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Referencing Guide: The Basics

 Why we cite

  • Academic honesty

Failure to correctly acknowledge or attribute sources you have used can result in a charge of academic dishonesty.

  • Join the conversation

Citing the sources that you have used in your research allows you to join an academic conversation and is a requirement of academic writing and scientific communication.

  • Show your work

Citing the sources you have used, allows your readers to evaluate the depth and quality of the research you have undertaken, and to trace and validate claims and interpretations presented in your work.

How to cite

This depends on the style guide you are using but all styles consist of two parts: an in-text citation and a corresponding bibliographic reference arranged in a list. 

Be sure to consult your course instructor on the preferred documentation style.


 First part: In-text citations
  • In-text citations are embedded in the text of your work and where you have used the ideas, findings or exact words of other authors in your work.
  • There are two types of in-text citations: parenthetical and notational.
Parenthetical in-text citation:
  • Includes a brief description of a source in parenthesis, for example (Smith, 2020), in a author-date type of style guide.
  • The in-text citations are accompanied by a matching alphabetized list of bibliographic references, at the end of a section or the work (References).
Notational in-text citation:
  • Allows for numbers, either in parenthesis or superscript, to be inserted within the text of the work, for example, [1].
  • These numbers refer to a numeric sequence of bibliographic references at the bottom of a page (footnotes), the end of a section (end notes), or at the very end of the work (References).
Second part: List of bibliographic references
  • Each reference in the list should contain sufficient information to allow the source to be traced.
  • The list may be alphabetized and interfiled according to the first element of the reference, for example the author's last name, or in the absence of this, the title of the source.
  • It may be a numerical list and arranged according to a source's numerical appearance in the text.
  • The list may be titled differently depending on the style guide used, for example References, Works Cited or Bibliography, but should only contain the bibliographic references cited in the text.

When to cite

  • Provide citations if you have paraphrased or summarized the ideas, findings, code, opinions, etc. of other authors.
  • Use quotation marks if you have used the exact words/phrases of other authors.
  • It is not necessary to provide a citation for common knowledge, but if you are not sure, provide a citation.
  • Be sure to clearly separate your own thoughts and interpretations from cited information.

Reusing Code

The reuse of code requires attribution.

MIT provides helpful guidelines on how to manage citing code but do consult with your course instructor for more specific guidance.

  • Add as many details as required to help your reader trace the source of the code and at the very least, include the URL and the date of retrieval.

  • Indicate that you have modified the code, for example use the phrases:  “Adapted from:” or “Based on” 

  • For more help visit the MIT: Writing Code guide