Principles of referencing - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Principles of referencing

The importance of referencing

Referencing adds credibility and depth to your writing. When you quote, paraphrase or summarise from academic sources it demonstrates how your interpretations fit into the field of knowledge about which you are writing.

Why it’s important to reference:

  • To provide evidence that supports your arguments
  • To give credit to those whose information and ideas you are using
  • To demonstrate you have read widely and synthesised relevant information
  • To avoid plagiarism
  • To gain marks (if referencing is included within a marking rubric)

What to reference

When considering information to use in an assignment, it’s important to evaluate the credibility and relevance of each source. See the Evaluating Sources Library Guide for further information.

Where to reference

Referencing usually involves presenting both in-text citations and a reference list.

It’s important to understand the conventions of the particular referencing style you are using. While many referencing styles feature a reference list, some feature a bibliography. A reference list contains details of only those sources cited in text. A bibliography acknowledges all sources of information consulted on the topic, whether or not they are cited in text. In most assignments, you will be required to supply a reference list, not a bibliography.

In-text citing

Cite the sources you use within your written paragraphs or sections.

Reference list

At the end of your assignment, on a separate page titled References, list the full details of each source you cite in your assignment.

In-text referencing strategies 


Use your own words to express someone else’s ideas and information.


Present the exact words and phrasing that appear within a source.


Use your own words to present a concise summary of the main points in a source.


Your words – their ideas and information

In academic writing, it is more common to paraphrase than to quote. Paraphrasing has an advantage over quoting: by using your own words to express ideas and information, you demonstrate your understanding of the content being cited.

Paraphrasing involves more than simply substituting a few words in an original text: it means creating a new sentence of your own. A paraphrase must convey the meaning of the text being paraphrased, yet exhibit different vocabulary and a different sentence structure. For example:

Original text

'Paraphrasing occurs when you express what are clearly another person's words in your own words, or mostly your own words' (Bate & Sharpe 1990, p. 41).

Paraphrase of the original text

Paraphrasing is restating or rewording the meaning of a text in a form that is different from the original (Bate & Sharpe 1990).

How to paraphrase

Paraphrasing is a skill that requires practice. You may already have your own paraphrasing technique, but if you don’t, you might like to follow this process:

  1. Read the text several times to fully understand its meaning.
  2. Put the text aside and note the ideas in your own words.
  3. Write a sentence from your notes, keeping in mind how you intend to use the paraphrase.
  4. Check your sentence against the original text to ensure the same meaning is conveyed.
  5. Edit and improve your sentence.
  6. Add the in-text reference

In academic writing, it is conventional to quote sparingly. To ensure you don’t quote too much, be selective and only quote key information or expressions that are difficult to paraphrase. When contemplating whether to include a quotation in an assignment, consider if you can paraphrase the information instead.

When quoting, ensure that you place quotation marks around the exact passage being cited and that you include a page number. It’s also important to integrate each quotation by introducing it and discussing it afterwards.

Introduce – use your own words to lead into the quote:

According to Smith (2000, p. 1), '…’

Smith (2001, p. 1) argues that ‘…'

Present – for a short quote, display the exact wording within quotation marks:

‘ …’

– for a long quote, create a line space, start a new line, indent the quote and present it in a font size one point smaller. Don’t use quotation marks.

Discuss – interpret its meaning and evaluate its significance:

This is an important point to consider … However, …

Smith’s argument demonstrates …


Summarising involves presenting a brief, concise representation of the content in an original source. It means reducing a text to its essence, perhaps using a small number of sentences to express the key points of a long passage or an entire text.