How to Properly Cite Your Essays as a Student

Getting marked down because of how you reference your work? Here's a simple and easy guide to referencing! 👇

The guidance provided for citations isn’t always clear, and sometimes different tutors have their own preferences on best practice. This can make it super difficult to know where to start with referencing your essays!

In academia, referencing is essential in acknowledging another author’s contribution to your argument. Using citations also shows that you can work within a set of rules and use what you’ve learned in the course to produce your own research.

Of course, that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable...

If you’ve got a few essay deadlines on the horizon and the mere thought of citations is winding you up, don’t worry. We’re here to help you smash it out with our guide to how to properly cite references!

Your step-by-step guide to Harvard referencing 

The term ‘Harvard referencing’ is used to describe any referencing style that uses the author name and the year of publication within the text to indicate where you have inserted a source. All other details about the publication should be added to the end in a list of references or bibliography.

Harvard referencing saves page space by removing the need for footnotes, which can often make the text feel crowded. Whether you’re about to write your first university essay or just need a quick recap, let’s go over the steps to make sure you know how to cite properly when the time comes.

1. Creating a citation

There are certain rules about creating citations that you need to adhere to. For a start, citations used for direct quotations, or those referring to a specific part of the source, should also include page number – e.g. (Bradshaw 2015, p. 76). If the source you’re referencing doesn’t have page numbers (in the case of an essay), you should try to add the paragraph number.

Here’s an example:

Students prefer to drink alcohol on weeknights rather than weekends (Smith 2019, para. 2).

Now, if you’d phrased that sentence to include the author, you won’t need to add it again – but you will still need to add the date. For example:

According to Smith, students prefer to drink alcohol on weeknights and not the weekends (2019).

So, what if you need to cite more than one piece of work? In this case, you should separate out the references with a semicolon, and cite them in chronological order like so:

(Bradshaw 2011; Smith 2019).

If the research you’re citing in your essay comes from more than one author, you should cite up to three of the authors using the above structure. However, if there are over three authors, you can use the name of the first author followed by “et al.” e.g. (Bradshaw et al. 2019)!

2. Adding a citation for a quote

Quotations are great for two reasons: they support your argument, and they take up some of that word-count. Of course, quotations need citations just like any other reference. If you quote directly from a source, you’ll need to include the page number in your citation.

Short quotations of two lines or under should be included within the body of the text and in quotation marks with the citation sitting outside of your punctuation marks at the end. For example: 

Clubs and societies are beneficial to the mental health of students, it is noted that “clubs and societies help students to find safe spaces in which they feel supported and encouraged to be themselves.” (Ludlow 2008, p. 56). 

If the quote you’re using runs over two lines, it should sit in a new paragraph and be introduced by a colon. In this case, you don’t need quotation marks, but you still need to cite the source. Here’s an example:

Ludlow et al. (2008, p. 56) studied the benefits of clubs and societies on student mental health and made the following observation about the link between the two:

Friendship increases our sense of belonging, improves our self-confidence can significantly reduce stress. During a period of considerable change that is starting university, that sense of belonging is pivotal in tackling anxiety or depression. Consequently, clubs and societies help students to find safe spaces in which they feel supported and encouraged to be themselves.

3. Secondary referencing

Referencing an author who’s referencing an author whose work isn’t available? This is called secondary referencing (or ‘referenceception to us), and should be avoided wherever possible.

If you do have to do it, though, you should make it abundantly clear to the reader which author’s work you have read whilst also providing details of the original work using the term ‘cited in’ e.g. (Bradshaw 1978, cited in Ludlow 2008, p. 46).

When you get to the reference list, you would reference the author you read (Ludlow, in this example) rather than Bradshaw.

4. Creating a reference list

If you’ve reached the point of creating a reference list, congratulations – you’re almost ready to hand the thing in! But don’t get complacent; a poorly written reference list is a schoolboy error that catches too many of us out. Before we get onto the meat of the subject, here’s an example of a good Harvard reference for the list:

Ludlow, E.D and Smith, J.M. (2008) Mental health and wellbeing in the Student Community. 8th edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Now, let’s establish some ground rules for the perfect reference list...

For a start, Harvard reference lists are in alphabetical order. If you’re citing a corporation e.g. The Student Company, they should be listed using the first proper noun of the name e.g. Student Company (The)

Secondly, author names should be listed Surname first, followed by initials e.g. Ludlow, E.D.
 Of course, not all sources will have a main author. If your course material is an encyclopaedia or a textbook, you can reference the title first, followed by the date, the edition and the publishing house e.g. Modern Sociology, ©2017. 8th edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Wondering how to properly cite a website? The structure is the same, but with the addition of the date you viewed the material (e.g. Viewed 3 May 2021) and a link at the end to the material.

Keep in mind that multiple references by the same author should be listed in chronological order.

Now, remember how we used ‘et al’ for a citation with over three authors? When it comes to the reference list, you’ll need to list all the authors in order they appear in the source. 

In fields such as science and medicine, there may be a long list of authors. In these cases, it might be acceptable to reference the first author followed by et al., but it’s best to check in advance.

Tips and tricks to get it right first time

Citing sources in academia adds credibility to your research and helps you avoid plagiarism. But let’s face it, it’s still really time-consuming!

Here are a few tips to save you time and stop you from getting marked down 👇

Get an app to do it 📲

They say there’s an app for everything (trying to prove this wrong can wait, you have an essay to write!). If you don’t know about it already, is a really helpful tool to add to your essay writing arsenal. It won’t do all the work, but it will help you to catch glaring errors and put you on track to creating perfect citations!

List your references as you go 📝

Creating a citation? Open a new document and write the reference out in full. That way, when you finish your concluding paragraph, you can do a copy-paste of your reference list and proceed to the proofreading stage without the burden of the bibliography in your way.

Store references with Microsoft Word 🔐

Microsoft Word has a simple built-in reference function at the References tab to make your life a little easier. Just put your cursor at the end of the text you want to cite, go to References > Style, and choose a citation style. Select ‘Insert Citation’, then Add New Source and fill out the information necessary.

Proofread your reference list 👀

Imagine the scenes when your near-perfect essay gets marked down a grade for a shoddy reference list. Before you submit your essay, have a final look through your references and in-text citations. Did you remember to italicise the titles? Are the references in the right order? Have you remembered to add page or paragraph numbers wherever possible? Small mistakes can cost you easy marks, so have another once over before handing it in.

Got any questions about referencing? Ask us over on Instagram!

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