The importance of referencing in academic writing

The importance of referencing in academic writing

Why do we need to include in-text citations and end-of-text references in our academic writing?

The enormous importance of things like citations and referencing in academic work is hard to overstate.  Long story short – you must include these in your academic writing.  There are a number of reasons for including in-text citations and end of text references in your writing:

  • To avoid plagiarism. This is something you really want to do – something we cover in our lesson on academic authority (and will also be discussing in an upcoming blog post on plagiarism)
  • To give credit to other researchers. And by doing this, you acknowledge their ideas and their hard work (again, something we cover in our academic authority lesson as well as the reporting verbs and ‘voice’ lesson – both of which you can find in our Academic Skills lessons); and
  • To help your reader find the sources that you used – in case they are interested in further reading, etc.

Before we get started, it’s worth noting that we go into these question in significant depth in our Academic Study Skills lessons.  To start your journey to Academic Success, click Start Learning and begin TODAY.

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Anyway, as we said above – there’s clearly good reasons for why you cite and reference – let’s turn now to look at what it is that you do.  We often get students asking us: – 

What’s an in-text citation? What’s an end-of-text reference? Is there a difference in meaning?

Starting with the last question first – is there a difference between an in-text citation and an end-of-text reference, the short answer is: yes.  Yes, there is. 

Let’s look at examples of each now, starting with an in-text citation – which might give you a clue as to its meaning.

In-text citations

So an in-text citation looks like this: 

Bonds (2017) argues that coffee is the best drink in the world. 


Coffee is the world’s best drink (Bonds, 2017).

These do look a bit different and we explain that in detail in the reporting verbs and academic voice lesson but for now it’s worth noting that they both use two key bits of information:

  • The author’s family name; and
  • The year the resource was published.

End-of-text references

Different from an in-text citation, an end-of-text reference will look a bit more like this:

Bonds, T. (2017) A study of coffee: the world’s favourite drink.  Oxford University Press: Melbourne.

Now this clearly has a lot more information in it – similar to in-text citations, end-of-text references use:

  • The author’s family name; and
  • The year the resource was published.

But beyond that, they also use a lot of other information.  For example, an end-of-text reference for a book also needs:

  • The first letter of the author’s given name(s);
  • The title of the book
  • Information about the publisher
    • The city and country the publisher is based in, and
    • The publisher’s name

Alright so I see how they're different but why do I need to cite AND reference?

Great question – and this gets right to the heart of the importance of referencing.  To help us explain, let’s look at this amazing essay –  clearly very well named.  The student who wrote this essay used a source by couple of authors by the name of Letts and Janda.  See if you can see them…

How’d you go?  Let’s see an in-text citation (in red) and an end-of-text reference (in blue) in the context of a piece of research – an essay, in this case…

So I think you’d agree that they serve quite different purposes in the context of academic writing.

  • An in-text citation puts a shortened form of the author’s information beside their ideas (i.e., their theory, their data, etc.).
  • An end-of-text reference has all of the information (i.e., the author’s name, the source’s name, publisher, etc.) required in case the reader wants to find it themselves.

Does that make sense?  Oh… I think there might be a question there:

Yeah, that’s true – there are over 6000 different referencing styles.  The two big ones are the APA referencing style and Harvard referencing style.  That said, there are a bunch of others including:

  • Chicago
  • IEEE
  • Vancouver
  • MLA and more.

To be honest, the differences are very, very minor – a space here or a full-stop (period) here.  And the good thing is that there are a number of systems that you can use to do it for you, for free online.  More on that in a minute – for now, we’ll show you how to do it manually – then show you two of the automated systems. 

When we get to this point, students will often say.  Alright, I’m getting clearer on one thing – i.e., the importance of referencing itself… but

Where do I find the information for these citations and references?

Another great question!  Well, let’s take a book as an example – specifically, Murphy’s English Grammar In Use – something we talk about in our Academic Language courses

Remembering that you need the following information for an in-text citation

  • The author’s family name; and
  • The year the book was published

And for an end-of-text reference you’ll need:

  • The author’s family name;
  • The first letter of the author’s given name(s);
  • The year the book was published;
  • The title of the book; and
  • Information about the publisher
    • The city and country the publisher is based in, and
    • The publisher’s name

Okay?  So let’s look at where you can find this:

Which should leave you with a citation and a reference that look like this: 

In-text citation: (Murphy, 2015)

End-of-text reference: Murphy, R. (2015). English grammar in use. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Now, if you’re interested in seeing how to find the information for other types of resources (e.g., journals, websites, etc.) – you should definitely check our Academic Skills lessons where we cover this and more in our citation and referencing lesson (see below).  

Or check back in a couple of days where we’ll be doing a FREE trial lesson!  

But if you’re interested in learning how to do this automatically – read on:

How to cite and reference automatically

One of the better tools around (although not perfect) is Cite This For Me.  Cite This For Me is an Internet-based citation and reference creator.  It has both a free and a pay option – both are generally good for just about any referencing style and/or resource that you can imagine.  Definitely worth checking out!

Alternatively, you might have a free citation and referencing generator on your computer.  MS Word has a very good reference generator built into it.  Check out how to do that here

And remember – this is just the beginning of the resources and guided practice information that we go through in our Academic Study Skills course.  Click Start Learning below and learn how to cite journals, websites, and more!

Master Academic Study Skills today

Academic success is just a click away

So that’s us for this HeadStart Guide on in-text citations, end-of-text references, and the importance of referencing in academic writing  – we hope it’s been useful!  As always, we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments – write us a post below or follow us on Facebook.   Or, if you want to get more of these blog posts straight to your inbox – join our mailing list.  Or if you have a question or a topic that you’d like us to write a blog post (or even better – a full lesson) about – email us!  We read every email.


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