Referring to Sources in Academic Work

This basic guide is aimed particularly at (EFL) students beginning their university studies. Teachers could also provide this post as a guide to their students – just don’t forget to cite the source! 🙂

When you are asked to prepare a presentation, a handout, or an essay during your university studies, you will probably need to research the topic and use the information you find. It’s good to use information (including examples, anecdotes, statistics, quotations, etc) from other sources in your work, because it can help you:

  • Support your overall message and make it more believable
  • Show how your work fits in with other research or academic work in that area
  • Give examples of different opinions, beliefs or research on the topic
  • Draw attention to a point of view that you particularly agree or disagree with
  • Make your writing more detailed and insightful

To find sources for your work, you can search your university’s library catalogue, search engines like google-scholar. Beware of searching the internet using standard search engines, and try not to rely solely on web sources – some of these will be inappropriate for academic work. Some teachers also dislike work that is based only on internet sources. Check with your lecturer if you’re unsure.

The key premise to bear in mind is: If you include information from other sources in your academic work (either as a direct quote OR the ideas expressed in your own words), you should show where you have taken it from by referring to the original author. Even if you use another author’s structure or way of arguing, you should include a reference to the source. If you don’t include these reference, it is plagiarism and can have very serious consequences.

There are various ways, often called “styles”, in which you can give the references to your sources. The guidelines for referencing are given by various organisations (e.g. “American Psychological Association” or “APA” see here for a tutorial in this style These different styles are common in different faculties and subjects. For example, one of the common “styles” in humanities and arts subjects, especially English studies, is given by the “Modern Language Association”, or “MLA” (see their website: Another one is the “Chicago Manual of Style” which can be found here: You should check your course guidelines or ask your lecturer which style and guidelines they would like you to follow. When you choose one style, make sure you are consistent and do not swap between different styles within your work.

These guidelines for referencing sources protect students and academics from plagiarising, which is when you use other people’s ideas or information without showing the source. Plagiarism can have serious negative consequences for your studies.

Referencing Within the Text

Within the body of  your text, you have two decisions to make when it comes to referring to your sources.

1. Do you want to use a direct quotation or an indirect one?

2. How do you want to include the reference information within your text?

1. If you use a direct quotation, you should copy the exact words from the original text and place them in inverted commas (speech marks). The quotation should be integrated as part of the flow of your text and you should use it to support what you are saying. The quotation should be followed by a specific reference to the original source. Different styles recommend different types of inverted comma, and give guidelines on how long a direct quote should be before it needs different formatting from the rest of the text. Overall, a maximum of about 10% of your work should consist of direct quotations.

If you do not use the exact words and put them inverted commas, but still use the information, organisation or way of arguing of another source, we call this an indirect quotation. You need to make sure that you change the language and structure significantly, so that it is not plagiarism. You also need to include a reference to the original source, which you can do in the ways shown below.


2. To refer to a source within your essay or on a printed handout, after both direct and indirect quotations, you can:

–          Give the author’s name within the flow of your text, and put the specific reference information (e.g. year and page number) in brackets after the end of your sentence. The punctuation used depends on the style that you are following.

e.g. As Smith states, a recent survey showed that 45% of the population holds the belief that abortion is wrong on moral grounds (2010, 26).

–          Give the author’s name, the page number and sometimes the year all in brackets at the end of your sentence. The punctuation used in these parenthetical citations depends on the style that you are following.

e.g. In a recent survey, 45% of the population stated their belief that abortion was wrong on moral grounds (Smith, 2010, 26).

–          Or give the full reference in a footnote or endnote. Again the way you set out your footnote or endnote should follow the guidelines of the style you are following.

e.g. In a recent survey, 45% of the population stated their belief that abortion was wrong on moral grounds.1

1. Smith, J. Abortion Beliefs: Report on a recent survey (Dublin: Dublin U.P., 2010), p. 26.


NOTE: You should be consistent with how you reference – do not mix parenthetical citations with references in footnotes or endnotes.

The Bibliography or “Works Cited

You should always include a “bibliography” or “works cited” section at the end of your work, where you list (in alphabetical order) the sources you have used and referred to within your text. You need this even if you have use footnotes or endnotes where the full references are shown. Each style prescribes different ways of formatting the references listed in the bibliography, so make sure you check carefully how to punctuate, use brackets and italics correctly.

Example Bibliographies can be found here:

In MLA Style:

In APA Style:

In Chicago Style:

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