Are you worried about how to do references? You're not alone - many people really struggle with this topic.

That’s because it looks so complicated. It’s hard to know where to start.

It’s very common to be confused about:

• how to reference
• when to reference, and
• why you need to reference at all.

Let’s cover the basics of how to do references, right now – quick and dirty style.

How to do references

When you write an assignment, you’ll be doing some background reading, and drawing on additional sources to inform your work. So you need to make it clear which sources you’ve used. You do this by adding a reference to your sources, in your own work.

This should happen in two places:

• In the body of your assignment, right after you draw on a published work (this is called a citation).
• In a Reference List at the end of your assignment (where you must list all the sources you’ve used).

There are several different referencing systems out there. You may have heard of the APA, Harvard, Chicago or MLA systems.

How does this affect you? In two ways.

1. You need to know which referencing system to use.

Your learning institution will prefer one system over another. Find out what it is by checking the Course Outline tab in your online materials, or email your tutor and ask.

2. You need to apply the rules of the preferred referencing system.

Your learning institution will have a guide to referencing available. The guide will offer useful examples of how to do referencing for different kinds of resources – books, articles and websites.

You then simply apply these rules to the information sources you use for your assignment.

Where to find your organisation’s guide to referencing

The guide to referencing will be easy to find. Try:

• Your online course material – look through the Course Outline and Assessments areas.
• A quick Google search – there’s plenty of guidance for each referencing style available on the internet.
• Your institution’s library – there’ll be lots of information there as well.

When to reference

There are three situations that demand a reference. You should reference your information sources when:

1. You directly quote part of a source (make sure you use quotation marks).
2. You paraphrase the words of others, saying the same thing in a slightly different way.
3. You use your own words entirely, but your thinking has been directly influenced by some published work.

Basically, you need a reference whenever you’re drawing on the words or ideas of a published author.

Why reference your work at all?

Does it really matter whether you reference your work? Yes, it really (really) does!

There are three main reasons why it’s worth learning how to do references. A well-referenced piece of work shows that:

1. You’re drawing on the work of established experts.

This demonstrates informed thinking, and shows you’ve done some research.

2. You’re not claiming that you’ve invented these key ideas on your own.

This suggests your work is transparent, correct, and based on evidence you can name.

3. You haven’t plagiarised your work.

If you don’t reference your information source, you’re committing the crime of plagiarism. This essentially amounts to stealing someone else’s ideas and intellectual property. Most learning institutions take it pretty seriously.

Plagiarism is usually punished, and the severity of the penalty depends on the institution. You may lose marks, be suspended, or fail the course as a result.

So that’s the quick and dirty guide to referencing. The next step is to get familiar with your organisation’s preferred style, and put it into practice.

Author's Bio: 

Dr Liz Hardy is the owner of and the author of E-learning 101, the friendliest online study guide around. Dr Hardy takes a unique approach to online learning. Blending simple e-learning strategies with a little humour and pictures of friendly dogs, she presents accessible e-learning advice that works.