What is referencing?

Referencing is a system used in the academic community to indicate where ideas, theories, quotes, facts and any other evidence and information used to undertake a piece of writing, can be found[1], allowing the reading to find the mentioned source and to verify the written content[2].

It is a method used to demonstrate to readers that you have conducted a thorough and appropriate literature search and summarised the findings into concise useful information.  Equally, referencing is an acknowledgement that you have used the ideas and written material belonging to other authors in your own work.

Why do I need to reference my work?[1]

  1. To avoid being accused plagiarism, a form of academic theft.[2]
  2. Referencing your work correctly ensures that you give appropriate credit to the sources and authors that you have used to complete your work
  3. Referencing the sources that you have used for your work demonstrates that you have undertaken wide-ranging research in order to create your work.[2]
  4. Referencing your work enables the reader to consult for themselves the same materials that you used. People find Physiopedia particularly useful for this.
  5. Shows which evidence you are using to support your actions and arguments.
  6. It helps the reader to decide for themselves how credible the sources in the article are[2]

What References Should I Use

The highest level of evidence available should be used to support any written statement. If a statement comes from a source of low quality evidence, some text should be added to clearly indicate this e.g. "There may also be a role for pulsed ultrasound in the treatment of this condition but there is currently only low quality evidence to support this".

Similarly, the most current research should ideally be used. A general rule of thumb is to aim for resources published within the last five years. However, this depends on what the subject of interest is (e.g. how much research is still being done on that subject and thus how rapidly is new information being published). As well, the age of the resources must be balanced with the level of evidence as outlined above.

When a resource references another author, try to find the original source and reference that. [2] If you are unable to find the original source you can use the following way to reference it in the text: ..... Susan Coetzee stated "always add references at the end of the written article" (1998, cited in Lewis 2015). The 1998 article should not be referenced at the end of the article but the 'Lewis 2015' has to. [2]

Where research articles and other resources provide conflicting evidence, more weight should be given to current sources of higher quality. However, in order to provide readers with the most balanced information, it is worthwhile;

  • providing background information on the high quality article(s) (e.g. age range of subjects, excluded co-morbidities) in order to recognise that high quality evidence does not necessarily extrapolate to all patient populations
  • mentioning the opposite side of the conflicted position and the corresponding level of evidence

What should I reference?

You should include a reference for all the sources of information that you use when writing or creating a piece of your own work, even if it is online sources [2].

There are two parts to referencing:

  1. including citations in the body of your work, and
  2. providing a reference list at the end of your work.


When you use another person’s work in your own work, either by referring to their ideas, or by including a direct quotation, you must acknowledge this in the text of your work. This acknowledgement is called a citation[3].

See the Adding References tutorial to see how to add a citation in Physiopedia

See the guidance from Imperial College[3] to see how to make citations in the Vancouver style of referencing that we use in Physiopedia.

Reference List

A complete list of all the citations used in your text will need to be provided at the end of your work. This is called your reference list. 

There are several different referencing styles, the most commonly used are:

  1. Harvard (most commonly used)
  2. Vancouver (used in Physiopedia) 

See Vancouver Referencing to see how to write your references in Physiopedia


Vancouver Referencing

Harvard Referencing


  1. 1.0 1.1 Academic Skills Tutors/Librarians, Information Services. Information Services Academic Skills Know-how: Harvard Referencing Quick Guide. [accessed 1 December 2015]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Pears R, Shields GJ. Cite them right: the essential referencing guide. Palgrave Macmillan; 2016. [Accessed 13 Oct 2018]
  3. 3.0 3.1 Imperial College London. Citing & Referencing: Vancouver Style. [accessed 1 December 2015]