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How to reference using the Harvard Referencing System

Referencing is a necessary skill for any student in higher education, so today I’m going to take you through what referencing is and how to reference effectively. I will provide some examples of what referencing looks like, but I will also provide links for additional guidance to cover the less common sources you may wish to reference.

What is referencing?

When a lecturer says you need to provide references in your assessments they mean that you need to provide details of the sources of the information you are using in your work. When you use the internet to find information to add to your assessment you should provide a reference (this is the name and other details of the person or organisation that wrote the information you read).

Referencing is the system used by academics and professional writers (journalists for example) to give credit to the authors of work they are using to support their ideas. To produce this article, I will be carrying out some research to support and enhance my own knowledge and where I do this I will use references so you know where the information has come from and how you should present the references. This allows you to check to see if the sources are good quality and if you wish, you can read the original sources of the information too. Here’s an example of a quotation taken from The University of Kent defining what a reference is.

Referencing means acknowledging your source:

(1) in the body of your work (in-text referencing or citation )
(2) linking your citations to your list of works cited (also reference list or bibliography). See the glossary for the full explanation of these terms and the referencing style guides for stylistic information.

The University of Kent (2022)

Why is it necessary to reference?

It is necessary that you reference your work properly so that you are indicating that you’ve done your own reading and can show you understand and can interpret the information gathered. However, failure to reference is considered as plagiarism and would be subject to your institution’s Academic Dishonesty policy and procedure – this could involve disciplinary action.

For more information on why we need to reference, you should read this.

How to reference using the Harvard System

There are a few different referencing systems that can be used for academic writing. Usually in business and management disciplines we use the Harvard Referencing System and that’s what I’ll be referring to. You should check with your own Institution about their own preferred system.

With the Harvard referencing system there are two separate elements that you need provide when using Harvard.

  • You need to provide your reference in the text of your work. This should be in the text of your work rather than using numbers or footnotes for example. It is really important that you do provide the information in your text and not just in a list of references at the end of your text.
  • The second aspect is to provide the full citation in the references section which is a list of references provided at the end of your work.

I’ll outline what these might look like in the next section.

What the references look like in texts

When writing academically, it is important to show that you have carried out your research and you will be presenting other people’s ideas in your work, and using their ideas to support your own analysis and interpretation of the concepts/theories etc you are looking at. We credit other work through references, as discussed above, but we provide this information by either using direct quotations or paraphrasing. I’m briefly going to explain these terms here, but will expand more in a future post where I will be looking at essay writing.

When giving references in text you should only give the last name of the authors (eg Harrison instead of Brenda Harrison) but you should provide the full names in the references section.


As the name suggests, this means you’re copying someone else’s words directly and putting them into your work. You need to use quotation marks and when you are giving the reference you should also provide the page number where possible.

in-text citations, which are inserted in the body of your text and are included in the word count. An in-text citation gives the author(s) and publication date of a source you are referring to. If the publication date is not given, the phrase ‘no date’ is used instead of a date. If using direct quotations or you refer to a specific section in the source you also need the page number/s if available, or paragraph number for web pages.

The Open University, Undated


When paraphrasing you are putting the ideas expressed by someone else into your own words. However, because these are still their ideas, you need to credit them through referencing.

Quotations and paraphrasing in your text counts towards the word count (The Open University, Undated). I would always encourage you to paraphrase as its better academically, but you will also usually use less words.

References Section

Once you have written your assessment, complete with references in text, you will need to create a references section to list all your references and possibly also a bibliography.

The references section comes at the end of your work and doesn’t count towards the word count. You will see I have provided a references section at the end of this post but the general rule is as follows:

author name(s); date (year of publication); title of book/article etc; source (url/magazine/journal etc); date of publication if newspaper/magazine (full date) or the date you accessed the website

So for the OU source I used, it would be as follows:

The Open University, undated, Quick guide to Harvard referencing (Cite Them Right), https://www.open.ac.uk/library/referencing-and-plagiarism/quick-guide-to-harvard-referencing-cite-them-right, accessed 10/10/22

As I don’t have a named author here, you can see I’ve used the organisation name here. I don’t have any information from the website about when they wrote this information, so I’ve stated “undated” although you have the date when I last accessed the website.

If I was referencing a magazine, I would do as follows:

The Economist; 2022; Medicine and the brain: Thinking outside the box; P12; The Economist; September 24th, 2022

As there was no journalist name attached to the article, I’ve had to use the name of the magazine, and named it again as the publication title. Because I’m only referring to the one article and not the whole magazine, I’ve also given the page for the article. If you were accessing this online, I would also expect to see the URL and the date you accessed it.

If you were referencing this post, it would be as follows:

Curiosities, Castles and Coffee Shops; 2022; How to use Reference using the Harvard Referencing System; Curiosities, Castles and Coffee Shops Blog; curiositiescastlesandcoffeeshops.wordpress.com/2022/10/05/how-to-reference-using-the-harvard-referencing-system/ ; and the date you accessed it

One last bit of advice – some electronic sources will provide you with a citation you can copy and paste into your references section.

What is the difference between a references section and a bibliography?

References and bibliography look the same in terms of the level of detail sought in the citation but they serve different purposes. I’ve also found that different referencing systems and different institutions may want the bibliography presented differently – so you should check directly with your own lecturers.

The references section is a list of sources that you have used directly in your work – so all the quotations and any paraphrasing you are referencing. The references section should be presented alphabetically and the bibliography, for me, would be the background reading you have carried out. I would not expect to see the sources listed in the references repeated. So if you used a basic guide on your subject to get a foundation but then used more advanced texts for your work, then you should put your basic guide in your bibliography.

Do not break down your work into sections: Books, magazines/journals, websites etc – I would expect everything to be incorporated into the one list, presented alphabetically.

Referencing Tools

There are various referencing tools available on the net and as part of word processing packages (MS Word for example), but I would urge caution if you are planning to use these tools. I have seen work submitted where the tools present the information incorrectly. As the author of your work, its important to ensure that the presentation of your references is accurate. The advantage of using such tools would be speed and confidence that the work is being referenced correctly; but you need to know what you’re inputting should look like to know if its wrong.

What should my references section look like?

There are many good sources of comprehensive information regarding references which should make it easy for you to figure out how to cite your sources, however I’ve already covered above some of the most commonly used sources to show you what reference citations should look like. At the end of this section, I’ll provide additional links should you wish to investigate this further. But for a recap, here are some of the basics to bear in mind.

Basic Rules

Book : Author, date, title, publisher, location

Magazine/Newspaper : Author; date; title of article; title of publication; date of publication; volume if appropriate
If you’re accessing electronically, you need to provide the above plus the url and date accessed

Website : author, date, title of page/article, url, date last accessed

The author

Where you have more than one name you need to cite them all; in text, after the first time you can write the first name and “et al”

As indicated above, if a text is undated, you simply say this. If you find a text without an author (including no company/organisation as the author) you can write “anon” for anonymous.


The Open University, undated, Quick guide to Harvard referencing (Cite Them Right), https://www.open.ac.uk/library/referencing-and-plagiarism/quick-guide-to-harvard-referencing-cite-them-right, accessed 10/10/22

University of Kent, 2012, What is referencing?, https://www.kent.ac.uk/ai/students/whatisreferencing.html, accessed 5/10/22

Additional Reading

The Open University, link as above

The University of Hertfordshire Harvard Referencing Guide


I hope you found this article helpful to guide you in referencing. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments. Also, if there are other areas of academic/study skills that you would like to see covered, please leave suggestions in the comments. I will be covering essay writing in the near future.


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