It’s no secret that a rather alarming number of UK students are making incorrect references to their homework. An article in the Sunday Times (Jones, 2006) claims that up to 10% of all grade level submissions commit some form of plagiarism – the act of copying or copying someone else’s work. That’s a significant number of cheaters, but here’s the deal: the majority of 10% have done so unintentionally. What happens is that they don’t reference their sources correctly and although it’s a harsh result, it counts as plagiarism.

There are various ways of referencing the sources of your research, but the main method in the UK, and the one used by 95% of universities, is the Harvard system. This is a style that gives importance to the author of the information and the date it was made available to the public. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple: more information about the source is required, and the order in which it appears is important. To get an idea, check out the following examples of the most popular referral types:


Formula: Author, Surname, Initial. (Year) Title of the book, CityPublished: Publisher, p. pages

Example: Rowling, JK. (2006) Harry potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, p. 24-25.


Formula: Website (Year) Page title, [online] Available at: URL [Accessed: date].

Example: BBC News (2009) Apple’s iPhone overtakes Blackberry as smartphone sales soar, [online] Available at: [Accessed: 12 Oct 2010].


Formula: Author, Surname, Initial. (Year) Title of the article, newspaper title, Day and month of publication, p. pages

Example: Smith, J. (2008) Market Crashes as Inflation Rises, The Guardian, June 7, p. Four. Five.

In addition, they have to be arranged alphabetically by author, and also require italic style in some places. It’s not easy. It is, however, a necessity: Oxford Brookes University has its own team of 14 academic misconduct officers who investigate cases of plagiarism caused by incorrect or non-existent references (Jones, 2006), and automated software such as Copycatch and Turn It In will also detect a foul. Reference in seconds. If caught, students could face failure or expulsion.

So what is the answer? Fortunately, for those who don’t have an extreme memory for boring formulas, there are websites that can prepare your entire reference list in the right style and format for you; all you need to provide are the details that are easily found in the source of the information itself. There are several feature-rich tools available on the Internet, including Neil’s Toolbox, Scotchbib, and CiteThisForMe. They all follow the Harvard referencing style and will produce a correctly formatted reference if you enter the relevant data.

To conclude, don’t underestimate the importance of references: it seems like a trivial section at the end of an assignment, but without it most of your work might be worthless, and don’t wait to find out firsthand.

JONES, S. (2006) On the lookout for imitators, The Sunday Times, June 2006

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