Basic principles

Why are references needed?

'At university, you are required to write about what others have found and argued...and yet... your tutors will tell you that they want you to think for yourselves and come up with your own ideas and interpretations' (Norton and Pitt 2009: 78).

Writing at university is all about developing your ideas based on what has been written and said about your subject. You need to do your research and bring what you have read (or heard or seen) into your writing.

Referencing is a system that allows you to do this. It is important to get referencing right - if you make a mess of it or don't bother you will lose marks and might be accused of plagiarism. 

Lots of different styles of referencing have developed. This can be confusing but we aim to simplify where possible. The main purpose of any referencing system is to:

  1. Mark in the text to show that you are quoting from or referring to someone else’s published work. The marker may be either:
    • Surname and year in brackets – for instance in Harvard you may see something like (Smith 2010: 45) after a quotation.
    • A small superscript number. This will be linked to either a footnote (at the bottom of the page) or a note at the end.
    • stick to one style - don't mix them up
  2. Connect that mark in the text to a list of references at the end of your work (sometimes called a bibliography)

The most used styles on campus are MHRA (which uses the superscript numbers method) and Harvard (which uses brackets). Harvard is a collection of styles and there are many variations in use at different institutions. Make sure you follow the guidelines approved by your course.

Know your style

  • Different courses use different referencing styles (for instance Harvard, APA, MLA). Check the Learning Space or ELE, your course handbook or ask a tutor to find your course's style. Here is our guide to Styles at Falmouth and Exeter (Penryn Campus)
  • Most Falmouth University courses use the Falmouth Harvard Style.
  • In Exeter, CLES has its own style of Harvard.
  • Some Falmouth University courses - English and/or Creative Writing and some MAs use MHRA

Referencing management tools, make referencing quicker and easier - but none of them are perfect (yet). You still need to:

  1. Understand referencing
  2. Check everything carefully
  3. Make sure your references match your course’s designated style

Some confusing terms

Your may see or hear different words being used in connection with references and referencing.  For instance, some online sources use the term citation rather than reference (tends to be US based sites or products).  A list of references is sometimes called a bibliography and people may refer to 'bibliographic details' meaning the information about a source which goes into your reference list. 


NORTON, Lin and Edd PITT with Kathy HARRINGTON, James ELANDER, Peter REDDY. 2009. Writing essays at University : a guide for students, by students. London UK : Write now CETL.

Referencing Top Tips from Academic Services on Vimeo.