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How to Cite and Reference

Give Your Work Authority and Integrity

How to Cite and Reference - Give Your Work Authority and Integrity

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Learn to give credit where credit is due.

Citing your sources in a piece of work can seem like a chore. You have to keep notes of everything you read, remember to add citation marks, and then organize the resulting list. And it's not like anyone pays any attention, right?

Wrong. A complete, coherent list of citations is a key part of any academic paper, essay or business research report. Plus it's a reflection of your integrity and work ethic.

Whether you're a student or a team member tasked with writing a business paper, this article leads you through the basics of citing your sources: why it's important, what the main kinds of citation are, and how to organize them.

Why Does Citing Matter?

Citing your sources is important for three key reasons. First, it demonstrates integrity. Acknowledging your debt to the original work of others shows that you've done your research, and frees you from accusations of plagiarism.

Second, citing gives your work authority. The reader can decide quickly and independently whether the material you cite supports your argument. Reputable and persuasive sources can also strengthen your point.

Third, a coherent body of citations is evidence of an organized mind. Putting a bibliography together is disciplined work, and your reader will likely see it as such. They may not check every citation in your list, but they will notice if your citations are shoddy or incomplete.

How to Cite Books and Journals

All citations consist of two parts: the in-text marker and the reference list to which the marker refers. The citation system your college or organization uses will dictate the exact form the two parts of the citation take.

There are two main kinds of citations: parenthetical and numerical.

Parenthetical Citations

Parenthetical citations use a short in-text notation, in parentheses (round brackets), to refer to sources listed alphabetically by author name at the end of your report. In most systems this will be the lead author's name and a date. So, for example, you might see:

The history of the Learning Zone can be traced back to early work in Russian child psychology (Vygotsky, 1978).

This shows the reader that the references at the end of the report will have an alphabetical listing of a publication they can identify as "Vygotsky, 1978."

This list entry can take different forms, depending on which citation system you're using. It almost always contains the following information:

  • At least one author's surname.
  • Year of publication.
  • Title of chapter or article.
  • Title of publication of which the chapter or article is a part.
  • Publisher's name.
  • Place of publication.
  • Volume and issue number for journal citations.
  • Page numbers of the material referenced.

This information applies whether the citation refers to a book or a journal article. The precise style of the entry will depend on which citation style your organization uses.

The Harvard referencing system [1] uses parenthetical references, as do the American Psychological Association (APA) [2] and the Modern Language Association (MLA) [3], with small variations. For example, some have the titles of books in inverted commas, others in italics. There are also variations in capitalization and punctuation between systems, so check your organization's style guide carefully.

Many journal articles have a Digital Object Identifier (DOI). This forms a permanent online location, beginning https://doi.org/. Most institutions and organizations prefer you to use this, rather than the URL you get from your browser's address bar.

Examples of Parenthetical Citations

In-text reference (book): (Rowley and Cooke, 2010)
Reference list entry: Rowley, C. and Cooke, F.L. (2010). 'The Changing Face of Management in China.' Abingdon: Routledge

In-text reference (journal): (Cohen and Bradford, 2005)
Reference list entry: Cohen, A.R. and Bradford, D.L. (2005). 'The Influence Model: Using Reciprocity and Exchange to Get What You Need,' Journal of Organizational Excellence, 25(1), 15-18. https://doi.org/10.1002/joe.20080

Numerical Citations

Numerical citations generally use a superscript number as the in-text marker. This refers to a reference list arranged in numerical order at the end of the report. So, the first work referenced in the report is numbered "1" in the reference list. For example:

The history of the Learning Zone can be traced back to early work in Russian child psychology¹.

The reader will then be able to go to the numerical list at the back of the report and look up item "1" to find the source:

1. Vygotsky L. and Cole M., Mind in Society. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978), 132-37.

Mind Tools' own house style has recently changed, and we now use numerical citations, with the number in square brackets.

One disadvantage of numerical citations is that every reference to a work needs a separate entry in the references list. If you refer regularly to the same work, you'll need to list it every time. Numerical systems get around this by allowing works which have been cited already to be cited again in shortened form. For example, successive references to the work cited above can be listed as:

2. Vygotsky and Cole, Mind in Society, 132-137.

Tip:

If two or more references in succession cite the same source, you can replace the source titles with "ibid.," a phrase meaning "in the same source." Check your organization's style guide first, though.

Reports that use numerical citations usually have an additional list of titles, cited in alphabetical order of the first author. For an example of a numerical citation system, see The Chicago Manual of Style [4].

Examples of Numerical Citations

In-text reference (book): superscript number, for example².
Reference list entry: 2. Rowley C., Cooke F. The Changing Face of Management in China. Abingdon, Routledge; 2010. 34-56.

In-text reference (journal): superscript number, for example³.
Reference list entry: 3. Cohen A., Bradford D. The influence model: Using reciprocity and exchange to get what you need. Journal of Organizational Excellence. 2005; 25(1):57-80.

How to Cite Websites and Online Sources

References to online sources are as important as those to more traditional academic media. They tend to be shorter, as there’s no need for publication details. You do need to include a link, and details of the date on which you accessed the material.

Some style guides allow you to embed links in text. Others require the URL to be quoted in full. For example:

Amabile, T. and Kramer, S. (2012). To Give Your Employees Meaning, Start With Mission [online]. Available here. [Accessed January 17, 2021.]

Amabile, T. and Kramer, S. (2012). To Give Your Employees Meaning, Start With Mission [online]. https://hbr.org/2012/12/to-give-your-employees-meaning. [Accessed January 17, 2021.]

Numerical references follow the same principles:

23. Amabile, T. and Kramer, S., To Give Your Employees Meaning, Start With Mission [online]. https://hbr.org/2012/12/to-give-your-employees- meaning. [Accessed January 17, 2021.]

Tip:

If your company doesn't have a style guide, consider creating one to ensure that references and citations are applied consistently across the organization.

How to Cite Mind Tools Articles

If you're referencing a Mind Tools resource as part of a bibliography list, we recommend using the Harvard System, as follows:

MindTools.com. Article/Resource Title [online]. Available from:
https://www.mindtools.com/full-URL [Accessed: Date.]

For example:

MindTools.com. Rebuilding Morale [online]. Available from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/morale.htm [Accessed: June 18, 2020.]

However, if your organization uses numerical references, you can do it like this:

1. MindTools.com, ‘Rebuilding Morale’ [online],
https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/morale.htm [Accessed: June 18, 2020.]

Tip:

Make sure that you check your references carefully before you submit your document. Ensure that everything is in the right order, and that your hyperlinks work and point to the right places. You don’t want to undo your hard work with basic errors.

Key Points


Citing sources accurately is a vital skill for students and report writers alike. It indicates integrity and authority, and shows that you’re organized and diligent.

Before you start your piece of work, ensure that the citation system you use is the one required by your institution or organization.

Every citation consists of two parts: an in-text marker and an entry in a reference list. There are two main kinds of citations, identified by the type of in-text marker they use:

  • Parenthetical citations use author name and date of publication in parentheses (round brackets) to mark the citation. This refers to an alphabetical list of sources at the end of the piece.
  • Numerical citations use an in-text superscript number. This refers to a numbered list at the end of the text in which the entries appear in the numbered order of their appearance in the text.

Check your references carefully before you submit your report. Your reference list is a complex and vital part of your work.

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