Literature & Referencing

By documenting your sources, you indicate clearly when your text is a result of your own thinking and when you are basing your words upon other sources.

In an academic text you should always document your sources - that is, you should make a citation as soon as you are using someone else’s work. On this page you can read about how to find sources, how to manage and assess sources and how to do citations in footnotes, endnotes, in-text citations and make reference lists or bibliographies.

Why is it important?

By documenting your sources, you make your work verifiable and transparent.

The citations in your text make it possible for your reader to trace your statements and argumentation back to the original sources. This is important in the Western academic tradition, in which the credibility of your arguments depends on precisely indicating and crediting the sources on which your ideas are based.

Finding sources

The most common way to find sources for your academic paper or presentation is through the library.

When you need to find books, articles or other kinds of information for your academic paper or presentation, you usually go to the library to search through the information available there or on the internet.

Remember that you can also get information from people you know or from references from your notes or books.

It may be a good idea to keep a logbook describing your information-search process. Then you can trace back the information you have collected, and you can benefit from your information-search experience next time you have to start searching for materials for a paper.

Main libraries for AU students:

  • The Royal Danish Library Aarhus is the biggest library at Aarhus University, and here you can find almost anything. At this library it is not possible to walk around among the books in order to find what you need. You search for your books or articles through the library’s search engine, and if you order a book, you can usually pick it up the next day.
  • Libraries at Aarhus University. A complete list of all libraries at Aarhus University.
  • is a database where you can search through materials from all the Danish libraries. It usually takes some time before you receive the books you order through this system so make sure to search for the books you need before the last minute.


Search Techniques

The use of boolean operators, truncation and masking are three useful techniques when you search for information.

When you have to search for materials for an academic paper or presentation, a good place to start is by formulating the words and terms you want to base your search on.

Search Techniques

Boolean Operators

When you make a search in a database, it is important to think about your use of the words "and", "or" and "not".

  • "And": If you connect two words by "and" in your search, the results you get are only those where both words are included.

  • "Or": If you write "or" between your search-words, you will get all the results where either one or the other word is included.

  • "Not": If you put “not” between your search-words, you will get results where the first word is present, but all the results mentioning the last word will be eliminated.


It might be a good idea to truncate some of your words when you search for information in a database.

If you type "teach*", your search will be based on the stem of the word, and your results will show your original word-stem with all the different inflexions and suffixes: teacher, teachers, teaching etc.

It depends on the search engine whether the sign for truncation is '*' or '?'. Go to 'help' in the database you are using to make sure which one to use.


In some databases it is possible to replace one, two or three letters with '?'. This can help you get the results you want even if you are not sure how to spell the word.

For example: type "col?r" in order to get results with both "color" and "colour".

In some databases '?' should be replaced with '*'. Check 'help' in your database to make sure.

If you have trouble finding what you need, ask a librarian. They are expert in finding information.

Managing and assessing sources

When you collect sources for your academic paper or presentation, it is important to think about the quality and credibility of the materials you come into contact with.

If you find materials on the internet you have to be extra careful and critical. Everyone can upload texts on the internet and there is no guarantee that what you find is usable in an academic paper. A good idea is to check the URL (the web-address at the top of the page) and see if the material came from a reliable source.

Even when the text you want to use is reliable and scientifically sound, it is still a good idea to be critical.

Posing these questions is a good way to approach your material and find out what the texts' strengths and weaknesses are:

  • Is the author credible? Does he prove his point in a convincing way?
  • Is the text/source material objective? What is the theory/analysis based on?
  • How old is the text/source material? What is its relation to other texts/studies?
  • Which status does the text have in the field of research? Is the author an influential authority?


How to use literature and citing sources in a Danish context:


Managing sources

Managing your sources in a structured way gives you an overview of your materials and makes documentation easier.

During the course of your studies you will read, use and quote hundreds of sources. Think about how you file the books, articles etc. that you have read and stick to a certain system. That will make it much easier to find what you are looking for.

