Understanding referencing in a research

By Abhinash on December 17, 2011

All research papers (both academic and non-academic) require the use of reference. Reference is a document with a detailed description from which you have taken a small portion of data while writing your paper. A reference can be a book, a chapter in the book or an article in a newspaper or a journal. Apparently, in a small paper, it is not possible to include entire information regarding various issues. Therefore, we mention the issues briefly in the paper and follow it up with the ‘reference’. If the reader wants to see more information regarding the issue, then they can follow the reference and read about it in detail. Referencing helps readers to have a look at the detailed information about a particular issue that was briefly described in the research paper. To put in a nutshell, referencing is nothing but providing sources that are used while writing the research paper. Consistent and correct referencing is essential when writing a research paper as it helps you to avoid being accused of copying other people’s work.

There are two important steps involved in referencing in any research paper.

  1. Reference in the body of text. This is also called a citation. In this step, you indicate the piece of work you have written in the research paper by providing a small ‘identifier’ for its source.
  2. Listing the entire source details (As per the referencing style you are suggested to use in the research paper) at the end of the research paper.

How to cite references in the body?

First of all, there are different referencing styles. The most popular ones are:

  1. Harvard
  2. Chicago Manual Style (16th Edition)
  3. MLA (7th Edition)
  4. APA
  5. Oscola (4th Edition)

Below, we present a brief about the basic referencing rules. However, we encourage you to read each style in detail (in the links given above) to be thorough with referencing.


When you are referencing in the body of the text, you need to mention the surname of the author along with its date of publishing. Both the name and published date should be in the brackets. Example: (Naveen 2011). In case, you are mentioning the author name in a sentence of the text, put published date in the brackets. Example: According to Naveen (2011). It is mandatory to add the page numbers if a specific section in the book needs to be identified. Example: (Naveen 2011, P.22). However, the MLA style is different. Author’s last name is followed by the page number instead of the year.


There may be instances where you need to mention a citation that includes 2 authors. In this case, mention names of 2 authors and the date it was published. Example; ….the subject by Naveen and Dinesh (2011). In the case of APA, the word ‘and’ is replaced by ‘&’. Therefore, it will read as ‘Naveen & Dinesh (2011)’.


When you need to cite 3 author names, use Latin word et al (Must be in italics), which means ‘and others’ in the body of the text. Example: Naveen et al (2011) found that…

How to list references at the end of the research paper?

The reference list at the end of the research paper should contain the details of sources that the writer has referred in the body of the text. Make sure the list is in the alphabetical order with Author’s surname. The writer should collect the details such as Author name, Title of the Book or Article, Publication Date, Publisher Name and Edition to complete the referencing process.

Example of Harvard Style Referencing:

  1. Author’s name, initials.
  2. Publication Date (should be in brackets)
  3. Title of the Source(full stop)
  4. Place of Publication (Colon)
  5. Publisher Name

MLA, APA and Chicago styles have also got their own way of structuring the references.