What do I need to know to write a reference?

To write your own references you need different bits of information about each item that you read when you are researching a piece of work. These bits of information can be called ‘bibliographic’ information.

For all types of references the key bits of information you need to start with are:

  1. Author or editor
  2. Date of publication/broadcast/recording
  3. Title of the item

This will form the basis of each reference you have to write. You may find that some items are not as straightforward as others, so be aware of the following:

  1. Author/editor: This means the primary (main) person who produced the item you are using.If you are using a website or web page, and there isn’t an author, you can use what is called a ‘corporate author’. This will usually be the name of the organisation or company to whom the website or web page belongs.
  2. Date of publication/broadcast/recording: This means the date the item was produced. It is usually a year, but if you are using a newspaper article, an email, or a television recording, you will have to include a full date (day/month/year) in your reference.
  3. Title of the item: This means the primary (main) title of the item you are using. That sounds very obvious, but have a look at a web page and try to work out what the main title is. We would advise common sense in this situation – you have to identify the key piece of information that describes what you have used, and will allow the reader of your work to identify that information.

The following table tells you about some of the variations you need to know when you are collecting your reference information.

  1. Primary author/editor 2. Date of publication 3. Primary title of item
Email Name of the person who wrote the email The full date the email was sent: day/month/year Subject of the email. This may include RE: or FWD:
Journal article Name of the person or persons who wrote the article The year the journal issue was published Title of the article
(not the title of the journal)
Newspaper article Name of the journalist, or if there is no journalist name, the name of the newspaper The full date on which the article was published: day/month/year Title of the article (not the title of the newspaper)
Website This can be tricky. Use an individual name if you can find one, or the name of the organisation or company to whom the website belongs Usually the current year, the year when the website was last updated, or the latest date next to the copyright statement/symbol Title of the website
Webpage This can be tricky. Use an individual name if you can find one, or the name of the organisation or company to whom the website belongs Usually the year, but if the webpage has a full date of publication, you may also need that: day/month/year Title of the webpage
You will need to use the title of the website if the webpage doesn’t have an individual title
TV broadcast Title of the programme, or if the programme is part of a series, use the series title The year the programme was broadcast Title of the programme (it does not need to be written twice if you used it as the author information)
Personal interview Name of the person being interviewed Full date when the interview took place: day/month/year No title needed
Book chapter Name of the author of the chapter The year the book was published Title of the book chapter (not the title of the book)


Depending on the type of material you need to reference you will also need other bits of information, such as:

  • Name of publisher
  • Place of publication
  • Page numbers
  • Volume number
  • Issue number
  • URL (website or web page address)
  • DOI (link for journal articles)
  • Title of conference proceedings
  • Report number
  • Book or conference editor (if not your primary author)
  • Book or conference title (if not your primary title)
  • Journal title (the journal article title will be your primary title)
  • Date of access (for online material)

The more references you have to write, the more familiar you will be with what you need to know. But the best advice we can give, is check our guides, ask us, or check with your lecturers.

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