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7 What is referencing and why is it important?

Referencing is the way you acknowledge other people’s work when you use it in your assignment or research. This is also known as good academic practice.

Referencing is important because:

  • it shows you have read around and understood the subject
  • your academic argument will be stronger if it’s supported by evidence from other people’s research
  • others will be able to find and use your sources, which in turn allows them to check the validity and authenticity of your work, as well as develop and enhance their own understanding of the subject.

If you’re starting your studies at OU level 1 you may find that you’re not expected to start referencing straightaway. You will, however, be helped to develop this skill as you progress through your studies and learn when, where and what you need to reference.

What you don’t need to reference are your own thoughts and ideas or anything that constitutes common knowledge. Common knowledge includes widely known facts and knowledge that most people would not have to look up, such as historical dates. For example, the capital city of Scotland would be considered common knowledge. Understanding what constitutes common knowledge builds with time, so if in doubt, give it a reference.

Good academic practice is about referencing every time you use the work of others in your own work. This is not confined to quoting or summarising material in your own words but also using data or ideas. Knowing how to acknowledge sources you’ve used will also help you in the workplace, for example when compiling reports or presentations.

From October 2020 the OU started transitioning to Cite Them Right Harvard referencing. However, some subjects use different styles. You need to be particularly mindful of this if you’re planning to study a mixture of different subjects and make sure you check the referencing style for each module.

Learn more about referencing styles in the next activity.

Activity 4 Referencing styles at the OU

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Search for ‘referencing and plagiarism’ in the Help Centre.


As you will hopefully have found, the Help Centre links you straight into the Library website for information about referencing and plagiarism.

If you didn’t find it, take a look at the following page: Referencing and plagiarism [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

This is a useful page for you to refer back to, you might want to bookmark it so you can quickly find it again.

Developing good referencing skills can help with the issue of plagiarism. Let’s take a brief look at that now.

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