Powerbase:A Guide to Referencing

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What is referencing?

Referencing is when you acknowledge sources of information that you have used to write your essay or dissertation. When you refer to someone else’s work in your essay, you are citing that work.

Why should I reference?

There are a number of reasons why you should reference the sources you use:

  • To avoid plagiarism - this is when you use someone's ideas or work without acknowledgment
  • To show the authority on which you base your arguments
  • To enable others to find your sources

When should I reference?

You should include a reference every time you quote, paraphrase (i.e. write someone's information in your own words), summarise or gain ideas from another person's work. You should include a reference no matter what format the work takes (e.g. web page, journal article, email or diagram).

Components of a reference

There are several different referencing systems and it does not matter which you use. Regardless of the system you choose to use, references for books and journals will generally require a selection of the following components:

  • Author(s) / Editor(s)
  • Title (book/chapter/journal/article)
  • Edition
  • Place of publication (though this is becoming optional as the publishing world becomes less localised)
  • Publisher
  • Year of publication
  • Volume number, issue number/month
  • Page(s)

Electronic and specialist materials will have additional referencing components e.g. the URL and date accessed for websites.

SpinProfiles's referencing policy

SpinProfiles's purpose is to expose manipulation of information and therefore we need to be extra careful in what information we use, how we use it and where we get it from. It is extremely important to provide references that are as authoritative as possible. Try to use primary materials where possible – original sources as opposed to secondary reports – and information that is up to date as possible. If the issue is very contentious, try to reference from more than once source.

SpinProfiles is strictly referenced. This means that every piece or set of information in an article should be accompanied by a reference or weblink to an authoritative source for that information. The link should be provided in two places: as a plain numbered reference link immediately after the sentence or paragraph containing the assertion, such as this link [1], and as a full citation in the References section at the end of the article. If done correctly, placing the source in the main body of the text will automatically see it listed in the references section.

Some basic guidelines

  • In referencing websites, reference links should point directly to the relevant page on the website. It is not enough to give a link to the homepage. The aim is to make it as easy as possible for readers to verify assertions in articles.
  • Consider the authoritativeness of the external website when giving a citation. For example, many Wikipedia articles are themselves poorly referenced, and so Wikipedia is not considered an authoritative source for external references.
  • If you fail to provide adequate and convenient references for your article or contribution, expect it to be heavily edited down by other users or SpinProfiles editors, relocated to the 'talk' page pending verification, or deleted altogether. It is your job to bring your contributions up to the required referencing standard.

People will only use information from SpinProfiles if they feel confident that it’s well sourced and can check out the source if needed. So it’s important for authors to reference the source of each piece or set of information. See A Guide to Sourcing for more details.

With this kind of resource, it is not necessarily a strength to make it seem as if you have originated information or analysis yourself, so please be generous to your sources and give them full credit.

Referencing controversial views or information to another source is not a protection against being sued, but the more you back up your argument with well referenced material, the less chance there is of being sued. See SpinProfiles Libel Policy for more details.

All editors on SpinProfiles are required to read and understand SpinProfiles Libel policy.
If you have not already done so - Do It Now!

Please reference with more than just a weblink, as many of the links in older articles are now dead and there is no further information in the article or notes regarding the source. In such cases, especially where the information quoted is controversial, anyone reading the article will simply discount the information as lacking credibility. If we give a complete set of information in the reference, then even if the weblink is dead, people will be able to google the information in the reference and will often find a live link.

Old and new style referencing

In SpinProfiles you will find 2 methods of referencing: An older method of formatting which adds references to External Links and a newer method which automatically adds the reference to a references section at the bottom of the page.

Old style referencing (please do not use in new articles)

The original older format used was by (i) embedding external links in the body text or (ii) by adding references to the "External Links" section, like this:

(i) Embedding external links in the body text
What you put in (in the body text):
Body text blah blah... CropLife International has six regional nodes, including [http://www.croplifeamerica.org/ CropLife America], [http://www.croplifeasia.org/ CropLife Asia] and the [http://www.ecpa.be/website/index.asp European Crop Protection Association] (ECPA). Continue body text...
What you get:
Body text blah blah... CropLife International has six regional nodes, including CropLife America, CropLife Asia and the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA). Continue body text...
(ii) Adding references to an External Links section
What you put in:
'''External Links'''
Paul Hutcheon, "[http://www.sundayherald.com/53711 Sleaze probe into nuclear lobbying at Holyrood]", ''Sunday Herald'', 22 January 2006.
What you get:
External Links
Paul Hutcheon, "Sleaze probe into nuclear lobbying at Holyrood", Sunday Herald, 22 January 2006.

