Introduction to referencing

Why reference 

Referencing is an essential part of academic writing. As a student or researcher, you are part of a scholarly community, and it’s important to articulate which ideas in your work belong to you and which belong to researchers that have gone before you.   

Clearly acknowledging where ideas come from establishes credibility.

  • If you are writing an assessment, your tutors will be able to see some of the research you have undertaken and how it’s contributed to your thinking and understanding of a topic.
  • If you are writing a research paper, it quickly helps the reader to find your sources and evaluate for themselves the validity of the research you’re using and whether you’ve used it appropriately. 

Accurate referencing also ensures academic integrity. By providing references consistently in your writing, you: 

  • are being honest and transparent
  • avoid academic dishonesty, which can result in penalties.

Learn more about academic integrity here.

When to reference

You should provide source information:

  • when you quote (use words verbatim), paraphrase, or summarise (write in your own words) another person’s ideas or arguments
  • when you use or interpret facts, information, or statistics (including diagrams, datasets, images, video, or audio) in your work or to support your claims
  • when you interpret or draw original conclusions from well-known facts
  • when an idea or fact is too subject-specific for a general audience

You don’t need to provide source information:

  • for information that is common knowledge (i.e. information that people agree about and which is available in a range of reliable sources)
  • when you are presenting your own ideas or opinions, unless they have been published elsewhere.

The safest rule is: when in doubt, provide a reference!

Tip: Check with the style you’re using how to pinpoint the exact part of a particular source you’re referencing. It’s important to be clear whether you’re referring to a source in its entirety or a particular page, paragraph, section, table etc.

How to reference 

Referencing generally has two key elements:

  • an in-text marker (often referred to as an in-text citation) attributing a particular quotation, paraphrase or idea to someone else
  • a complete reference list giving the full details of all sources referenced in the document including:
    • Author: Who created the work?
    • Date: When was the work published? 
    • Title: What is the work called?
    • Retrieval information: Where can I find the work?

The way you are required to write the in-text citation and the reference list is determined by the reference system and style you use.

Reference systems and styles 

There are two common systems for referencing:

Note systems involve the use of sequential numbers as in-text markers that refer to either:

Styles that use note systems: Vancouver, Royal Society of Chemistry, and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Parenthetical systems involve the use of a partial reference in parenthesis as in-text markers (such as the author-date). The complete reference is then included in a bibliography or reference list on the last page of the document.

Styles that use parenthetical systems: American Psychological Association (APA), Harvard, and Modern Language Association (MLA).

Choose a system or style

For assignments, check with your lecturer if your faculty has a preferred style.  

If you are a researcher, you may need to follow the style of the publication you are writing for, or select a style more commonly used in your field.

Be consistent

Always be consistent when using a particular referencing system and citation style, as you can't mix formats within the same document.  

Where to learn more about a style

Reference list or bibliography

For assignments, check your assignment outline or ask your lecturer if they expect a reference list or a bibliography, otherwise check with the publications you are writing for:

  • A reference list contains only the sources you refer to in your writing. 
  • A bibliography includes everything you have read on a particular topic, whether you refer to it in your writing or not.  

Referencing Indigenous knowledge

For guidance about citing Indigenous knowledge, consult the Indigenous Referencing Guidance for Indigenous Knowledges.

The publication first helps you to consider if you have chosen appropriate sources, including Indigenous authored and / or those preferencing first-person experiences.  It then provides advice about how to incorporate the author’s Nation, Country or Language Group.

Referencing ChatGPT

For advice about referencing AI sources like ChatGPT, see the University of Sydney Canvas resource Acknowledging & referencing the use of AI.

Reference management tools

We recommend the use of reference management tools when you are working with large numbers of references and associated files. Find out more about their recommended use and limitations.

Academic referencing support service charter

The Library provides advice and support on how to approach referencing using the published styles commonly used by the University. Read our charter here.