Being an OU student
Being an OU student

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Being an OU student

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 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, such as the capital city of Scotland.

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.

The OU’s usual referencing style is based upon the Harvard system. 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

Allow about 5 minutes

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

You might like to save any useful pages you find in the Help Centre (see Session 2, Section 4 for how to do this), or bookmark them in your web browser, so you can quickly find the style guides commonly used in OU modules when you start studying.


If you didn’t find it, the following page ()contains links out to the different referencing styles used at the OU so is a useful link to save: Referencing and plagiarism [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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


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