Since SpinProfiles was first launched, the MediaWiki software has been upgraded. One of the new features allows a slightly modified version of reference style above to be added at the relevant point in the text. In conjunction with the creation of a new section for References before the "External Links" section at the foot of the page, this automatically indexes all the references. Over time we aim to convert old article references over to the new system.

New style referencing (please use in new articles)

This new method is how referencing should be done in SpinProfiles.

Step 1

Add <ref>Paul Hutcheon, "[http://www.sundayherald.com/53711 Sleaze probe into nuclear lobbying at Holyrood]", (2006), Sunday Herald, 22 January, accessed 12 November 2008</ref> at the appropriate point in the text. The appropriate point is in the body of the text you are writing.

When positioning the reference, consider: "Is it clear what information this reference is a source for?" If it's for a quote, then place it at the end of the quote. If it's for a bulk of text that has been paraphrased from a source, then it would be helpful to make reference to the source and add it there. For example:

Paul Hutcheon, writing in the Sunday Herald <ref>Paul Hutcheon, "[http://www.sundayherald.com/53711 Sleaze probe into nuclear lobbying at Holyrood]", (2006), Sunday Herald, 22 January, accessed 12 November 2008</ref>, reports that...

When saved it will look like this:

Paul Hutcheon, writing in the Sunday Herald [2], reports that...

The details of the reference will automatically go to the Notes section at the foot of the page.

If you go on to refer to the source again (for example, in the next paragraph) add something along the lines of 'The report continues by stating...' This makes it clear that you are still representing Hutcheon's views, and not necessarily your own.

There are no hard and fast rules for how to do this. It will depend upon your preferred style. But once you've written your piece, give a moment's thought to readers who have no knowledge of where the information has come from and ensure that it is clear.

Step 2

Check the bottom of the page to make sure there is a Reference section. On a new page or where there is only an "External Links" section, you will need to create a new section for the references to appear.

This is done by adding Notes (enclosed in two sets of == to make the sub-heading). Then add <references/>. The Notes coding goes just above the Categories coding. So the bottom of your page should look like this:



[[Category:Category name here]][[Category:Another category name]]

What if I'm adding to a page that has references in the old format?

Add your new material using the new format. If the article is reasonably short, you could convert some or all of the other references to the new format.

If you don't have the time, that's OK. Over time we aim to convert old references to the new system.

What information should be included in the reference?

Each article should include a list of quoted references at the bottom, including as much information as possible about the reference as well as a weblink if possible. Please do not just provide a weblink as these change and it is then difficult to find the source unless other information is given.

Reference examples

In the examples that follow, the non-web examples are in the Harvard referencing style. The web examples are an adaptation of this style that suits the SpinProfiles wiki software.

You do not have to use Harvard style but whichever style you choose, please be consistent and ensure that all the information needed is included.

Put the titles of magazines, books, journals, and newspapers in italics. Titles of articles, papers, TV and Radio programmes, and talks, go in double inverted commas.

Book: single author

Blaxter, E., (2006), Creating References. Glasgow, University of Strathclyde

Book: 2-3 authors

Blaxter, E. and Wood, M., (2006), Creating References. Glasgow, University of Strathclyde

Book: 4 or more authors

Blaxter, E. et al., (2006), Creating References. Glasgow, University of Strathclyde

Book: no author

Creating References (2006). Glasgow, University of Strathclyde

Book: edited

Blaxter, E. (ed.), (2006), Creating References. Glasgow, University of Strathclyde

Book: article or chapter in edited book

Blaxter, E., (2005), “Subject searching techniques”, in Wood, M. (ed.), Conquering the Information World, London, Hard Work Press, pp. 50-69