Computer programs such as Refworks, Endnote and Zotero can help you manage the literature you are using in your studies. They can also assist you in documenting your sources in a correct and consistent way.


Programs for managing sources

  • RefWorks is a web-based system that can help you manage your sources. The program generates correct references from a database that you produce yourself. With a few clicks the program makes correct in-text citations and the bibliography for your paper. You can choose any citation style you want. Students at Aarhus Universitet have free access to the program. Press "Sign up for a new account". Note that this should be done from a computer with an IP-address from Aarhus University.
  • Endnote is a computer program you need to install. As a student at Aarhus University, you may do so for free. Find and download the software from your IT department. Please note that you have to be on the AU network to download the software.
  • Zotero is a free web-based extension to the web-browser Firefox. 


Citations include in-text citations, footnotes and endnotes. In-text citations appear in summaries, paraphrases and direct quotes.

In all cases it is important that you cite the source correctly in order to make it clear where the material came from.

The different citation styles provide detailed guidelines on what information should be included in citations and how it should be presented.

Advice on writing citations

A professor from Arts gives advice on writing citations in academic work in this short video.

Citation styles

When using in-text citations, you normally cite the author and the publication year. Examples:

  • Hofstede (2010) describes five dimensions of national cultures …

  • In his article from 2008 Gergen examines …

You can benefit from choosing a citation style to help you cite your sources correctly and consistently. A citation style tells you exactly how and where to present the sources in your paper: as in-text citations, in footnotes or in endnotes. A citation style also tells you how to make the final reference list or bibliography for your paper.

Which style should you choose?

The rules for using or not using a citation style differ, as not all teachers agree on the subject or on which styles are best. Whether you choose a style or not, the most important thing to remember is to be consistent. A citation style can help you with this.

There are dozens of citation styles to choose from. The following styles are commonly used in the humanities:

  • The MLA (Modern Language Association)

  • The APA (American Psychological Association)

  • The Chicago Manual of Style

Two examples: MLA and Chicago

Below, you will find an example of two different ways of presenting the same references: a short reference list in the MLA style and the Chicago style.

As you can see the elements are the same – but the two systems differ in their use of italics and the order of the elements.



Donovan, Stephen K. "Ten Rules of Academic Writing." Journal of Scholarly Publishing 42.2 (2010): 262-7. Web.

Donovan, Stephen K. 2010. "Ten Rules of Academic Writing." Journal of Scholarly Publishing 42 (2): 262-267.

Kragh, Helge, et al. Science in Denmark : A Thousand-Year History. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2008. Print. Kragh, Helge, Peter C. Kjærgaard, Henry Nielsen, and Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen. 2008. Science in Denmark : A Thousand-Year History. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.
Løfgreen, Lars Bo. "Designing for Critique, Designing for Reflection." Designing New Media. Ed. Bo Kampmann Walther. Aarhus: Academica, 2010. 73-84. Print. Løfgreen, Lars Bo. "Designing for Critique, Designing for Reflection." In Designing New Media, edited by Bo Kampmann Walther, 73-84. Aarhus: Academica, 2010

Reference lists and bibliographies

The purpose of a full reference is to describe the source precisely and thereby enable the reader to locate and verify your reference.

A full reference in a reference list or a bibliography includes 5 to 7 elements. If the reference is a book, the elements are (in APA style):

Reference book


If the reference is to an article in a journal, the elements are (in APA style):

Reference journal


Be aware that reference lists are different in MLA Style and Chicago Style.


FAQ about documenting sources

Questions and answers

Should I always indicate a reference when I incorporate other people’s ideas into my own work?

Generally speaking, the answer is yes. The only exception from the general rule of documenting your sources is when you are using “common” or “universal” knowledge.

“Common knowledge” is generally known facts shared by everyone within a certain group or community, for example a regional, institutional or academic community. That means that if you are mentioning generally known facts, concepts or theories within your academic field, you do not have to state the source. But this can be a bit tricky. Because who defines what is “common knowledge” within your field? 

Therefore, you should always ask your teachers about their specific requirements for documentation in your paper.

