How to cite

The proper way to cite and refer to sources depends on the reference style you are using. This varies between subjects and disciplines. Some student writers are free to chose, while others are expected to follow a specific style. Check your course pages, ask your lecturer, or explore other students’ assignments. Once you have picked a style, follow it consistently.

You refer correctly by citing the source in the text and giving complete information about the source in the list of references (sometimes called a literature list or a bibliography). If you are referring to a part of the source, your citation should indicate which part of the source you refer to by using page numbers and so on. The different styles of referencing may have varying practices concerning the use of page numbers.

It is not necessary to provide references for absolutely everything, such as common knowledge and your own reflections.


Look at scholarly or scientific articles to see how referencing works in practice. Note that citation standards are often far less stringent in popular publications like newspapers.

What should be referenced?

For all academic content that is not based on your own material, your own reasoning or opinions, the source must be stated in the text and in the reference list. This can, for example, be other people’s arguments, opinions and assessments, numerical material, models, results and conclusions. Remember that all use of figures, tables, sound and images is linked to copyright (see below).

General Truths

General truths do not need reference, such as:

On 17 May 1814, all representatives at Eidsvoll signed a new constitution for the independent state of Norway, and they made Christian Frederik king.

However, if you write about something that is not generally known, you must state where you get the information from.

It can be difficult to assess how far the documentation requirement should go. Uncontroversial claims that are the knowledge base within your subject do not need documentation. If you are in doubt, ask your supervisor. Then you avoid being suspected of plagiarism (see below).


Your own lecture notes are not considered a source, and must not be shown in an assignment. You can of course use your lecture notes for inspiration when you write, but you must work with the material, rewrite it and make it your own.

If the lecturer has made lecture notes/handouts/powerpoint presentations publicly available electronically, you can cite these. As a general rule, it is better to refer to (curriculum) literature. Read carefully: have your lecturers given their sources? In that case, you should use these instead of the lecture note/handout/powerpoint presentation.

Avoid plagiarism or copyright infringement

How to avoid plagiarism? The most important thing is to never cut and paste without stating the source. Reproduce the quote verbatim with quotation marks, or paraphrase (write the content in your own words). Put away the source while you write, so you don’t get hung up on the author’s writing style. Check that the meaning is correct, and show the source as usual. Then you have avoided plagiarism.

Extensive and/or deliberate plagiarism is considered cheating, and will have unfortunate consequences for you as a student. If you are accused of plagiarism - by having copied a work in whole or in part without showing where you got it from - it can delay study progression and, in the worst case, lead to the loss of a study place.

Always show where you got the information or wording from - then you are safe. This also applies to your own work: plagiarism of yourself is also considered plagiarism.

Self-citation or self-plagiarism? Referring to your own work may be necessary to avoid plagiarism, but the fewest assignments are improved by drawing in things you have done in the past. If you don’t miss it, the following advice applies:

You refer to published assignments in the usual way, with author, year, title and publisher.

Unpublished student work can be shown as ’Name (year). Title of the assignment [Unpublished semester assignment or whatever is appropriate]. The name of the educational institution.’

These examples follow APA style.

Certain universities have clear guidelines for self-citation and plagiarism, others do not. Always check with the teacher if you want to re-use previous work.

Video: How to cite sources and avoid plagiarism

Copyright is the right the creator of an intellectual work has to the work. The intellectual work can be a literary, scientific or artistic work, and the creator is called the author. Copyright is regulated in the 2018 Copyright Act, also known as the Intellectual Property Actopen in new window. The main rule in the Copyright Act is that the author has the exclusive right to produce a copy of the work and to make it available to others. This economic right lasts for 70 years after the originator has passed away, and then the work becoms public domain, as it is called.

In addition to the financial right of control that the author has, comes the ideal one - that is, the right to be named and protected against the intellectual work being used in an offensive way. Note that the ideal right does not expire. Violation of applicable copyright rules can have unfortunate consequences. Plagiarism is presenting others’ results, thoughts, ideas or formulations as if they were one’s own. This is considered intellectual theft according to the Copyright Actopen in new window.

For more on copyright, see DelRettopen in new window, which is a public guidance service on copyright.

References and quotations

Academic publications have formal rules for citation and referencing that vary between different fields, journals, and so on. There are, for example, standard abbreviatons that are commonly used in citations.


There are some standard abbreviations that are used when citing sources. Below is a list of some of the most common abbreviations. Remember that all abbreviations should have a period/full stop after them.

  • v. Volume
  • anon. Anonymous. Unknown author
  • c. Circa. Used when approximating a date, for example c.1978
  • et al. And others. Used to shorten a list of authors e.g. Smith et al.
  • ch. Chapter
  • ed(s). Editor(s)
  • p. Page or pp. Pages
  • n.d. No date. Used for sources without a given publication date

Below you will find some examples of direct and indirect citations using the APA style.


