Reference it right: our helpful guide

Just like studying on campus, an online degree requires you to produce written assignments too. For each of these, you will need to support your thinking with external sources.

An essential aspect of this is clearly acknowledging where you have used the ideas and/or text of others, which is known as ‘referencing’.

Getting used to referencing can seem challenging at first, but once you understand how it works, it should start to feel like a natural part of academic writing.

Why is it so important?

Published writing by others are their intellectual property, so where you draw on them or quote them directly, you must make this known by referencing.

Referencing not only gives recognition to the academic whose work you are using, it also shows that you have carried out your own specific research to back up your argument. This gives credibility to the conclusions you reach.

Failing to properly reference your work can mean that you are accused of plagiarism, which can incur academic penalties.

Plagiarism involves submitting work for formal assessment that includes the intellectual property or work of others, but without a reference to make it clear that you have done so. 

How can I make sure I am referencing correctly?

To reference correctly, the first thing to be aware of is the referencing system that your school uses.

Although styles vary, each referencing system requires you to include the details of your external source (usually the author’s surname and the year of publication), in both the main body of your assignment, and in a bibliography and/or reference list at the end.

Recommended read: How to formulate higher quality assignments with a ‘business-first’ approach

Here’s an example of the Harvard system, which is widely used at the University of Birmingham:

In-text reference

As Wright (2006, p16) suggests, many business leaders feel that…

Bibliograpy reference

Wright, J. (2006) The Business Leaders of Tomorrow. London: Random House.

Remember, if you are currently in the midst of an academic assignment, be sure to avoid the following:

  • Copying the work of others
  • Copying your own work from previous assignments
  • ‘Making up’ information or statistics
  • Getting other people to write your work for you
  • Buying essays from others

Referencing software

To help make referencing easier, there are several software packages and online tools you can use to automate the process.

All University of Birmingham students, whether campus-based or online, can access Turnitin software to make sure they have provided the correct citations in their assignments.

Other referencing software includes RefWorks, which is free to all students, and the online tool Cite Them Right.

Further information 

If you have any questions on referencing, please visit our Academic Skills Gateway for advice on learning techniques to aid your studies. We also offer an interactive plagiarism course to help you learn best practice.

Or, if you have not yet enrolled and would like more information about our 100% online postgraduate degrees, please fill out our form and a member of Admissions will contact you.

Comments Join the conversation by adding your comment below.

Would like to know if I can earn a B.Eng(Hons) ,top up one year degree through online mode of Sstudy. Areas if interest: Computer Science, Software Engineering, Management Science/ Operations Research.

Pls give me details of one year top up B.Eng(Hons) degrees that could be earned through online/distance education.

Raj Nair

Hi Raj Nair,

Thank you for your comment. We currently do not offer top-up one year degrees 100% online. However, we do have a range of distance learning programmes across a variety of different subject areas. You can find out more here:

I hope this helps.

Many thanks,


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