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CamGuides: Managing your Study Resources

Referencing styles

Referencing accurately and comprehensively is an essential academic practice - it acknowledges the work of others, contextualises your own ideas, and ensures that you are demonstrating appropriate academic integrity in your study.

Our guide to Good Academic Practice will help develop your understanding of this topic and help you develop skills to present your work with academic integrity. It will also explain plagiarism, one of the consequences of academic misconduct, and what this means at Cambridge.

There is no single referencing style required by the University of Cambridge. Instead, each department sets their own guidelines on the referencing style(s) preferred - sometimes this guideline will be that it's your choice, and sometimes a specific style will be prescribed. Common referencing styles include Harvard, Chicago, APA, MLA, MHRA, IEEE, and Vancouver; more information on all of these can be found on the University's plagiarism pages.

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What is your department's referencing style?

Determining which referencing style(s) your department prefers you to work with would be an exceptionally useful activity, especially if it's one that you are unfamiliar with. 

Fortunately, most of this information is already gathered in one place so take a look at your department on the link and discover which style(s) you'll be expected to use.

Why manage references?

Managing your references effectively will save you time, help you remain organised, and may be useful for further study, but the most important reason to have an effective system in place for managing references is so that you can avoid plagiarism. Plagiarism is a very serious academic matter, and is considered by the University of Cambridge to be a breach of academic integrity, even if it is unintentional. The University of Cambridge stresses that students have three key responsibilities relating to plagiarism.

It is vital that you understand what plagiarism is and how you can avoid it. Please read the University's statement on plagiarism and if you are uncertain about any part of this, make sure to ask your academic supervisor or librarian for more information.

Plagiarism is defined as submitting as one’s own work, irrespective of intent to deceive, that which derives in part or in its entirety from the work of others without due acknowledgement; or, in the case of self-plagiarism, unless explicitly permitted by regulation, submitting one’s own work that has already been submitted for assessment to satisfy the requirements of any other academic qualification, or submitted for publication without due acknowledgement. It is both poor scholarship and a breach of academic integrity.

- Taken from the University of Cambridge's definition of plagiarism

Managing references

A key decision to make before your course begins is how you'll manage your referencing and citations. Some options are given below. The most important thing is that whatever procedures you adopt, they must be sustainable, robust and effective.

1. Manage your references manually

Many students find it effective to keep a Word document or a spreadsheet of the full references of whatever they have read. This is searchable and if the references are accurately formatted then they can be copied into a bibliography, footnote or in-text citation. This can also be done in handwritten form.

If this is your preference, you may find Cite Them Right helpful for correctly identifying what should go into a reference depending on the source itself, and how to format your references correctly.

Zotero has been amazing. I absolutely cannot live without Zotero these days.

- MPhil Music student, 2017-18

2. Use reference management software

a wall with seven identical doors, all white except one, which is yellowReferencing management software is an effective and free way of gathering together the details of all the various sources that you've been using. There are many options available, most of which share the following functionality: 

  • they work with a wide variety of databases, resources themselves, and websites
  • they can cope with a wide variety of formats and sources
  • they allow you to easily save, organise and search the details of the resources you use
  • they allow you to keep and store these references (and PDFs) in the cloud
  • they allow you to annotate your references
  • they will create bibliographies, and add footnotes and in-text citations to a word processor using your preferred referencing style
  • they support you in sharing, or creating shared libraries of resources, with others

More information on reference managers can be found on the Software for Academic Use page.

You may encounter different opinions on which is best, but for most subjects which you choose does not matter. If you are new to this software, or not confident with technology, it may be worth selecting the reference manager that your faculty or college library supports - many will recommend or offer support in one software package only. Contact details can be found here.


With thanks to:

#1 and #3 Tooshan Srivastava (MPhil Education)

#2 Yolanda Murillo (MPhil Maths)

#4 Nicole Tamer (MPhil Linguistics)

#5 Laura Erel (MPhil Music)

Image credits

CC0 by qimono via Pixabay