When you use an excerpt from a text in your own text, it is a quotation. There are several ways to do this. The examples below are based on the referencing style APA 7th edition.

Direct quotations

In a direct quotation, you reproduce exactly (word for word, including emphasis, etc.) what another author has written. Excerpts consisting of less than 40 words (or three lines) are typed directly into your text and indicated by quotation marks (’blah’ or «blah»).


’Students (and researchers) in the social sciences and humanities must write within an academic genre. The distinctive feature of this genre is discussion’ (Førland, 1996, p.11).

Source: Førland, T.E. (1996). Drøft! Lærebok i oppgaveskriving. Oslo: Gyldendal.

Quotations of more than 40 words (in the APA style) should be placed in their own indented paragraph. In this case, quotation marks are not used.


When citing an author, you may wish to reformulate their ideas using your own words. This form of indirect quotation can help create a better flow in your text. When you paraphrase, you are rephrasing what another author has written. You should change both the words and the word order, and rewrite what they have said using your own language. However, you should be careful that you are not changing the underlying ideas in any way, and that the meaning of the original text is retained.


Førland (1996, p. 11) points out that students within the human sciences must learn to write in an academic genre.

The academic genre is characterised by discussion, and all students with the human sciences must learn to use it according to Førland (1996, p. 11).

Making changes to a quotation

Just as with paraphrasing, sometimes it might be necessary to make smaller changes to a quotation. Examples of such changes might be removing parts that are unnecessary for your argument or adding words to help the reader understand the context of the quote. The main principle when making changes is that all additions or omissions should be emphasised. If you have a long citation with irrelevant passages, it may be appropriate to completely remove parts of the citation. This must be clearly marked, for example with an ellipsis (three dots) in square brackets […] or normal parentheses (…). Omissions of just one or two words can be marked with just an ellipsis and no brackets, while parentheses should be used for longer omissions.


’Students … must write within an academic genre. The distinctive feature of this genre is discussion’ (Førland, 1996, p. 11).

If you want to add or replace something in a citation, this should be highlighted by using brackets.


’Students (and researchers) [in the human sciences] must write within an academic genre’ (Førland, 1996, p.11).

If you add or remove italics in the quotation, add ’emphasis added’ or ’emphasis removed’ after the page number.


’Students (and researchers) in the social sciences and humanities must write within an academic genre. The distinctive feature of this genre is discussion’ (Førland, 1996, p.11, emphasis removed).

In case of errata in the original, this can be marked by the Latin ’[sic.]’, which means ’thus was it written’. Sic. can also mean that the quotation is unusual, but correctly reproduced.

Secondary references

As a rule, you should only cite from works that you have read. However, if the original source is not available, or is written in a language that you do not understand, you can refer to others’ use of it:


Beck and Beck-Gemsheim referenced in Kloster (2003, p.4) talk about three stages that women and men have gone through in the move from a traditional to a modern society. There are three stages that the relationship between women and men have gone through in the move from a traditional to a modern society (Beck & Beck-Gemsheim in Kloster, 2003, p.4).

Notes and appendices

  • Limit use of notes.
  • Notes can be used for additional information that does not fit naturally with the rest of your text. They provide information that is not essential for understanding the main content.
  • You can choose between footnotes at the bottom of a page, or endnotes at the back of the chapter/assignment. Notes are normally set in a smaller font size than the main text.
  • Exactly how you make references to notes will depend on what referencing style you are using.
  • Appendices can be tables or figures which are included in the assignment, questionnaires, observation forms, interview guides and other such additions which are not included in the main body of your text. Appendices must be numbered and included after the reference list.

Tools for managing references

For longer assignments such as a bachelor or master thesis, you may be able to manage your references more effectively with the use of a reference management system such as EndNote, ReferenceManager, Zotero or Mendeley. The reference tool will automatically create a reference list for the references in your text. You can also easily change your choice of referencing style if needed. Check with student services what reference management systems you have access to in your institution. Zotero and Mendeley are free and available to anyone.

Take a quick look at how you can use Zotero:

Exporting your references from a database Instead of copying references, you can often export them directly from the database where you found them. This will simplify the writing process and minimize errors in your referencing.

QUIZ: What type of reference is this?

Unicef (2012, 10 august). Quality of education and child-friendly schooling. Unicef.

0. Book
1. Web page
2. Journal article
3. Chapter in an edited collection
4. E-journal article
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Western Norway University of Applied Sciences
Western Norway University of Applied Sciences
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University of Bergen
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University of Oslo