Referencing Practice

The term ‘referencing’ is often applied to two related features of academic practice: citations and references. Citations and references are used to identify specific texts – or sources of evidence – upon which a new piece of work is based. Students will notice citations and references as they appear in class materials and academic texts, like textbooks, journal articles and reports. Students are also expected to produce citations and references in their own work. This can seem difficult at first, but it gets easier with practice. 

There are many different referencing styles. At Edinburgh Napier, most schools use author-date systems, such as the American Psychological Association’s (APA) style or a version of Harvard referencing. If you are unsure of which style to follow, check your module or assessment guidelines and the relevant school’s referencing guidelines, or ask the tutor assigning the piece of work in question. 



Citations are found in the body of a text. They appear embedded in the sentences of articles, reports and books, as well as the coursework students produce. Citations look similar in the Harvard and APA styles; both include author names and years of publication. Here are examples that follow the rules of both styles: 

  • Organic means of deterring slugs from a vegetable patch are many and various (McClatchie, 2018). 
  • McClatchie (2018) has suggested that organic means of deterring slugs from a vegetable patch are many and various. 

Beyond including names and years, there are other little citation rules that need to be learned. Have a look at school referencing guidelines or consult the Academic Skills team’s resources for help with these and other aspects of referencing. 


Referencing Guidelines


Each citation in a text corresponds to a reference in a . The latter are much longer, containing all of the details necessary to find the piece of evidence in question. References are contained in a list, which is typically entitled ‘References.’ This appears on the page immediately following the conclusion or last section of the piece of work in question. (N.B. Appendices come after the reference list.) This list is alphabetised using the names of the primary authors of each source, like so: 

  • McClatchie, D. (1956). The natural garden miscellany. Edinburgh: Paton Press. 
  • Scottish Natural Heritage. (2015). Beavers in Scotland: A report to the Scottish Government. Inverness: SNH. Retrieved from  
  • Turner, R. (2007). Gardening without chemicals. Outlooks on Pest Management, 18(3), 124-127. doi: 10.1564/1jul08 

Notice the slight differences in punctuation and formatting between different entries. These are based on the type of source referenced. Journal articles, for example, are referenced differently to books. There are also differences of punctuation and formatting between referencing guidelines. This is why it is important that students follow a particular school’s designated guidelines. Above all, consistency of formatting and punctuation is important. Do not use bullet-points or numbers, and be sure to leave a blank line between each list item. Other than that, try to keep the text font and size consistent. Students should consult the resources on the Academic Skills team’s blog  for more referencing related advice. 



It might seem that the best way to give someone credit for their work is to quote them directly – that is, copying their words exactly, wrapping those words in “quotation marks,” then adding a citation. Whilst there is nothing wrong with doing this now and then – when an author has expressed an idea in a particularly clear and concise way, for example – if someone does it repeatedly throughout their writing, a reader will grow tired of hearing other people’s ‘voices,’ and will start to wonder whether or not the writer has one of their own. 

So, the expectation is that students ‘translate’ what they have read into their own words, whilst retaining the essential meaning. It remains important to include a citation, though, to alert a reader to the source of the ideas. This practice is known as ‘paraphrasing,’ and students will need to do a lot of it over the course of any degree. 

When paraphrasing, it is important that students:  

  • substantially re-word what has been written, i.e. do not just substitute a couple of synonyms and alter the word order slightly 
  • include only the details of the original text that are relevant and important to the piece of work in question 
  • maintain the essence of the original text’s meaning 

Paraphrasing is much easier to do well if students are in the habit of taking notes whilst carrying out their reading, and conduct most of their reading before sitting down to write their pieces of coursework. Working from personal notes means that new writing should flow more easily. On the other hand, working directly from a journal article, for example, makes it quite hard to think beyond the original wording.  

Like citing, referencing, and all other aspects of writing, the more students practise paraphrasing, the better at it they will become. Have a look at the resources on the Academic Skills team’s blog for more guidance.