Sometimes assumed as easily learnt, or perhaps increasingly redundant in the digital age, the skill of academic referencing can be overlooked. For students, however it can be a cause of anxiety and confusion, an “obscure academic practice” (Gravett & Kinchin, 2021).

In reality the practice of referencing and attribution is a core information literacy skill and central to academic integrity. For new students, understanding how to read and write a citation is a key step to building their understanding of how information is organised and communicated. It is also core to ethical and scholarly communication. Knowing when and how to acknowledge another’s intellectual property is a skill that will follow a student throughout their life and career.

The outcomes of an Academic Integrity Task Force sponsored Referencing Project highlighted that there was an opportunity to improve the way referencing practice is supported and developed at Macquarie to reduce the complexity and confusion that many students at Macquarie report. The project identified three main ways to provide an improved, coordinated and consistent approach to the referencing practice taught at Macquarie from 2024.

3 ways to improve referencing practice

1. Select a referencing style from the suite endorsed by the University

Macquarie has endorsed five internationally recognised and authoritative styles for use. This approach has been taken by a number of universities to reduce a layer of complexity and enable students to focus on the principles of attribution rather than learning the multiple variations of styles.

The following styles have been identified for use and support:

1. APA7
2. AGLC4
3. Vancouver
5. Chicago17 (A -footnote)

These styles are internationally recognised and have an authoritative single-source-of-truth. They also cover the disciplinary requirements taught at Macquarie.

A “Harvard” style is not endorsed

We can see from student feedback that using the “Harvard” style causes unnecessary complexity and confusion as there is no one defined “Harvard” style manual, and a number of variations are readily available. The Referencing Project’s iLearn sampling survey identified at least six versions of Harvard in use. An environmental scan identified that this is a pain point across the sector with a number of institutions also moving away from Harvard towards APA7 as the preferred Author-Date style.

2. Ensure that every unit or assessment provides clear advice and guidelines regarding the referencing requirements

Students indicated, and the literature supports (Gravett & Kinchin, 2021), that they want specific direction as to which style to use. Clear advice aligns with the Assessment Procedure which specifies that “assessment tasks and associated instructions will be clearly worded and contain no ambiguities… resources required for the completion of the assessment are accessible and available” (Clause 10, 11)

3. Refer students to quality MQ guides and authoritative manuals

Students were very clear that they want to be referred to a Macquarie support or guideline, and not to resources produced by other universities. The Library is creating a new suite of online Referencing Guides to support the five endorsed styles. A link to these guides will be built into the iLearn top menu for easy access.

A new APA7 Guide (beta) has been developed with student and academic input. Academic Writer, a resource produced by the American Psychological Association, is also available for comprehensive style advice and includes many teaching resources and support material.

New MQ guides for the other endorsed referencing styles will be ready for use by early February 2024, and student communications will be sent at the start of Session 1.

For more information about the cross-campus Referencing Project, please contact Susan Vickery, Director of Academic Library Services at, or Vanessa Todd, Digital Literacies Program Manager at

Gravett, K. & Kinchin, I.M. (2021) The role of academic referencing within students’ identity development, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45(3), 377-388. DOI:10.1080/0309877X.2020.1766665

Banner image: Photo by Obak on Shutterstock
Screen shot provided by Susan Vickery

Posted by Teche Editor

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