Book: e-book

Blaxter, E., (2006), [http://www.netlibrary.com/bookid=26849 Creating References]. Glasgow, University of Strathclyde (accessed 30 October 2006)

Journal, magazine, or newspaper: article with author

Blaxter, E., (2005), “Subject searching techniques”, Journal of Library Skills, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 10-19

Journal, magazine, or newspaper article with author, that also is available on WWW

What you type:

Blaxter, E., (2005), “[http://www.netlibrary.com/bookid=26849 Subject searching techniques”], ''Journal of Library Skills'', Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 10-19 (accessed 30 October 2006)

What you get:

Blaxter, E., (2005), “Subject searching techniques”, Journal of Library Skills, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 10-19 (accessed 30 October 2006)

Journal, magazine, or newspaper: article without author

“Subject searching techniques” (2005), Journal of Library Skills, Vol.30, No.2, pp. 10-19

Document on WWW with author

What you type:

Blaxter, E., (2006), "[http://www.lib.strath.ac.uk/bib.htm Creating references]", University of Strathclyde website (accessed 30 October 2006)

What you get:

Blaxter, E., (2006), "Creating references" University of Strathclyde website (accessed 30 October 2006)

Document on WWW without author

What you type:

"[http://www.lib.strath.ac.uk/bib.htm Creating references]" (2006). University of Strathclyde website (accessed 30 October 2006)

What you get:

"Creating references" (2006). University of Strathclyde website (accessed 30 October 2006)

Document on WWW without date

What you type:

Blaxter, E., (undated), "[http://www.lib.strath.ac.uk/bib.htm Creating references]" (accessed 30 October 2006)

What you get:

Blaxter, E., (undated), "Creating references" (accessed 30 October 2006)


What you type:

"[http://www.lib.strath.ac.uk/podcast/ref.htm Getting it referenced, getting it right]" (2006), podcast radio programme, Glasgow, Andersonian Radio, 30 October (accessed 1 November 2006)

What you get:

"Getting it referenced, getting it right" (2006), podcast radio programme, Glasgow, Andersonian Radio, 30 October (accessed 1 November 2006)

Email discussion lists

What you type:

Blaxter, E., (2006), “[http://www.lib.strath.ac.uk/discuss_archives/2006.html Using the Harvard system]”, Library Skills discussion list, 30 October (accessed 1 November 2006)

What you get:

Blaxter, E., (2006), “Using the Harvard system”, Library Skills discussion list, 30 October (accessed 1 November 2006)

Referencing the spoken word

The SpinProfiles policy on sourcing from speeches given at public meetings and from telephone conversations is in the Guide to Sourcing.

Please write down and quote the speaker's actual words and keep your notes filed away. Reference the quote as follows:

Speaking at the 2006 BigBio conference, Joe Bloggs said, "Transgenic contamination of organic crops is about as likely as getting pregnant from a toilet seat."<ref>Joe Bloggs, speaking at the BigBio Conference in Chicago, USA, 12-17 April 2006, witnessed by Jane Smith, who was present.</ref>

If possible, add a weblink to show that Bloggs spoke at the meeting:

Speaking at the 2006 BigBio conference, Joe Bloggs said, "Transgenic contamination of organic crops is about as likely as getting pregnant from a toilet seat."<ref>Joe Bloggs, speaking at the BigBio Conference in Chicago, USA, 12-17 April 2006, witnessed by Jane Smith, who was present. Bloggs is listed as a speaker at the BigBio Conference on the [http://www.bigbio.org BigBio website], accessed November 2008.<ref>

"Subscription-only" resources

Some online resources require a subscription (especially trade journals). If so, make this clear in the citation:

"Transcript to VNR Teleconference", (2005), O'Dwyers PR Daily, March 17 (sub req'd.)

However, some subscription-only articles can be found elsewhere on the web. A simple way to check for this is to search Google for the article's title, or a phrase from the article text. If so, provide a link.

What you type:

Jonathan Leake and Dan Box, "[http://www.newstatesman.com/Ideas/200505230004 The nuclear charm offensive]", (2005), ''New Statesman'', May 23. Subscription req'd after first page view. Available without restrictions at the [http://afr.com/articles/2005/05/26/1116950813750.html Australian Financial Review].

