Study Coach Academic Support: Referencing

Welcome to the world of submitting essays and other assignments. In studying for a university degree or college qualification you will need to produce numbers of written assignments and you will be required to accurately evidence your assignments. At the start of the academic year I expect that you will be introduced to your University Academic Support department and you will receive information about the importance of referencing assignments. You should also receive information about other related issues such as plagiarism. There is so much information to absorb at the start of a course, it is therefore understandable that some students might soon forget the instructions given on referencing and why it is crucial to get referencing right. Study Coach UK would therefore like to offer students the following on the importance of referencing assignments. 



You will no doubt receive the following message from your University or College “please reference your work according to the Harvard style”. I suggest that students should quickly make it their duty to become acquainted with the definition of Harvard style referencing. You can find out about Harvard style referencing in the book Cite Them Right, copies should be available at your University Library, but it is impossible for the University to have a book available for every student, therefore you might want to consider purchasing your own copy, I have placed a Cite them Right book link below towards the end of this blog and will give examples of Harvard referencing style as we progress.



When you receive an Essay Brief you should note the Learning Outcomes and the Marking Criteria that you will need to satisfy in order to achieve a good or excellent mark. You will further note that the marking criteria is likely to say that if there are missing sources, inappropriate sources, inaccurate sources, superficial use of sources, incomplete sources, then it will negatively impact on your mark. The term sources refers to the evidence you have chosen to rely on to support your academic arguments for the essay. 

Let’s say that you are studying Criminology and your course curriculum is based on Jock Young’s theoretical ideas, it is therefore expected that Young’s ideas should feature in your essay. To dismiss his research and focus on other theorists work would not be a good idea, particularly if the essay title given by the University states that Young’s approach should be discussed. Your lecturers have taken the time to explain Young’s work, the Learning Outcomes for the essay are designed to test that you understand the ideas delivered through the lectures, seminars and other modes of teaching. 

You therefore need to evidence your essay with Young’s ideas and furthermore you need to ensure that you are not simply being descriptive; meaning that this should not be a copy and paste exercise. 



You need to raise a discussion and not simply to regurgitate the author’s words. If the essay is simply repeating the author’s words, it is likely that the feedback will say: ‘descriptive work’ and the mark will be low or fail. In order to offer a discursive essay, you will need to think and raise issues, mentally pose questions and offer suggestions, give reasoning; show the markers and readers why you hold a certain view. You therefore need to show your markers where you have taken your ideas from, meaning whose research are you relying on to support your arguments. Clearly, if Young is an authority on the essay topic then you will need to cite Young and in doing so to present the evidence in a logical way, taking care not to misrepresent the author’s ideas. Do remember that your marker will be very knowledgeable about concepts and theories.   



From my teaching experience I have noticed that some students will prefer to rely on their own definition of terms and set aside researchers’ ideas. Please do not rely on your own definition, you are not yet an authority. I note that this error usually occurs when students are writing on familiar topics such as culture, social care, communication skills and prejudice/discrimination. 

If you are studying sociology or a related topic and need to define culture then use an authority on the topic. For example, you could say the following: according to Haralambos and Holborn (1990: p3) ‘culture defines accepted ways of behaving for members of a particular society’. 

In citing Haralambos and Holborn in the body of the essay, you should therefore note that you need to refer to the authors surname (not first name), provide the date and state when the work was published, and since it is a quote you should give a page number. Furthermore, you will note that the year and page number are in brackets. You are therefore directing your marker to the source and furthermore telling the marker that the definition can be found on page 3. Once you have cited a definition you then need to discuss the definition, explain your understanding, for example you should be thinking what is mean’t by ‘a particular society’ and ‘accepted ways’.  



The idea behind giving precise information about the reference is in order for others to locate the source for themselves and to see whether or not you have accurately defined the idea and in your analysis you have interpreted the idea correctly and not given a false representation of the work. If you wish to refer back to the same source and idea in the said essay, it is usually allowed just to refer to the authors (Haralambos and Holborn) without referring to the date and page again. However, if you wish to introduce a new idea given by the authors then you should provide the date and page. Please however note that Universities guidelines on referencing do differ and it is possible that your University might expect you to cite the date and page at all times. 



Please also note that when quoting you should use quotation marks. Do however try to limit your use of quotes in assignments, since the aim is for you to develop and express your understanding in your own words and to convey meaning. Massive use of quotes is not acceptable. You should develop skills in rephrasing text, demonstrating understanding and generating ideas, simply repeating the author’s words is not good.  



Please be aware that the University might stipulate that only current and contemporary references should be used. The University might stipulate a minimum of references to be used, for example a minimum of 25 references and sources need to be reliable, plus the instructions for references might say that journal articles should be peer reviewed and robust.

Do note that a reference list is excluded from the allowed word count and that a reference list is not a bibliography. Your overall mark will depend on your use of academic referencing conventions so hopefully you will take note of some of the suggestions given in this blog. 



Listing References takes place at the end of the assignment and I will repeat: the reference list is excluded from the word count. Having written the assignment you are expected to supply all the references that is cited in the body of the essay.  The aim is that readers can read and easily locate the books/articles/journals used, should they wish to. 

The reference list should give details of authors surname and initial(s) year and date of publication, the title of the book or article and the name of the publisher. This is basically the academic convention according to the Harvard system. The list of references should be an exhaustive list of all works referred to in the body of the essay. Please find examples below:


Haralambos, M; Holborn, M (1990) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, 3rd ed, London, Unwin Hyman Limited. 

Pears, R. and Shields, G. (2016) Cite them Right: the essential reference guide, 10th edn, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 


Below you will find affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for your support.


If you would like to purchase a copy of the book Cite Them Right, it is available at Amazon, please see the following link:

If you need a new Oxford Dictionary, see:

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CONTACT: If you have a question about Referencing or need an Academic Support Service, then do get in touch with Study Coach UK. Email: Morel Benard 

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