Academic integrity series: 2. Referencing tools: the how, what and why

Posted on October 07, 2022

1. Introduction   

Referencing is an imperative component of research and academic integrity. Every piece of research must give acknowledgement to the intellectual property of others, but it is also an important contributor to the critical thinking process where different arguments are constructed, analysed, reviewed, and discussed. This article discusses important facts concerning referencing. These principles will also be aligned with key difficulties students experience concerning referencing and possible solutions on how the University of Pretoria Department of Library Services (UPDLS) and lecturers can collaborate to assist students will be identified.

2. What is referencing

Referencing is used in academic communities to acknowledge facts, theories, ideas, quotations, or any form of evidence used in research, and to also indicate where they were obtained from. Referencing gives credit to authors whose ideas, concepts, and words have been borrowed. 

3. Why, when, and how to reference

Why reference?

Referencing is important because through referencing we give authority to research. Referencing acknowledges the contribution of other researchers. Cited, paraphrased text, and quotations give authenticity to our research and support our ideas and insights.  It shows an understanding of the work and distinguishes between your own and somebody else’s work.

How to reference?

Academic Departments or disciplines prefer specific referencing styles that differ from each other.  These styles present information sources differently within citations and the reference list. Capitalisation, footnotes, italics, and quotation marks are used differently according to these styles. For this article, we focus on and link to a variety of referencing styles, used by UP departments.

Access to clear referencing guidelines should be given to students. Not only will it reduce plagiarism but also make it easier for the students which will reduce anxiety and fear to express their own views in research. Discussions between academic staff and other parties, on key issues concerning referencing, can be useful for students, academics, and other relevant departments.

Despite the different referencing styles, all referencing consists of two parts namely: in-text citations, that link to the full bibliographic information in the reference list.  

When to reference?

In-text citations are short acknowledgments and citations within the text.  It refers the reader to the source where the information was obtained. Citations should give enough information to identify the source in the reference list. Citations should be used in the following instances:

  • when using direct quoting or definitions
  • when paraphrasing text
  • when it is not my own idea and somebody else’s work that influenced your ideas 
  • to refer the reader to sources in the text, tables, figures, diagrams statistics, and other important data.

Citing primary and secondary sources

Citing a source that was found in another source is known as using a secondary resource. It is advisable to always read and cite the original (primary) document where possible. If it is not possible to locate the original source we must include both in our references, for example: 


(Stark, cited in Hurlbut 2017, p.3) at the end of the sentence or paragraph


 or Hurlbut (2017, p.3) cites Stark who said ….


Reference List

A reference list is an alphabetical list of resources that are cited in-text.  Full bibliographic information needs to be given in line with the referencing style that is being used.


4. Endnote

There are a variety of citation management tools, for example, Zotero, Mendeley, and Endnote that make the referencing process easier. UP supports Endnote where researchers can easily store, organise and cite references. References can be imported from many databases and formatted according to a referencing style of your choice where you organise them into groups and create a reference list that can be shared. UP researchers and students can download the software for free on their devices. This Endnote guide links you to the information specialists who specialise in Endnote, as well as tutorials and training material that will assist you to manage Endnote easier. The DLS offers monthly training which can be booked and attended in person.


5. Referencing at UP

The DLS website contributes by linking to a variety of products to support students with referencing namely:

  • The referencing page where faculty-specific referencing guides are available.
  • Subject guides also link students to subject-specific referencing styles and guides.
  • The Research Guide refers to relevant styles and guides for referencing and good academic writing skills

The DLS offers weekly training on plagiarism and academic writing, where students are trained on the basic applications of referencing. Subject-specific training also includes referencing if required.

6. Conclusion

In conclusion, referencing forms an important element of academic writing and is there to give authority to and support our point of view.  It forms an integral part of academic integrity.  Referencing should acknowledge and guide us and lead us to other sources. Students should be guided with relevant referencing guides in their study guides. Relevant departmental and faculty guides which link to DLS referencing guides can assist to avoid confusion and guide students to avoid plagiarism. With continuous discussions by relevant parties on key difficulties students experience with referencing and with the necessary collaboration, training, support, and guidance the complex issues of referencing can be overcome. 



- Author Gerda Ehlers

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