The Basics: Guide

RGU Harvard Referencing

Referencing is a critical element in any academic assignment and during your studies at RGU, you will always be required to reference your sources according to our guidelines.

Harvard referencing dates back to 1881 (and by the end of this you’ll know that we should have inserted a citation here to support our statement) and it is an author-date style. Simply put, you must cite the author and the date of the source. The full reference list entry will contain more information like the title, edition, type of material and place of publication etc.

Why Reference?


To support your arguments by referring your reader to academic sources which confirm what you are saying
To give credit to the other authors whose work you have quoted, or to whose work you have referred
To avoid a charge of plagiarism
To allow the reader of your work to find the books, journal articles, web pages etc. which you have read
To demonstrate that you understand the conventions of academic writing
Every time you quote directly from someone else’s work
Every time you refer indirectly to the work of someone else, e.g. if you:
  • paraphrase what they have said
  • summarise their arguments or ideas
  • quote case studies, statistical data, known phrases, definitions etc.
  • use information which you have obtained from their work
When you wish to provide sources of further information, clarification of points you have made in your text, or additional evidence to support your arguments

What is...


Plagiarism is theft of intellectual property and you should absolutely avoid it in all your assignments, by referencing all the sources you have used.

The University has a very strict policy against plagiarism and dealing with students accused of it. We’re not saying don’t get caught plagiarising, we say just don’t do it, it’s not worth the risk! As long as you reference according to our guidelines, you will be fine.

For more information, see RGU Study Skills' guide to Academic Honesty (via Moodle).


We say you paraphrase when you take someone else’s ideas, theories, opinions, etc. and write them in your own words. This is great because you can show your understanding of the concept, but that doesn’t mean it is your own original idea. So, you must reference the originator of the idea. If you don’t, it will constitute plagiarism, which we're sure you'll want to avoid!

Directly Quoting

This is when you copy the exact words from a book, journal article, website, etc. It’s ok to include quotations here and there in your assignments, but try not to overdo it, as too many quotations might get frowned upon. It is your work as well! A few things to keep in mind:

  • short quotations can be contained in your paragraph and should always be “enclosed within quotation marks”
  • longer quotations should appear as a separate paragraph and do not require quotation marks
  • don’t forget to reference all your quotations!
  • the citation after the quote will have to mention the exact page where you took the extract from. The exception is when there are no pages, like webpages or Kindle books, where page numbers vary depending on text size.

The Stages of Referencing

The citation will always be inserted in your text, where you have quoted or paraphrased someone else’s work.


  • brackets
  • author(s) or editor(s) surnames and year of publication
  • there is no comma between authors and year of publication
  • page reference also included only when you have quoted directly or referring to an illustration

Inserting Citations

These rules apply for any citation, regardless of the type of material.

When you paraphrase: The full citation appears in brackets. If it is at the end of a sentence, it will always appear before the full stop. There is a tendency to .... (Smith 2015).
When you paraphrase and want to use the author(s) name(s) in the sentence: Only the year of publication will appear in brackets. According to Smith (2015), there is a tendency to....
When you directly quote: You must include the page reference of where you are quoting. This will appear after the year of publication. "Over the past decade there has been a significant growth in......" (Smith 2015 p.37).
When you directly quote and use the author(s) name(s) in the sentence: The author(s) name(s) comes out of the citation, leaving the year of publication and page reference in brackets. Smith (2015 p.37) states that "over the past decade there has been a significant growth in...".

The reference list is entirely linked to the citations in your text, and it gives full details of the sources you have used. Each one of your citations must match a reference list entry.

   Librarian Top Tip!

To ensure you don't miss out any references, make sure you write the reference list entry as soon as you insert a citation!


  • arranged in alphabetical order by author
  • appears at the end of your document
  • you don't need numbers, bullet points, start or any other pretty symbols to decorate your references. Keep it plain and simple! :)

If you have used any other sources which you haven’t referred to in your text, but nevertheless were part of your research (think background reading), they would go in the bibliography.


  • appears at the very end, after the reference list
  • arranged in alphabetical order by author
  • it may or may not be a requirement for your assignment. If in doubt, check with your school

The Basic Rules

These are some of the most referenced types of material. Hover/tap on the various elements to get an explanation of what they are. You will find a lot more specific examples on our referencing templates page, but for now let's break down the basics.


PAYNE, J.R. and PHILLIPS, C.R., The author's names 1985. The year of publication Petroleum spills in the marine environment: the chemistry and formation of water-in-oil emulsions and tar balls. The book title. This will always be in italics and only the first letter should be capitalised. 2nd ed. Edition, only if it's over the 1st edition. Chelsea, MI: Lewis Publishers. The place of publication and the publisher. Notice the city and the state abbreviation?

