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Cite references

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Reference styles

There are many different ways of citing references. The majority of OU faculties use the 'OU Harvard' style but you should check the referencing requirements for your particular module. Most journals and learned societies also have their own requirements. The best advice is to check with the person or people you are writing for and apply the recommended style consistently throughout your work.

  • To see examples of how to cite references using the OU Harvard style, go to the OU Harvard guide to citing references (site may require login), which is also available as a .pdfPlease note that the most up-to-date version of the OU Harvard Guide is the online one.  
  • The Referencing styles page provides more guidance on different citation styles.

Why you should cite references

When writing a piece of work, it's important to give complete, accurate references. Here are some reasons why:

  • Your references show you have read around the subject;
  • Your argument will be stronger if supported by evidence from others' research;
  • You enable others to find and use the sources that informed your work;
  • If you don't include references, you will be guilty of plagiarism, i.e. passing off someone else's work as your own.

To find out how to use bibliographic software (e.g. EndNote or RefWorks) to store and present your references go to Bibliographic management.

How to create your references

At the end of your own work you should acknowledge your sources by providing a list of all others' works that you have referred to and cited. It is the convention at the OU that this list is called 'References'.

You may also come across the term 'bibliography' - this literally means 'list of books' and can be a list of all sources used while writing an assignment. You could have another section titled 'Further reading' for work that has informed your writing but has not been cited. It is important though to check your module guide and assignment handbook to find the expected practices for your module.

Creating references is a two step process:

Step 1: In text citations

In text citations are where you indicate in your work that you have used ideas or material from other sources. How you do this depends on which referencing style you use. Here are some examples using the OU Harvard referencing style:

  • Further work (Brown, 1999) supports this claim
  • Further work by Brown (1999) supports this claim
  • "This theory is supported by recent work" (Brown, 1999, p.25)

Step 2: List your references at the end of your work

Everything you have cited in the text of your work , e.g. journal articles, web pages, podcasts etc, should be listed at the end. These are your references. References should include everything you need to identify the item and should be in a standard and consistent format. Your reference list can also include items you have read but not referred to directly in your text.

Online sources should also be cited consistently and systematically. For example with sources such as web pages, journals, podcasts, you need to say when you last accessed them. This is because online sources are updated frequently, so saying when you accessed them is like giving the edition of a book.

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