It’s no secret that a rather alarming number of UK students are getting their assignment referencing wrong. An article in the Sunday Times (Jones, 2006) claims that up to 10% of all degree level submissions commit some form of plagiarism – the act of copying or ripping off someone else’s work. That’s a significant amount of cheaters, but here’s the deal – the majority of the 10% have done this unintentionally. What happens is they’re failing to reference their sources properly, and even though it’s a harsh outcome, this is counted as plagiarism.

There’s various ways to reference the sources of your research but the main method in the UK, and the one 95% of universities use, is the Harvard system. This is a style that places importance on the author of the information, and the date it was made publicly available. Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple though – more information about the source is required, and the order it appears in is important. For an idea, refer to the below examples of the most popular reference types:


Formula: AuthorSurname, Initial. (Year) Title of book, CityPublished: Publisher, p. pages.

Example: Rowling, JK. (2006) Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, p. 24-25.


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

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


Formula: AuthorSurname, Initial. (Year) Article title, Newspaper title, Day and month published, p. pages.

Example: Smith, J. (2008) Market crashes as inflation rises, The Guardian, 7th June, p. 45.

What’s more, they have to be arranged alphabetically by author, and also require italic styling in places. It’s not straightforward. However, it’s a necessity – Oxford Brookes university has it’s own team of 14 academic misconduct officers who investigate cases of plagiarism caused by bad or no referencing (Jones, 2006), and automated software like Copycatch and Turn It In will also sniff out a missing reference in seconds. If caught students could face failure or expulsion.

So what’s the answer? Fortunately, for those without an extreme memory for boring formulas there are websites that can prepare your whole reference list in the correct styling and format for you – all you need to provide are the details which are easily found on the source of the information itself. There are several feature rich tools available on the internet, including Neil’s Toolbox, Scotchbib, and CiteThisForMe. All follow the Harvard Referencing style and will produce a correctly formatted reference if you enter in the relevant data.

To conclude, don’t underestimate the importance of referencing – it seems like a trivial section at the end of an assignment but without it the mass of your work could be worth nothing, and don’t wait to find this out first hand.

JONES, S. (2006) On the prowl for copycats, The Sunday Times, June 2006