Referencing for Beginners

There are two triggers prompting the writing of this post at this time.  Students will always need help with referencing; so I’m hoping this will help students as they begin their studies this academic year (both my own and others who may find my blog) but recently a fellow blogger was posting about poor practice where others were stealing his work and passing it off as their own (you can read Renard’s blog here).  I’m hoping this post will explain how to reference other people’s work when you use it so that you don’t get accused of plagiarism (which is what we call stealing other people’s work and passing it off as your own).

What is referencing?

When we are writing, whether its this blog or something more academic, its important when we use someone else’s words that we give them credit for their work.  We put a reference in our text to do this.  

Generally when writing, while we have some ideas of our own, we ususally need to carry out additional reading (research) to get more information, check our facts etc.   We may interpret all the information, facts and evidence we gather from our research and apply it to our own work, but we do still need to reference the original author.

When writing a blog for example, I can put the link in to the original work, like I did with Renard’s blog above.  This means you can visit his blog and read his work directly.   The other way of crediting his work is to put a reference in my text (Renard’s World, 2022).  If you are a student writing a piece of academic work you must reference in the way I’ve shown above (author, date) and provide a list of references at the end of your work.  I am using (and my students must use) the Harvard referencing system, but there are many other systems so you should check with your institution what they want you to use.  Regardless of what system you use, it is important that you do credit the author of the original ideas that you have been reading and be consistent with the system you are using.

Why is it important to reference?

It is important to reference so that we are acknowledging the work of other people.  Not referencing is theft and can have serious consequences.  If you’re writing a blog, your post(s) could be removed.  If you’re a student you could fail assessments, your course or in some cases, following disciplinary action, kicked off your course and out of your institution.  You will also have a damaged reputation as a writer, student, academic etc. Have a look at this article about a CNN Journalist who was fired for plagiarism.

It is important to reference the research you do in your work so your reader can check the facts if they wish to; can look at the original sources and sometimes to get additional information.

If you’re writing academically, as well as demonstrating academic honesty and integrity, you will be operating at a higher academic level by referencing appropriately and it will have an impact on your mark/grade where your work is graded at more than a pass/fail.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the term we use to describe when someone steals someone else’s work and passes it off as their own (pretending that they wrote the work).  Renard talks about this in his post, explaining that another blogger copied one of his blogs in its entirety and then posted it on their own blog, claiming that they had written it.  You can read in his blog about how this made him feel; I would also encourage you to read the comments from other bloggers to get an understanding of why plagiarism is wrong generally.

Academically, this is called academic dishonesty and work will be failed and you could be disciplined by your institution.  The worst case situation would be that you are expelled from the course and blocked from the institution (university, college etc). Most academic institutions will have Academic Dishonesty Policies, and as can be seen from the article with the Washington Press above, plagiarism in the workplace can lead to dismissal (Wemple, 2014) so it is something you should take seriously and develop good referencing skills.

Plagiarism can sometimes be difficult to define and sometimes it happens by mistake; but this is still wrong.  So what are the different forms of plagiarism and how do we avoid it?

Direct Quotations

As described above, copying and pasting something into your work without referencing the author is plagiarism.  Even if you copy and paste text from elsewhere, put it in quotation marks, but don’t reference – this is still plagiarism.  

I would also expect the full citation to be provided in the references list at the end of the document (you will find my references listed at the end of this post too). Also, providing a list of references at the end of the work, but no references throughout the work itself is still plagiarism.


Paraphrasing is a very good practice at it shows you understand the work you have been reviewing and not simply copying and pasting properly referenced quotations.

So what is paraphrasing?  Paraphrasing is where you’ve done some research and you’re able to put all the ideas, concepts etc in your own words; maybe explaining why they’re relevant to your work.

Despite paraphrasing meaning you are using your own words, the ideas etc have originally come from other sources so its still important for you to reference these as discussed above.  Not to do this would still be considered as plagiarism. To reference paraphrased ideas, you need to put the reference after the ideas, showing the reference in exactly the same way as I demonstrated above.

I would always encourage students to paraphrase as much as you can – ideally 100% paraphrasing rather than using quotations as the work will be of a higher quality and you will typically use less words.

Changing individual words in copied text

A thesaurus can be a useful tool for writers, but it should be used with caution and not simply to change some of the words in a text that you’ve copied – this is definitely plagiarism.   You’re trying to cheat by changing a word or two rather than paraphrasing. From experience if you don’t fully understand the alternative words offered by the thesaurus it can change the meaning of the work – or worse, you can produce gibberish.  Its much easier to simply reference any quotes you use or as discussed above, preferrably, paraphrase and reference.

Image by Michael from Pixabay

I hope you have found the above informative and helpful. I welcome comments or questions and to all students, good luck with your studies.


Renard’s World, 2022, Stop Stealing My Blog Posts,, 4th September, 2022,, last accessed 8th September, 2022

Wemple, Erik; 2014; CNN fires news editor Marie-Louise Gumuchian for plagiarism, The Washington Post, May 16, 2014; ; last accessed 8th Sept 2022


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