Open University Referencing

Individual Open University courses have difference referencing styles and you will need to consult the course handbook to check which is expected of you.

The Open University offer the following general guidance on referencing:

Why is acknowledging your sources so important?

  • It shows your tutor not only what you have been reading but also where you have been reading around the subject.
  • It shows that the points you are making in your work are supported by other people - your arguments are stronger if you can back up what you say with evidence.
  • It enables other people reading your work to find the things you have referred to quickly and easily.
  • You will be recognizing the intellectual input someone else has made to your work - passing off someone else's work as your own is called plagiarism.

How to organise references and bibliographies

One of the main ways of avoiding plagiarism is to learn how to properly acknowledge the sources you have used in your work. You might also hear this called referencing, citing or creating bibliographies.

There are two steps to acknowledging your sources: citing your references in the text, and listing them at the end of your work.

Step 1: cite your references in the text

Citing your references in the text means indicating in your work where you have used ideas that are not your own. Depending on how you are presenting these ideas, and the referencing 'style' you are using (the example below shows the 'Harvard' style), your citations might look like any of these:

  • Further work (Brown, 1999) supports this claim.
  • Further work by Brown (1999) supports this claim
  • "This theory is supported by recent work" (Brown, 1999, p.25)

Step 2: list your references at the end of your work

Once you have indicated in the text where you have used someone else's ideas, list all the information you used at the end, whether it is from books, journal articles or web pages - these are called your 'references'. References should contain all the information needed to identify the item, and these details should always appear in a standard and consistent form. Your list of references should list in full the sources that you consult for your research, and may also contain the sources which you find useful in developing your ideas but do not refer to.

Electronic sources need to be cited systematically and consistently, just as printed sources do, so that others can identify and access them. The main difference lies in the need to indicate when you accessed the electronic source. This is because websites, for example, change quite frequently - giving the date of access is therefore rather like specifying the edition of a book.

There are many different ways of citing references. Most journals and learned societies have their own requirements, the trick is to check with who you are writing for, pick a style and apply it consistently throughout your work. The styles you are most likely to come across are Harvard and 'numbered'.

The basics: Harvard style

The examples here follow the Open University House Guide Style which uses a version of the Harvard system of citing references, which you might come across in your course materials. In the Harvard system, references in the text are referred to by the author's name and year of publication and in the list of references once in alphabetical order. In the list of references at the end of your work, books, journal articles and web pages should be listed in the following formats:


Author's (or editor's) surname and initials, year of publication (in brackets), title (in italics), place of publication, publisher; for example:

Chalke, S. (2003) How to succeed as a working parent, London, Hodder & Stoughton.

Journal articles

Author's surname and initials, year of publication (in brackets), title of article (enclosed in single inverted commas), the title of the journal (in italics), the volume, issue number and, if given, the date, and the pages on which the article appears; for example:

Thompson, K. (2003) 'Fantasy, Franchises, and Frodo Baggins : The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood', The Velvet Light Trap, no. 52, pp. 45-63.

Web pages

Author's surname and initials, year of publication if given (in brackets), title of document (in italics) followed by 'online' in square brackets, publisher, 'available from' information such as the URL and, in round brackets, the date you accessed the site; for example:

Spitzer, K. L., Eisenberg, M.B., & Lowe, C. A. (1998) Information literacy: essential skills for the information age [online], Syracuse, N.Y.: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology, Syracuse University. (ED 427 780) Available from: (Accessed 28 October 2003)

For information on how to cite other information types in the OU Harvard style, download this helpsheet.

The basics: 'numbered' styles

You are most likely to come across numbered styles in science disciplines. In a numbered style, instead of giving the author's name and year of publication, references in the text are given a number, sequentially as they appear in the text. In the reference list, they are then numbered in the order in which they are mentioned in the text.