Essay Referencing Simplified

December 28, 2016
Essay Referencing Simplified

For many students, using a referencing guideline can be a tedious drudgery to suffer when writing papers. For others, good referencing poses a complicated barrier which can cost them marks and even put their academic success in jeopardy. In this post I will endeavor to demystify citation systems and offer a simplified approach to them.

The Role of Essay Citation

What is a reference? Academic writing does not stand alone. Everything that is written contributes to a conversation which has spanned centuries. This is exactly what Sir Isaac Newton was referring to when he made his famous quote about standing on the shoulders of giants. The primary role of all citation systems is to give your readers the means to retrace your steps through this ongoing conversation.

Of course, the other side of this is about giving due recognition to the writers of the work to which you are referring. Personally, I think of this as a secondary purpose. This is not due to any disrespect toward the protection of intellectual property; it is only that I give this respect incidentally. I appreciate having the opportunity to show where my work sits in relation to the greater conversation.

It is plagiarism when a student attempts to pass off work which has already been published or submitted as their own. It is different if someone, a friend for example, acts as a co-writer who helps you proofread, edit, or produce new work. However, I am at a loss as to why someone would feel compelled not to reference the work they use.

You are not rewarded for generating entirely original thought, especially as an undergraduate. Regardless of your field of study, you gain respect and marks for two things. Firstly, you are tested for your ability to focus your efforts towards the succinct satisfaction of the criteria of each specific task. Secondly, and arguably, more importantly, your graders want to see evidence in your work that you are engaging with the broader body of academic work and the ongoing conversation it represents. Knowing how to cite references according to the reference format prescribed in the course guide can make this easy.

There is everything to gain by using citation to show your instructors what you have been reading. There is nothing to gain by failing to reference your work.

I want to challenge you to take pleasure and pride in your citation. Your essay reference page is where you show that you are able to surf the databases and use libraries to engage with the literature and find relevant information. This is really the primary practical skill set you are required to master and you demonstrate it through referencing.

How to Cite References

It has to be said that, if you have not already done so, the first thing you need to do is talk with your instructors about the style they expect from you. At the university where I studied, for example, there were eleven different style guides used by the various faculties and schools. They may ask students to write strictly to the MLA referencing format, the APA format for references, Harvard, or Chicago guides. Alternatively, the faculty could ask for a derivative format or special instructions to be followed. Be careful to note that the way we cite our sources in the reference list will be different depending on whether you are citing an essay or a citing a book in an essay or on the prescribed style. Refer to your course guide or talk with someone about it.

The Two Main Referencing Styles

Many of the guides which cover referencing can be said to have derived from either the Chicago or Harvard styles. For example, the increasingly popular APA referencing style is heavily based on the Harvard Style Guide. The Harvard format for references discourage the use of footnotes. Footnotes are notes written at the bottom of the page which corresponds to a small footnote number written at the end of the relevant line of text, in superscript. Since recent changes, the Chicago Style Guide now facilitates the use of either the footnote system or an author-date parenthetical, in-text referencing style, such as is preferred by the Harvard Referencing Style Guide. Both examples of what to do within the text will be followed by examples of how to do a corresponding reference page.

I highly recommend a thorough online publication offered by the University of Western Australia for further details on everything from how to cite an essay in an essay to citing online resources, or 5th edition books compiled by editors according to many different referencing style guides.

Harvard Style In-Text Referencing

In-text referencing as become most common over time. Some say that it breaks the flow of the text, making it more difficult to read and this might be why it is not used on websites like Wikipedia. However, most people would skip over the references when reading a sentence and use them only to reference the source material.

Basically, in the text the writer acknowledges the author by placing their name and the date of publication in parenthesis, at the end of the sentence and before the final punctuation. In this example we will not only look at how to reference a book in an essay but also at journal articles and other sources.

essay referencing example

The reader can expect that this is not a direct quotation but merely information from the text. The name and date will correspond with a full bibliographic entry at the end of the essay, under the title, “References.”

If there are more than one source from which the information was drawn, the citations will be listed, separated by semicolons.


You can include the writer or writers in the text, if it is useful for your message, followed by the date, alone in parenthesis. For example:


This reference list example shows the full citations of the cited work in alphabetical order and with a hanging indent.

References (example)

Referencing Examples

This is just one example, and you will find that the actual style required by any faculty could be different in some respects. This example uses a very succinct table of examples offered to the public by The University of Western Australia. In other implementations of the style, you will find that there will be some small differences, such as years listed in the references might be in parenthesis. It is very useful to find out exactly what the requirements are at your institution.

Chicago Style Footnote Referencing

One of the advantages of footnote referencing is that it allows the writer to get the referencing data out of the way of the text. Instead, it uses a superscript number like this, ’1’ at the end of a sentence in which referenced work is used and then follows up with an acknowledgment of the source material at the bottom of the page, separated from the main body of the text. You will notice that the Chicago reference list format is laid out differently. If we use the same sentences as from our previous referencing example it will look like this:

Chicago referencing example

Watkins, O’Shay & Chandler, This book was written by three authors, (Big City: Fancy Publishing House, 2013) 34.

Note that one citation can refer to multiple entries rather than including multiple superscripted numbers at the end of a single sentence.

Getting it Right Every Time You Write an Essay

I can not overstate the importance of referring specifically to the style guide prescribed by the course you are enrolled in. This article represents our attempt to give you a quick outline to understand referencing. But there are many specific criteria requested by different institutions. Great essay writing loses marks unnecessarily when you make some small mistakes with the referencing style, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Perhaps You Could Think of Referencing Your Essay Like Lego

Keep a record of the books and sources you gather your information. Then, follow the style guide you are given by your course instructors and put all the pieces together in the same way.

Know When to Ask For Help

The best tip to success in anything is to know how to search for good information and know how to delegate like a leader. If you are not sure about how the specifics of citation will work in your course, ask your tutor for more help; this is what they are there for. If you need to delegate work to someone else so that you can deal with the important tasks of your studies, send it to Our professional writers can put your citation together from the sources that you gathered according to the style format you send us from your course. If you need more help, you can buy an essay from us, and it will be uniquely written to meet your criteria and free of plagiarism.

Related posts