What you get:

Jonathan Leake and Dan Box, "The nuclear charm offensive", (2005), New Statesman, May 23. Subscription req'd after first page view. Available without restrictions at the Australian Financial Review.

Adding a country to publication references

Where the name of the publication is not well known or where there are a number of publications in different countries with the same title, consider adding where the publication you are referring to is published. For example, The Independent (UK) to distinguish it from other publications with the same title elsewhere.

Articles not available online

Earlier newspaper and magazine articles or other publications that are not readily available online for general users can still be cited.

Edition details matter

Edition details matter - often a story will be included in one edition of the same day's publication and not in another.

Avoid Latin

Please avoid Latin tags in references such as "Op. cit." (work previously cited) and "Ibid." (same as preceding reference), for two reasons. One, we are writing for the general public as well as academics, and these tags can be off-putting. And two, it's very likely that articles will be added to by other authors, and they will add their own references. This could instantly make references such as "Op. cit." and "Ibid." confusing or plain incorrect.

Therefore, please repeat any reference in full each time you cite it. This may seem clumsy at first glance, but it produces the clearest results for the reader in multi-authored articles. And for the author, it's just a matter of copying and pasting, and if necessary changing a page number.


There are two things that may happen if you don't quite get the coding right.

  • If you add the opening <ref> tag but don't include the "/" in the </ref> second one, when you preview or save the rest of the text on the page after the ref tag will disappear. Don't panic. Just add the "/" in the second ref tag and all will be restored.
  • If, when creating the new "References" section at the foot of the page, you omit the / from the <references/> command you will get the following error message
"Cite error 5; Invalid <references> tag; no input is allowed, use <references/>"

Again, you just need to go back and add the missing "/" and all will be fixed.

Finding permanent links to news sources

  • CongressDaily stories: CongressDaily is a valuable source of detailed information about the actions of the U.S. Congress. However, it is also very expensive and its articles are generally behind a paywall, preventing most citizen editors from being able to read the full article. Government Executive, however, often reprints articles on its website, which is not behind a paywall. Before linking to CongressDaily as a source, check the Government Executive site for a link to a copy of the story.
  • Yahoo! News stories: Yahoo! news links expire quickly—months, weeks or even days after being posted—leaving articles to which they are attached orphaned, particularly if only the article's URL is posted as a source. When Yahoo! links are included in the External Links section accompanied by an article title, that also often ends in futility later to locate another active link for the reference. Yahoo!, as do others using wire service reports, frequently slightly or greatly alters the original article title, making it most often impossible to locate a replacement source for the article.
  • Often, blogs follow the same practice of posting the Yahoo! news links within cited material. Linking to a blog which has as its sole source a Yahoo! news link will also result in an inactive link in the future, rendering the quoted material without a source and unreliable, as well.
  • Although the WaybackMachine and other archive sources are valuable tools, they cannot locate expired Yahoo! links. Once the article disappears from Yahoo!'s cache, neither a Yahoo! or a Google search will be able to find the link.
  • Google news stories: The most reliable way to ensure that news articles do not end up with inactive links (and sans a reliable source for the information to which the URL was attached) is to use a Google search to find a more reliable source for the article.
  • Note that weblinks to articles published by The New York Times and Yahoo! often expire (or are archived for $$$) within a very short time.
  • However, you can use the New York Times link generator to find permanent, non-pay links for older New York Times stories.
  • Many of the same articles posted in the New York Times are cross-posted at the more reliable International Herald Tribune.
  • Note that The Washington Times daily news links have a short expiration date. An archived link can be accessed via WaybackMachine.org.
  • Significant article links are often buried several pages deep, however, and searching beyond the first five, ten, twenty or more pages of search results may be necessary to arrive at a "gem".
  • Breitbart: Breitbart provides links to breaking news
  • BuzzFlash: BuzzFlash provides links to current headline news and blog articles, as well as its own articles and provides a news alert service.
  • Ice Rocket: The Ice Rocket search engine accesses blogs, the web, MySpace, and news links. A word of caution is necessary, though, regarding blogs: unless you are familiar with a particular blog, tread carefully, as spyware, adware, malware and trojans may be lurking there. The same applies to MySpace pages.

