Starting uni is a wild time; not only are you thrust into a new environment with unheralded amounts of freedom and booze available to you, but you’re also expected to write essays and start referencing in a completely new way. Once you get into the swing of academic writing, the measly offerings you used to write in high school English start to look like finger paintings. And that’s not saying we were doing shit work before, it’s just that we’re given a completely different framework and we’re expected to do so much more with it.

One of the biggest changes is using references. On a theoretical level, referencing is important because it allows us to avoid plagiarism and lets people find information you refer to quickly. On a practical level, having to reference ensures our essays are grounded in academic ideas, and lets us show the marker how widely and deeply we’ve researched (or pretended to).

Referencing Styles

There are literally thousands of referencing styles out there and figuring out which one to use is the first headache. Some methods are better suited to the field you’re writing in, such as the MLA style for humanities, or AGLC necessary for legal writing. Your best bet is to check your uni and department for their preferred citation style and making sure your tutor is on board with it. One of the more common preferred styles is Harvard, so we’re going to talk about that. The UNSW page has information on other styles, like footnote referencing and APA.

In-text referencing

When you refer to or quote a text in your essay, this needs to be cited in your writing (and later collated in a reference list). Direct quotes should include the author’s surname, year, and page number.

‘Quote’ (Smith, 2018, p. 1)

Smith states that ‘quote’ (2018, p.1)

When paraphrasing an author’s writing to support your argument, this should also be referenced but page numbers are not necessary.

Paraphrased information (Smith, 2018)

Smith (2018) states that…

For more detailed information about in-text referencing, check out your uni website like this one.

Reference list

A reference list is a collection of all the sources you have cited in your essay. A bibliography includes texts that you have read to inform your writing, but have not actually cited. Some assignments require one or the other, maybe even both – refer to the specific assignment sheet to find out.

The list should be provided on a separate page and organised alphabetically by the author’s surname, no matter the source type. Entries are formatted according to their text type, but follow the same basic idea of author-year.


Author or authors as surname, first initial. Year, Book title, Edition number, Publisher, Place of publication.


Author of authors as surname, first initial. Year, ‘Title of article’, Journal title, Volume and Issue number, Page numbers.


Person/organisation who created the site, Year, Website title, Organisation, date you accessed the site, .

This page will help you if you have other text types to reference.

How you should be referencing

Sometimes we get caught up writing the actual essay that we forget or simply can’t be arsed to reference as we go, thinking we can just do it all at the end. This is a trap. Do not do this. If you’re like me and the vast majority of students, you’ll only finish the assignment in the dead of the night, at a time when you’d rather peel fingernails off your body than look through all your references. As soon as you come across a text you know you’ll cite, find all the publication details and feed that shit into a reference list immediately – you’ll save heaps of time and feel on top of your shit, making it easier to complete the essay.

There are also sites and software that can make this job easier for you. Endnote is a good one that lets you copy references from journal databases and library catalogues and formats a reference list for you.