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Skills at Library Essentials

Guides to search skills and using library research resources

Referencing and plagiarism

Introduction to referencing

What is referencing?

Research and academic work is a conversation in which you build on the ideas and findings of others to create new, original thought. Referencing is an important part of this, as it is the way that you acknowledge all the information sources you've used to support your own work. Through referencing, you're telling your reader where you found your information and crediting whoever produced it.

Why should I reference?

There are lots of reasons why referencing is important. Referencing helps you to:

  • give credit to other researchers' work
  • avoid plagiarism by clearly showing when you've used another person's ideas
  • enable your readers to find the sources you've used
  • demonstrate how much research you've done 
  • strengthen your argument by providing supporting evidence

When do I reference?

You need to reference whenever you use facts, figures, ideas or other information that is not common knowledge which you've taken from someone else's work. This includes when you:

  • paraphrase or summarise someone's work
  • directly quote another person's work
  • use pictures, illustrations, graphs, tables or data

This applies to any information source that you use, including books, journal articles, webpages, reports, and more. If it is not your own original thought, make sure that you reference it!

You might be wondering, 'but what is common knowledge?' Common knowledge refers to information that an educated reader would know without need to look it up. Things like simple dates, historic facts, capital cities and chemical symbols are examples of common knowledge, and there may be information specific to your subject too. If you've used something that is common knowledge in your work, you do not need to reference it.

If you're ever in doubt as to whether you should reference something or not, it's always best to reference!

Watch the video below for an alternative introduction to referencing:

What is plagiarism?


One of the main reasons we reference sources in our academic work is to avoid plagiarism. But what is it? Put simply, plagiarism is: 

The action or practice of taking someone else's work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one's own; literary theft.

'Plagiarism' (2019) Available at (Accessed: 24 January 2020)

 Academic integrity at Essex 

Find out more about academic integrity on the university's academic skills pages. You'll also find a link on this page to an Academic Integrity Moodle course, which will help you understand academic integrity, authorship and plagiarism. 

 Test your plagiarism knowledge 

There are a few online quizzes available that allow you to test your knowledge around this topic.

Turnitin have a quiz online. You may recognise this as the plagiarism detection software used by the University. When you finish this quiz, there are links to other resources and quizzes on the topic.