When can I claim something to be my own idea?

When is an argument or claim your own original idea and when is derived from someone else’s work? This is ongoing persistent doubt that even trained academics struggle with.

Ask a fellow student to give peer feedback on your paper or ask your teacher to give you feedback if you are in doubt about whether the sources in your paper are fully documented.

What if I unknowingly absorb the ideas of a source?

It is a good idea to be meticulous when you are reading and working with your sources. Sometimes you can get so absorbed in a text that it becomes hard to distinguish your own ideas from the the original ideas in the source. This is quite normal.

But there is a risk involved:  if you don’t remember to tell your reader that you developed your own ideas on the basis of another source, this can be seen as a matter of you deliberately trying to take over someone else’s work without giving credit to the original source.

Not documenting your sources is regarded as cheating and it leads to a lower grade or even failing an exam. Therefore, remember to write down the ideas you have gotten from  the source as early in your writing process as possible, and then write down your own variation on or response to these ideas.

Is there such a thing as overquoting?

There is a fine line between overquoting and not referencing enough. Your text might actually appear less academic if you quote and summarize other peoples’ work too much in your text.

This is because you are expected to display intellectual independence and maturity when working with your sources. Doing academic work involves discovering your own positions and arguing critically in regard to the sources you are using.

Should I always use a citation style?

The short answer is: Ask your teacher. The rules for using or not using a citation style differ, as teachers disagree on what is best.

Some teachers ask their students to use a citation style. They may even prefer a specific style. Others disencourage the use of specific citation styles.

Whether or not you choose to use a specific citation style, you should always document your sources in a consistent manner.

Why is there so much emphasis on referencing?

Some international students feel that the Danish academic system places excessive emphasis on referencing and overemphasises the dangers of plagiarizing.

The main reason for this emphasis is that the Danish system is part of an academic tradition which demands transparency and validity. You must show your reader how you get from A to B and which sources you have used to build up your argumentation.

Another factor is the Western tradition conception of intellectual work and authorship: We view an author or a researcher as the original creator of a unique piece of work or an idea, and therefore he or she is the rightful owner of this work.

The text or the idea is seen as the individual property of the creator. This is another reason why you have to be meticulous in giving credit to the original author.

Teacher's advice about documenting sources

Teachers comments on authentic examples of the documentation of sources in students' assignments.

1. Integrating sources into your text correctly

When you integrate someone else’s work into your text, you should do this for a good reason,  and you should present the sources precisely and correctly, in accordance with the citation style you are using.

In addition, you must clearly indicate when the text is the product of your own words and ideas and when you are basing your thoughts upon other sources.

In the examples below, a student has integrated work by Huizinga and Salen & Zimmerman (example 1) and Hofstede (example 2) into her text:

  1. To clarify what constitutes the term ‘game’ I have found it necessary to be more specific than what Huizinga’s definition of ‘play’ offers. Read more...
  2. To clarify what constitutes the term ‘game’ I have found it necessary to be more specific than what Huizinga’s definition of ‘play’ offers. I have found it helpful to use the theories of Salen & Zimmerman from their book: Rules of Play (2004). In their book they define ‘game’ as: “A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” (p.80)

Teacher’s feedback (Example 1):

The way you refer to your sources is basically fine; though if this is the first time you refer to Huizinga it would be advisable to let your reader know where to find his definition of ‘game’. I might recommend, for stylistic reasons, that you shorten the last quotation so your text reads: In their book they define ‘game’ as: “a system in which players . . .” It improves the flow of your sentence.

Make sure you go on to explain or qualify your quote. Though your sources are authorities you should not always let them “get the last word” at the end of a sentence or paragraph. Think about what you can add to clarify or justify your specific use of that quote: what does it mean and what does it mean for the argument you are pursuing in your paper?

In this section I am going to analyze if the cultural values of students from five different countries have any influence on their acceptance and actual use of the learning management system decided and implemented by the university. Read more...

In this section I am going to analyze if the cultural values of students from five different countries have any influence on their acceptance and actual use of the learning management system decided and implemented by the university. I will examine what role the “power distance” of the specific country plays in the students’ acceptance.