Journal Articles

WAGNER, M.R. et al.,The article's authors 2006. The year of publication Horizontal drilling and openhole gravel packing with oil-based fluids: an industry milestone. The article title, not in italics SPE Drilling and Completion, The journal title, in italics 21(1), The volume and issue pp. 32-43.The page where the article starts and where it ends

Online Sources

MASTERS, T., The author 2017. The year of publication Harry Potter: how the boy wizard enchanted the world. The title, in italics [online]. London: BBC. Place of publication and publisher Available from: The URL [Accessed 26 June 2017]. When you accessed the page

Inserting the author(s) / editor(s)

  • The author(s) names are always in capitals
  • If more than 1 author, write their names in the order in which they appear on the source material
  • The surname comes first, followed by a comma and the initial(s) of the first name(s)
  • If there are more than 3 authors, you don't have to list them. Just mention the first author followed by et al. (it means 'and others')
  • If the material has editors, just mention ed. or eds. after the editor(s)
1 BROWN, C.M., BROWN, C.M., ed.,
2 BROWN, C.M. and JONES, A.B., BROWN, C.M. and JONES, A.B., eds.,
3 BROWN, C.M., JONES, A.B. and SMITH, C.D., BROWN, C.M., JONES, A.B. and SMITH, C.D., eds.,
more than 3 BROWN, C.M. et al., BROWN, C.M. et al., eds.,

Corporate authors: acronyms and initials

If the authoring organisation's name is abbreviated to its initials,

  • You must write the full name, followed by the initials (in brackets). This applies for both in text-citation and the reference list entry.
  • If the author is also the publisher, you can just put the abbreviation as the publisher
  • In your sentence, when you first refer to the organisation, you should write it out in full. If you mention the organisation again in a following sentence, you can just write the abbreviation. This rule doesn't apply to citations, just the sentence.
  • Acronyms which are general knowledge (think BBC, NHS) do not have to be written out in full.


The original stance on liver disease adopted by the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN)(2002) was rescinded three years later when SIGN issued new guidance (Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network 2005).

Places of publication

You will notice some variation in how we insert places of publication. We have a couple of simple conventions you should remember:

United Kingdom Just the city Oxford:
United States City, State Abbreviation Hoboken, NJ:
Canada City, Territory Abbreviation Calgary, AB:
Australia City, Territory Abbreviation Perth, WA:
Rest of the world City, Country Geneva, Switzerland:

Sample Assignment

This extract from an assignment should clarify some issues around incorporating citations in your text. You can hover/tap over each of them to get an explanation. Please note you do not have to bold the citations in your assignments.

In-text Citations

In addition to professional genres, academic writing research has also examined the genres/tasks students are expected to perform in university content classrooms (Braine 2010). You can insert the citation at the end of the idea which you paraphrase, or direct quote. This doesn't necessarily have to be the end of the sentence, but if it is, the citation always comes before the full stop. You only capitalise the first letter of the author's surname and there is no comma between the author and the year of publication. In one of the first studies on student writing tasks, Horowitz (2011) If you want to use the author's name in the sentence, you only have to put the year of publication between brackets. It will still constitute a citation, and it will have to match HOROWITZ 2011 in your reference list. analysed 54 writing assignments from one graduate and 28 undergraduate courses taught in 17 departments of an American university. Horowitz Because we are still speaking about the same author and source as in the previous sentence, we don't have to cite Horowitz again. Just make sure you make it clear in the way you write it. identified seven categories of writing tasks expected of students: summary of/reaction to a reading; annotated bibliography; report on a specified participatory experience; connection of theory and data; case study; synthesis of multiple sources; and research project. While Horowitz's study did not have a particular disciplinary focus, other studies examined written genres required of students in specific disciplines (Swales et al. 2012). et al. is short for the latin 'et alia'. This simply means 'and others'. You will put et al. in citations and reference lists if there are more than 3 authors/editors. One finding is that much of what students need to write, particularly in upper division undergraduate and graduate level courses, is specifically tied to their disciplines. Faigley and Hansen's study (2013) You will cite the author names if there are 1, 2 or 3. Anything more, put the et al. in. Notice that you can still use the authors names in the sentence even if there are several authors. of writing in a psychology course and a sociology course showed different reactions to student writing from readers with different degrees of disciplinary expertise and different aims for writing. While an English professor was largely concerned with the surface features of papers, the sociology professor paid more attention to "what knowledge the student had acquired than in how well the report was written" (Berkenkotter and Huckin 2014 p. 147). Because this is a direct quotation, we have to mention which page we took the quotation from. Notice there are no commas separating the year and the page number. If the quotation spans 2 pages in your source, you would mention both of them, e.g. (Braine 2010 pp. 35-36).

Reference List

BERKENKOTTER, C. and HUCKIN, T., 2014. Genre knowledge in disciplinary communication. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

BRAINE, G., 2010. Writing in science and technology: an analysis of assignments from ten undergraduate courses. English for Specific Purposes, 8(6), pp. 3-16.

FAIGLEY, L. and HANSEN, K., 2013. Learning to write in the social sciences. College Composition and Communication, 36(2), pp. 140-149.

HOROWITZ, D., 2011. What professors actually require: academic tasks for the ESL classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 20(3), pp. 445-462.

SWALES, J. et al., 2012. Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.