Referencing news agencies / wire services

The Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), Reuters, All Headline News, BusinessWire, ChristianNewsWire, Agence France Presse (AFP), PR Newswire, U.S. Newswire, Market Wire, etc., are wire services. They are not publications although each has its own news website. Articles may be written by a wire service reporter but when an article is used by a publication, that reporter's name may or may not remain attached. Additionally, often a wire service is not referenced at the top of an article but reference to it as the or one of the sources for an article is often located at the end of or below an article.

The original wire service author's name may not appear anywhere in the article itself or it may be mentioned in the credit line at the bottom or below the article. This is frequently the case for wire service articles cited by online news journals, international publications and blog and forum entries, especially where no other attribution has been noted.

Referencing primary rather than secondary sources

Reference primary rather than secondary sources for facts and quotes. If no primary source is given for a fact or quote, avoid using it. For web sources such as Sourcewatch, GMWatch, Lobbywatch, and Corporate Watch, reference the primary source given by those websites where possible. You can use analysis from those sources, but attribute the analysis to the source.

Saving copies of the original article

Often link addresses will change. Sometimes media releases will be removed from a website because of content that was later considered embarrassing. Sometimes entire sites will be removed. If a reference is critical to an article and you think there is a chance it might be removed later, it is worth saving a copy of the original page to your hard drive. (For example, you could save it as an Acrobat pdf file complete with the original web address and the date that you saved it). While there are Internet archives, they don't catch everything.

Referencing books

When citing passages from a book, especially one not searchable online via Google books, reference it as for a newspaper article that is not available online.

It is worth stressing that when citing a page number check whether there was more than one edition of the book and, if so, state which edition you are citing. Page numbering differs between editions for a range of reasons including revisions in later editions, deletions for legal reasons in one country or printing on slightly different format paper in one country. If a book was published in both softback and hardback it is worth identifying which one you are citing.

Evaluating sources

SpinProfiles policy on what is a reputable source outlines some guidelines to consider when choosing your sources.

When it comes to the use of blogs, it is useful to remember that these are essentially viewed as 'opinion' pieces, rather than facts. This does not mean they are without use, as a fact referred to in a blog can be used, but it is best to do a quick search to find a more reliable source to quote from. As with all sources, a primary source would be best. Below are a few other considerations in relation to blogs:

  • Not always a problem: Blogs and other amateur sources: Reporting that uncovers new and valuable information is done on blogs and other sites that are written by people with a distinct point of view. These include pieces in magazines that have ideological points of view (including the Washington Monthly and the National Review as well as some blogs like Talking Points Memo. It is best to find a source that has an established, independent point of view in order to aid other editors in quickly evaluating the reliability of your additions. However, sometimes a "biased" source is simply the best one.
  • Not a problem: Rhetoric and opinion in a source: While the opinions from people/blogs that have a distinct point of view should not be treated as facts, there are two types of information you can glean from them:
    1. Definite, incontrovertible statements of fact like a quote or action. Not to be confused with a characterization of something, which is basically an opinion.
    2. Documentation that the writer of the piece said something. Sometimes when reporting on writings by pundits or reporters it is useful to document that they said something, in which case their "biased" piece is the primary source.
  • Not a problem: Profanity in sources: In the blogosphere particularly, authors sometimes use profanity. While it is best to link to a source that does not contain profanity in order to protect other editors who are checking your work from having to be exposed to it unwillingly, sometimes a source that includes profanity is simply the best one.

Inaccuracies and complaints

It is the intention of this site to provide factually correct information that is referenced to a high standard. Whilst we undertake our own fact checking and encourage all our users to do so, it is not possible to check all the original references used on this site.

If anyone believes that information on Spinprofiles is not factually correct or contains significant errors, we will try to correct it as soon as possible. Please email with as much detail and supporting material as possible to management AT spinprofiles.org


  1. Kevin Maguire and Ewen MacAskill, Fundraiser's role as envoy under attack, The Guardian, 1 October 2001.
  2. Paul Hutcheon, "Sleaze probe into nuclear lobbying at Holyrood", (2006), Sunday Herald, 22 January, accessed 12 November 2008