You need to provide a complete bibliography which lists everything that you have read for your essays or dissertation. References are important academic tools to use within the essay format. They include books, journals and web pages that you have referred to. Referencing helps your readers find those sources if they want to research material in the same field. It also helps you make clear that you are not trying to portray the ideas of other academics as if these were your own ideas, and is therefore vital in avoiding plagiarism.

Good essay references

There are two common methods for citing references: the Oxford System and the Harvard System (both named after universities). The Vancouver system is another popular one. Sometimes you have a choice as to which method you want to use. Choose one and stick to it; don’t switch between the two methods during your essay or dissertation. Other times your tutor or the department will tell you that you must use one of these systems. If in doubt, email your tutor for confirmation:

  • Which reference method do they want you to use: Oxford, Harvard, Vancouver, or another?
  • Do they want footnotes or endnotes?

It is better to use too many references than too few. Remember to use quote marks around any quoted matter.

Essay format: bibliography

The bibliography will have a section for primary sources (letters, original historical documents and websites) and a section for secondary sources (books and articles).

Oxford system

Referencing in the Oxford system requires that you use footnotes or endnotes. Number each reference in the text, placing the number in superscript after the full stop at the end of the sentence. A guide to how you can set out your references can be found here.

Harvard system

These references are placed in brackets within the text. For a selection of examples on how to use the Harvard style see this link.

Citation of websites

Web pages are now a common source used as a reference. Current opinion is that you should put the full web address in your references, followed by the date on which it was accessed. For example:- accessed 22nd March 2010

Good books to help you further include:

Pears, R and Shields, G. Cite them right: referencing made easy (2004)

Bosworth, D. Citing your references: a guide for authors of journal articles and students writing theses and dissertations (3rd ed. 2004)

Referencing correctly is an essential skill for successful essay writing
Did you find this helpful? Are you struggling to write essay references? You may find other articles on the Oxbridge Essays blog useful.