Skip to main content
University of York Library
Subject Guides

Referencing styles - a Practical Guide

Home

Referencing styles: a Practical Guide

Referencing is a key aspect of academic writing. This practical guide contains advice and examples to help you use your department's referencing style correctly.

What is referencing?

A key aspect of academic writing is using referencing to clearly identify information and ideas in your writing that come from source materials. It's essential to acknowledge other people's ideas in this way so that you can avoid plagiarism.


Various referencing styles are used in different academic disciplines, but all referencing styles have two key components:

In-text citation

Citations appear in the text of your document to show where you've used information or words from source materials.

Referencing styles show citations using one of these methods:

  • author-date: the author(s) name and year of publication is added after the information or integrated into the sentence
    Online tutorials can be more effective than face-to-face instruction for developing information literacy skills (Craig & Friehs, 2013).
    Craig and Friehs (2013) found that online tutorials can be more effective than face-to-face instruction for developing information literacy skills.
  • footnote: a number in superscript1 is added after the information, with a reference at the bottom of the page
    Online tutorials can be more effective than face-to-face instruction for developing information literacy skills1.
  • endnote: a number in square brackets [1] is added after the information
    Online tutorials can be more effective than face-to-face instruction for developing information literacy skills [1].

Reference list

The reference list (or bibliography) at the end of the document contains the full details of each source cited in the text so the reader can find them if they wish.

It's very important that you format your citations and reference list correctly. See the relevant style guide for more detail and examples of citations and references.

Using source information

Citing source materials within your assignment is useful and beneficial to support your argument. However, be selective. Don't just use as many references as you can to try to impress the marker that you’ve read a massive amount. Your references should be relevant and are an integral part of your argument; that is you discuss or critique them in your writing.

For example, cite your source if you:

  • Include data from your reading (eg tables, statistics, diagrams)
  • Describe or discuss a theory, model or practice from a particular writer
  • Want to add credibility to your argument by bringing in the ideas of another writer
  • Provide quotations or definitions in your essay;
  • Paraphrase or summarise information which is not common knowledge

For more on using source information in your writing, see these Skills Guides pages:

Using the reference style guides

Firstly, you'll need to know which reference style is used in your department. This might be specified in your course materials, or you can check the list below.

  • Archaeology: Harvard
  • Biology: Harvard and Vancouver
  • Chemistry: Check departmental guidelines
  • Computer Science: IEEE
  • Economics and Related Studies: Harvard
  • Education: APA
  • Electronics: IEEE
  • English and Related Literature: Chicago and MLA
  • Environment: Harvard
  • Health Sciences: Harvard
  • History: Chicago
  • History of Art: Chicago
  • HYMS: Harvard and Vancouver
  • Language and Linguistic Science: APA
  • Law: OSCOLA
  • Management: Harvard
  • Mathematics: AMS/LMS, check departmental guidelines
  • Music: Chicago
  • Philosophy: Harvard and MLA
  • Physics: Check departmental guidelines
  • Politics: Harvard
  • Psychology: APA
  • Social Policy and Social Work: Harvard
  • Sociology: Harvard
  • Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media: MRHA and Harvard

Then use the relevant guide for your referencing style to help you cite and reference sources correctly. In each guide you'll find:

  • common questions about using the referencing style
  • examples of citations and references for different source types
  • other useful resources

You can also find these links at the top of the page. We recommend you bookmark your guide in your browser so you can easily access it whenever you need it.

Reference management applications

Keeping track of your sources can be difficult, especially if you're working on a big piece of work that relies on a lot of references. 

Reference management applications are really useful to organise your sources: you can group and tag them, keep notes, and store PDFs online for easy access. You can even automatically cite your references as you write up your work. 

Our practical guide to reference management covers the key concepts for each stage of the process and how to use features in EndNote, Mendeley, Zotero, and Paperpile to effectively collect, organise, cite, and share your references.

You can refer to the guide with specific questions, or work through the whole guide with suggested exercises. It also contains the slides from our reference management training session.