Skip to main content

Writing Guide: What, why, where, when, who?

This guide covers: understanding the essay question; searching databases and organising research; the writing process: critical thinking and note-taking; referencing and citing in text, and using academic language.

Every reference serves a purpose!

You use information in your assignments.  You must always aknowledge when you are using information that came from someone other than yourself, and you should do it in a way that makes the original source easy to find.

Your in text references are flags to the person reading your assignment, saying:

  • This information actually comes from somewhere - I didn't just make it up, but actually did some research
  • Go to the reference list to see how good my sources are

They should always do something useful in your assignment.  Don't just include quotes and information so you can "pad out" your reference list.  Every piece of information serves a purpose and goes towards proving your answer to the question.

Reference List vs Bibliography

A reference list only has the works you actually used in your assignment.  You have to include everyone that you have mentioned in your text in your reference list, and you can't include anyone that you don't specifically refer to in the text.

A bilbiography includes any work you read that contributes to your understanding of the subject, and that you think would contribute to your readers' understanding of the subject.  It can include works that you didn't specifically refer to in the text.

Unless your lecturer has actually asked for a bibliography, you should always assume they want a reference list - and don't include anything you've read (not matter how interesting and useful it was for you) unless you have used it in your assignment.

What do I reference?

You must reference every idea or piece of information that you did not invent yourself.  It doesn't matter if you write it in your own words, if you did not invent that idea, then you must acknowledge the people responsible for it.

Why should I reference?

The obvious answer:

You get marked on your referencing!

Your lecturer does take your referencing into account when marking you - having good references can be the difference between a P and a C.

The scary (but true) answer:

You can fail if you don't reference!

No, seriously.  It's called plagiarism, and it's a punishable offence.  You can even be expelled for it. 

If you take someone else's information and do not acknowledge it, then you are stealing that information and trying to pass it off as your own.  That's plagiarism, and it's against the university rules.  You can fail the assignment, you can fail the subject and you may have to front the University Administration to explain why your enrollment shoudn't be suspended.

Find out more here: Student Academic Misconduct Requirements Policy

For the sake of the university rules, you must reference your information sources "appropriately"

For the sake of your marks you should reference "well".

Where do I reference?

There are two places you need to think about when referencing: 

  • Inside the text, at the point in your assignment where you used the information (In Text Referencing)
  • In your reference list, at the end of your assignment.coins

These two "types" or "places" are actually two sides of the same coin.  It's the same work that you are referencing in both places.  In your assignment, where you use the information, you will put a small citation (in Vancouver style, it's a number) telling the reader to look for the full details in your reference list.  The reader then finds that number in the reference list to see the details of that source.

Nothing should be in your reference list unless you have cited it in your text.  Nothing should be cited in your text without having the full details in your reference list.

When do I reference?

Whenever you are working on an assignment, you should be using information from a variety of other sources.  It doesn't matter if the assignment is a report, an essay or a poster presentation, you still need to find information to support your points and claims.

The only time your lecturer is solely interested in the things you already know without help is when you are sitting an exam.  If you've been given time to research, then you are expected to research.

Make sure you find a good range of information from a variety of sources (journals, books, web pages and drug databases, as appropriate), and always assume your lecturer is interested in seeing how good your research is.

Who do I reference?

You reference the people responsible for the source you read.  It doesn't matter where they got their information from (although you may be interested in following their references to find out more) - you just reference them.

For example, if you were reading a journal article written by Smith, and he spent a lot of time talking about the theories created by Brown, you would use Smith in your reference list.  Only use Brown if you actually found Brown's book and read it for yourself.

We acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and acknowledge Traditional Owners of the lands where our staff and students, live, learn and work.Acknowledgement of Country