Citing other work

Abbreviated forms of references in a document – referred to as in-text references or citations – acknowledge previous work in a field of study. They refer to the full bibliographic details of a reference presented in a list that is usually at the end of a document.

We cite and reference to:

  • avoid implying that the work of others is our own
  • give credit where it is due
  • place our work in the context of what has gone before
  • indicate that we are familiar with the literature
  • be a responsible and ethical member of the community
  • help interested readers find more information.

Failing to cite adequately makes a writer look unprofessional, and can also have serious consequences. Using images or text without acknowledging the source is plagiarism and must be avoided. Most organisations have a plagiarism policy that outlines expectations and penalties. Educational institutions often refer to ‘academic integrity’.

This section covers:

General principles of citing


  • When quoting directly, use quotation marks and add a reference at the end of the quote.
  • When paraphrasing, add a reference at the end of the sentence or paragraph.
  • When in doubt, reference.

Cite a source when using a result, opinion or fact that is not common knowledge and not your own

Common knowledge does not need a reference. Textbooks, for example, do not provide a reference for every fact. There is no need to add a citation when quoting Newton’s second law of motion (F = ma), but a result that is not widely known needs a citation. How common a result must be to be common knowledge needs judgment and topic expertise – and may depend on the audience. Err on the side of citing.

Cite a source when reproducing part of another text

Insert a citation whenever directly copying the work of others – this includes words, images, tables, anything. What has actually been copied must be made clear through some notation, such as enclosing it in quote marks or indenting it as a block quote. The source of a quote – and the fact that it is a quote – must always be clear to the reader:

It was noted in the annual report (GRDC 2012) that ‘2012 was a most successful year for the GRDC’.

Cite a source when paraphrasing

Even when not using the text directly, the source of an important idea or fact must be noted:

The GRDC considered 2012 to be a very successful year (GRDC 2012).

Cite a source when deriving new results from old

If you build on someone else’s work, you must cite the source. This can occur when:

  • changing the format of information – for example, when plotting data that were presented elsewhere as a table, or deriving a table from information presented in text or graphically; in this case, the source note might say something like Data taken from … or Based on …
  • updating or adding to existing work – for example, adding data from more recent years to a table
  • reanalysing data that have already been presented elsewhere
  • critiquing, comparing or reinterpreting results, theories and statements.

For hints about adding source notes to graphs and tables, refer to Definitions, notes and sources (graphs) and Definitions, notes and sources (tables), respectively.

Sight and cite the original

Try to cite the original occurrence of a result, not a source that cites the original source. Always try to read the original source; secondary sources might not represent it accurately.

Do not plagiarise yourself

Even if the words are your own, you must give the source. A project might yield numerous publications that have some things in common – methods, context and so on. Reusing text from one publication to the next is usually not acceptable. Either rewrite the section or reference the original (possibly quoting it as well).

Note that when work is published it is no longer necessarily owned by the author. The publisher may have rights that prevent the author reusing the material.

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Citing is not always enough

Although correct citation is ethically and professionally correct, it may not fulfil all the legal requirements for reusing the work of others. This section outlines some considerations that are important if your work is to be published. For unpublished work – for example, an essay submitted for assessment – these points are usually not a concern.

Keep in mind that putting something on the internet is publishing it.

Obtain permissions

In general, permission is needed from publishers when using substantial components of sources – figures, tables, large sections of text, and so on. Simply giving the reference is not enough.

Check licences and copyright

Do not assume that because something is available it can be reused, with or without citation. Check the conditions for reuse on all works, whether books and journals or blogs and social media. Some works may have licences attached, such as the Creative Commons licences. These set out the rules for reuse. The lack of a licence does not mean you can do what you like.

Similarly, correct citing is no protection against breach of copyright. The law places limits on what can be reused and how. Although there are provisions that allow reuse of material for critical, research and other purposes, there are limits.

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Mechanics of citing and referencing

A reference list gives the sources cited in a text. Each citation connects a specific piece of information to a specific source.

This is different from a bibliography (sometimes headed further reading or similar), which is a list of sources the author has used and an interested reader might like to explore. A bibliography is not a replacement for a reference list, because it does not tell the reader where a particular fact or statement came from.

In a conventional text, an in-text citation may take several forms, including:

  • numerical – often as a superscript1 or in brackets, either (2) or [3]
  • author name and date – for example, (Jones 2012)
  • some other unique combination that links to an entry in the reference list.

The references are usually collected at the back in a separate list, but may be in footnotes or endnotes, interspersed with other notes. Always find out what referencing system your publication uses – there are hundreds of variations – and use it. Your institute will have guidelines for formatting documents.

Decide whether to manage your references manually or use referencing software. The decision might depend on the size of the project, the writing tools you are using and whether you want to keep your work in the cloud.

See also:

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