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Referencing in academic writing

Referencing your work is an important part of academic life whether you are an undergraduate or postgraduate student. It is an important mechanism for ensuring rigor and accuracy in academic reporting. If you choose a career in teaching or research, you will need to continue to use correct referencing to support your published work, grant applications and conference presentations. Even if you plan to leave higher education after completing your first degree, referencing can still be an important requirement of many types of technical, policy or report writing.


At the most basic level, referencing is an important way to differentiate your own work from the work of others. This is important in relation to issues such as plagiarism and copyright infringement. Always acknowledge when you have used the ideas or work of other people in your own writing! Turst me, this is very important in academic writing. In health, psychology and education, one of the most common referencing formats is American Psychological Association 6th format (APA 6th). In the section below, I will provide some of the basic mechanics for both APA 6th. Another format that is more commonly used in biomedical research is Vancouver style. At the end of this page, you can find a link to information about this style if you are interested. 

Whichever style you use, you will need to reference within the main body of your writing (in-text citation) as well as at the end of your manuscript (reference list). 

APA 6th format


In-text citation

To cite the work of others in your text, insert the author and date information immediately after the idea or concept that you are referencing in your work using parentheses (...). For example: (Wilmore & Costill, 2010). 

If you are mentioning the names of the authors in the text, then just include the year. For example: "According to Wilmore and Costill (2010), exercise science is growing in importance in academia due to an increasing focus on preventive medicine in public health". 

If there are more than three authors (e.g. James, Baxter, Lee, and Shimizu), then only mention the first name and then follow this with et al. For example: "Physical activity is known to be correlated with lower rates of heart failure among older adults (James et al., 2016)". 

If there are three authors or less, then include all author names when citing the work in the text. For example, "According to Lee, Samson and Rodriguez (2018), high blood pressure may increase the risk of dementia in later life".

Composing the reference list

At the end of a piece of academic, technical or report writing, you will usually need to include a detailed list of all of the sources that you have cited in the body of the document. The reference list needs to be organized and formatted in a particular way that aligns with the referencing style you are using.

Scholarly book

Bishop, V., & Prosser, R. (2005). The environment and human health. London, UK: Collins Educational Limited.

Chapter in an edited book

Fyfe, S., Phillipson, L., & Annear, M. (2015). Evidence-based practice. In D. Foreman & D. Pond (Eds.), Care of the person with dementia: interprofessional practice and education (pp. 63-80). Port Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press.

Journal article

Annear, M. (2017). Leveraging Tokyo 2020: can the Olympic Games activate older Japanese and compress morbidity in later life? Geriatrics and Gerontology. 17(12): 2634-35. DOI: 10.1111/ggi.13136

Online article (e.g. World Health Organization report)

World Health Organization (2015). Global physical activity report: progress and pitfalls in the last 5 years. Retrieved April 10, 2017 from http://www.WHO.reports/physical_activty/

Useful online resources

If you would like to know more about APA 6th style, click here. 

If you are interested in learning about Vancouver style (for biomedical research), follow this link.

A useful resource concerning research design and methods can be found here.

For more information on academic writing, please follow this link. 

If you are interested in improving your critical thinking and writing skills, please follow this link.

This link will take you to a free sample size / power calculator.


Useful research and data portals

The Wold Health Organization website provides a wealth of international data about health issues.

The American College of Sports Medicine is a good source of information about physical activity.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website is a useful source for dietary guidelines.

Google Scholar is a powerful search tool for academic information.

The DOAJ identifies open access journals that contain freely available academic studies. 

The Cochrane Library contains systematic reviews that canvas a wide variety of health issues.

Active living research provides tools and research to support the creation of active environments.

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