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Reference Management

How do you make academic references and bibliographies for your papers? Here is some good advice and methods for structuring your sources so they comply with fundamental academic standards. 

When you write academic texts, you include many sources in the form of theories, research evidence, quotations, concepts etc. You must refer to all your sources so that the reader can retrieve the original data, and to document the links in your arguments.

References occur in two ways in your paper: in the text and in the bibliography. There are systems (e.g. EndNote) to help you with both types of references.

You must refer to your sources in accordance with the norms of your field of study. These norms may vary a great deal from one subject to the next, and it is your responsibility to find out how to make references in your own particular field of study.

In-text citation

In scientific texts, it should be clear which sources you have used. Here are some tips about how to make in-text references.

In the text you refer to your sources, and these sources are presented collectively as a bibliography at the end of the text. There are many different ways of making references, quotations and bibliographies. No matter which method you use, it is important to make sure that you are consistent throughout your whole paper.

One way to do this is by using a standard (e.g. APA or Chicago) that lays down rules for making references, quotations and bibliographies. When you select a standard approach, it is always a good idea to check this with your teacher or supervisor because special rules might apply in your own particular field of study.

In-text references vary, depending on which standard you use. For instance:

  • You can refer to a text parenthetically like this: (Andersen, 2014: 32). The reader can find additional information about the reference in the bibliography
  • You can also mention the source in a footnote so that the reader sees a number in the text – for example (1) which refers to a note on the bottom of the page. You add information about the source in the footnote, as well as mentioning it in the bibliography
  • These two methods can also be combined by using a footnote but writing the source’s name and date of publication (and potentially page number) in the footnote – and then writing all the information about the source in the bibliography
  • Some institutions insist that you write a note in the text that refers directly to the bibliography.

Direct quotations

In some cases, you will need to quote a source directly. A short quotation can be placed in the body of text like this: “It is important to avoid being accused of plagiarism” (Andersen, 2014: 32). In some standards, longer quotations are given their own paragraph. This can be done by indenting the quotation, thereby showing the reader that the text is not written by the author of the academic paper. Below the quotation, you mention the original author. The way a longer quotation is marked depends on the standard you use – so always check the standard applying in your own particular field.

Remember to examine the specific requirements for referencing at your department – preferably well before your deadline.


Learn more about the elements of a bibliography and the order in which they should occur.

The bibliography, reference list or list of works cited is an alphabetical list of sources which are listed according to:

  • the name(s) of the author(s)
  • the title of the text
  • the date of publication.

The way in which different types of sources are described in bibliographies depends on the citation format (standard) you use. Citation formats state how authors’ names are written, whether the title should be in italics or not, when the date of publication is mentioned, and how you differentiate between the different types of information.              

Citation formats

When you create a bibliography, it is a good idea to follow the directions of a specific citation format. Ask your supervisor or your teacher if you are in any doubt. These citation formats are often called standards, styles or output styles. 

Many different styles exist, and it may be difficult to figure out which one to choose. If you have any doubts, it is always a good idea to ask the people who you’re writing for – or the people who are going to read or correct your text. They often have an opinion. Your study portal also shows you some of the guidelines you need to observe.

Two examples: MLA and Chicago

Here are two examples of styles which refer to the same source in different manners: MLA and Chicago. As you can see, the elements are the same, but the two systems use italics differently, and the elements are not sequenced in the same order. 



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

Services for reference management

Are you starting a major assignment, and do you want to keep your sources under control right from the start? Try one of the services that manage your references.

A reference management tool can help you to keep control of your references and make sure that everything you reference is automatically placed in your bibliography. At the same time, these services can manage your references according to the standard (e.g. MLA or Chicago) of your choosing. Ultimately, this will save you time because you won’t have to keep track of commas, parentheses, italics etc.

AU gives students and employees free access to a licence-based reference management tool: EndNote

If you are in any doubt about which tool might suit your needs, AU Library has produced an overview of the different reference management tools and their functions. 

Free reference management tools

However, many other free tools exist, and they can be downloaded from the internet. Two free reference management tools are Mendeley and Zotero. They can both import references from AU Library and other sites on the internet – and you also can add sources manually. You can then use them to make references in your text, and you can also use the programs to format your bibliography to comply with many different standards.

Both programs allow you to assign search words to your sources, so you can quickly find sources about a specific topic or subject.

Technischen Universität München has carried out an extensive test of reference management tools including Mendeley, Zotero, EndNote and Refworks, so you can compare the functions of the different programs and find one that suits your needs. However, please note that AU Library does not offer support for the free alternatives.  

Permanent references to electronic sources

If a source exists on the internet, you should write the link of the website in question. The exact way you do this depends on the standard with which you have to comply. This method has a downside – namely that the link only works if the information does not change address.

You can also use a so-called DOI (Digital Object Identifier). If a source has a DOI, it is easy to retrieve it online even if a website changes its name because the DOI system takes this into account.

The content of this page is written by Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media, Arts, Aarhus Universitet in collaboration with Søren Elle, AU Library Arts, Jette Bohn, AU Library Arts, Anders Nyegaard Mikkelsen, former employee at AU Library Campus Emdrup and Jesper Boserup Thestrup, Royal Danish Library.