can just point to the one that you have read, i.e. the biography.

If I read a book that is not in English, how do I cite and reference it?

See the section on Non-English and translated sources under Referencing other sources.

What if there is no name on something I read?

You still need to show that you are using something you did not originally create. You can put in the author's name as 'Anonymous'. This includes images, websites, statistics and computer code. You may also have a source where the author is an organisation, for instance, a report written by a government department. In these cases it is fine to use the organisation as an author. For more information, see the Corporate authors section of Citing within the text of written work.

Everyone knows this, do I really need to reference it?

'Common knowledge' is basic things that anybody might know and there is no need to say where you learnt it. It can be difficult to tell if something is 'common knowledge' or not.

  • To avoid plagiarism, if you have had to look something up, it is safer to assume it is not common knowledge and to tell us where you found it.
  • Things that your lecturers say in lectures are usually common knowledge for your subject.
  • If you are not sure whether something is 'common knowledge', try and find a source to back up your information.

Why do I need to reference facts?

There are two reasons why you need to give references for statistics, results from experiments, and other sources that are factual information. One reason is that somebody else did the work to discover and prove those facts, or did all the calculations to provide the statistics. If you do not reference, it will look like you are claiming that you discovered this information yourself when in fact you simply read the results of someone else's work.

The other reason is about the reliability of whatever you are quoting. How does your lecturer know that the fact you are talking about is accurate? If you tell us where you found out this information, the person marking your work can look at the source of the data and be sure that it is a good academic source.

Can I reference my own previous work?

If your work was original research, for instance, experimental data or a survey, you may reference it as you would any other source.

Re-reading the sources you used in a previous assignment is fine, as long as you put in the work to interpret what you read in the context of the new assignment and write new content based on the sources. If you do this, you simply reference the sources in the standard way.

You must not cut and paste from previously submitted work as this is counted as plagiarism.