Teacher’s feedback (Example 2):

“Power distance” isn’t a common term and the fact that you have it in quotation marks shows me you know it has a specific meaning and a specific origin. You will need to explain how Geert Hofstede originally defined “power distance” as a dimension of cultural difference or how his Power Distance Index (PDI) works in a bit more detail before it can be applied in your analysis.

Nonetheless, you should refer to him, at least briefly, when you first introduce his terminology. Something like ‘I will examine what role Geert Hofstede’s concept of the “power distance” of a specific country plays . . .“ you may also make a reference to the work in which he first defined PDI.

It should be in your bibliography in any case.

2. Rephrasing a source

In some situations it will make sense to summarize or paraphrase the text of a source; for example, if the citation is too long or awkwardly phrased in relation to your own text, or if the text is hard to understand and requires a clearer presentation and explication. But in any case, it is still necessary to cite the original source of the ideas you are referring to.

In the example below, a student has rephrased a passsage from page 80 of Anthony Giddens’ book Modernity and self-identity, Self and society in the late modern age (1991):

In examining the settings of choosing an education, I will use the theory about “late modern age”: Today in late modern society you can say that the choice of education is just one of many choices young people have to make every day. And at the same time traditions no longer offer any guiding principles in making these choices. In this way you can say that in the “late modern age” the individual is left in a situation where he has to make every decision himself. This demands – and generates – a strong degree of self-reflexivity.

Teacher’s feedback:

“Late modern age” is a term strongly associated with Anthony Giddens and if you go on to paraphrase him it is reasonable to state instead “I will use Anthony Giddens’ theory of ‘the late modern age’ from 1991” and obligatory to tell us which pages you are paraphrasing. You may have rephrased his words from those pages but the idea is still his so he should get credit for it all the same.

3. Evaluating your sources

You should evaluate the relevance of the main sources you are using: What are the strengths and weaknesses of using this source in regard to the purpose of your text? In the example below, a student presents his reasons for referring to a specific source, and the relevance of the source to his argument:

In my analysis of the stories of Karen Blixen I have used the theories of Peter Brooks from his book: Reading for the Plot to examine the plot structures of her stories and their function regarding the reader experience.

Even though Brooks’ text analysis model offers a unified approach and lacks the social and historic aspects of the period in which the stories are written I have found it useful because the stories of Blixen are characterized by an ingenious plot structure which has a strong significance for the reader experience.

Teacher’s feedback:

When you first refer to Brooks’ Reading for the Plot (1992) please give the date of publication. It is useful to the reader and should be identified in your bibliography anyway.

It is good that you mention which aspects of Brooks’ model are useful and why and which aspects are irrelevant to your chosen approach.

However, when you say you use his model “Even though [it] offers a unified approach and lacks the social and historic aspects of the period” you might give the reader the impression that not only is Brooks’model flawed and lacking (which it may be) but that you ought to make up for it somehow. I read this and ask myself whether you will explain what the problem of “unified approach” is and compensate for it or whether you will bring in other sources to provide the lacking social and historic aspects?

In any case you need to argue more explicitly why Brooks is used to analyse Blixen. Is his work for instance the most relevant for understanding the “reader experience” which seems to be important in your own analysis?

Useful links:

Websites about academic skills:

  • Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Find information on how to research and write with correct grammar and style. Includes detailed style guides for different referencing systems.

  • How-To-Study An American site for lower level students from elementary school to college with easy to understand tips in both English and Spanish.

  • Study Guides and Strategies. Besides information about reading, writing, researching, studying and managing projects, this American site has tips for memorizing and concentrating.

Literature about academic skills:

The content of this page was written by Iris Galili and Gina Bay, librarian at Aarhus University Library (Business and Social Sciences). The teachers' feedback was provided by Inger Hunnerup Dalsgaard and Jørn Borup, Associate Professors at Aarhus University's Department of Aesthetics and Communication and Department of Culture and Society, respectively.