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How to cite

You refer correctly by indicating the source in the text and giving complete information about the source in the reference list. Your sources should be given in such a way as to let the reader retrieve them easily. To follow correct referencing practice you need to mention the source in the text and provide complete information about the source in a reference list (sometimes called a literature list or a bibliography). Proper use of references allows the readers to locate your sources, either to read them or to evaluate your interpretation. If you are refering to a part of the source, your citation should indicate which part of the source you refer to by using pagenumbers. The different styles of referencing may have varying practices concerning the use of pagenumbers, you should adhere to the usage in your field.

You don’t need to give references to absolutely everything. Read more under What to cite?

Find out what reference style is generally used in your field and use it consistently throughout your thesis. A reference style is a standardised way of presenting information about your sources.

TIP! 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 such as newspapers.

References and quotations

Academic publications have formal rules for citation and referencing that vary between different fields, journals, etc. There are for example standard abbreviations that are commonly used in citations. Below you will find some examples of direct and indirect citations using the Harvard style.

Direct quotations

A direct quotation reproduces someone else’s words exactly as they were written or spoken. Remember that direct quotations must either be enclosed within quotation marks or indented (depending on their length).

EXAMPLE: “The single life that exists in late modern society may be perceived as forming part of such a democratic culture. One may say that it is an effect of the democratisation of the private sphere” (Kloster, 2003, p. 10).

Mark changes in citations

Different styles have different rules, but the main principle is that all additions or exclusions in a quotation shall be marked in one way or another. If you have a long quotation including some irrelevant parts it might make sense to exclude some parts. This has to be marked clearly with for example three dots in square brackets […] or regular parenthesis (…). A one- or two-word exclusion can be marked with … (ellipsis), whereas parenthesis is used for longer exclusions.

EXAMPLE: “The single life … may be perceived as forming part of such a democratic culture” (Kloster, 2003, p. 10).

If you want to add or replace something in a quotation, you mark this by using square brackets. Example: “The single life that exists in late modern [western] society may be perceived as forming part of such a democratic culture” (Kloster, 2003, p. 10).

It might also be relevant to remove or add italics in a longer quotation. This should be mentioned in the reference. Example: “The single life that exists in late modern society may be perceived as forming part of such a democratic culture” (Kloster, 2003, p. 10, emphasis added).

In the case of typos 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.

Indirect quotations (paraphrasing)

Paraphrasing involves reformulating someone else’s words. You should preferrably change both vocabulary and word order, and rewrite it using your own words. Be careful, however, not to distort the original meaning.

EXAMPLE: Kloster (2003, p. 10) writes in her master thesis that the single life that exists in late modern society is a consequence of the democratisation of the private realm.

Secondary references

Secondary references refer to a work that you have not read, but that is discussed in a text that you have read. In general, you should only cite works that you have read. In a few cases, however, it may be necessary to refer to another scholar’s discussion of a text:

EXAMPLE: “Beck and Beck-Gemsheim, referred to by Kloster (2003, p. 4), speak of three stages that the female-male relationship has gone through in the move from traditional to modern society.”

List of references

Start collecting your references as soon as possible and find a good system for filing them. If you only expect to use a few references, you can create a document called “List of references” in which you paste the references you want to keep. Collecting all your references in one place makes it easier to keep track of them, even if you do not use all of them in the end. It may also be a good idea to save keywords and search histories for previous searches and in the same document.

Your list of references (or bibliography) is placed after the main text of your thesis. It must contain all the details needed to retrieve the sources referred to. The appearance of your list of references will depend on the reference style you use. All sources referred to in your text must be included in your list of references.

Also non-written sources you have used, for example music, pictures and illustrations need to be referenced. If you have many of them it may be clearest to group them separately, under a header such as “List of illustrations” or “Discography”.


What type of reference is this?

Unicef (10 August 2012). Quality of education and child-friendly schooling [Internet], Unicef. Available from: http://www.unicef.org/education/bege_61667.html [Accessed 02 April 2013].
Morgan, D. (2012) The Embodied Eye: Religious Visual Culture and the Social Life of Feeling. Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press.
Orsi, R. A. (2009) Abundant History: Marian Apparitions as Alternative Modernity. In: Hermkens, A.-K., Jansen, W. & Notermans, C. ed. Moved by Mary: The Power of Pilgrimage in the Modern World. Farnham and Burlington, Ashgate, p. 215-238.
Minten, B., Sander, K. & Stifel, D. (2013) Forest management and economic rents: Evidence from the charcoal trade in Madagascar. Energy for Sustainable Development [Internet], 17 (2) April, p. 106-115. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0973082612000543 [Accessed 03 April 2013].
Langdale, A. (1998) Aspects of the Critical Reception and Intellectual History of Baxandall´s Concept of the Period Eye. Art History, 21 (4), p. 479-497.
Pope, B. C. (1987) Immaculate and Powerful: The Marian Revival in the Nineteenth Century. In: Buchanan, C. H., Atkinson, C. W. & Miles, M. R. ed. Immaculate and Powerful. London, Crucible, p. 173-199.

This is a chapter in an edited book (collection). The author(s) of the chapter is listed at the beginning of the reference. The editor(s) is listed after the chapter-title. The pages of the chapter are listed at the end of the reference.

Example: list of references

This list of references below uses the Harvard-style to provide references to books, journals, theses, images and electronic documents. The references are ordered alphabetically.


Beck, U. & Beck-Gemsheim, E. (1995) The normal chaos of love. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Dretske, F. I. (1993) Conscious experience. Mind, 102 (406), p. 263-283.
Kloster, K. (2003) Singelliv: i grenselandet mellom enslighet og parforhold. Master thesis, Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, University of Bergen, Bergen.
Munch, E. (1893) The Scream. Oslo, National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, NG.M.00939, photographs by Jacques Lathio.
Rognstad, O-A., Nagel, A-H., Laupsa, H. & Tønnesson, J. L. (2006) God skikk – Om bruk av litteratur og kilder i allmenne, historiske framstillinger. Available at: <http://uit.no/getfile.php?PageId=5839&FileId=38> [ Retrieved on 28 November 2007].

Reference management tools

When working on a long text such as a bachelor’s or master’s thesis, reference management programs such as EndNote, ReferenceManager, Zotero or Mendeley are useful. A reference list can be created automatically from the citations in your text when such a program is used together with a word processor. You can also easily change to a different reference style if necessary.

Ask your institution what reference management software is available. Zotero and Mendeley are freely available.

Exporting your references

Instead of copying and pasting your references, you can usually export them from the database you are searching in. Most databases such as Oria, JSTOR, Bibliotekportalen and Web of Science have an export function that can be used to streamline your writing process and help you avoid referencing errors.


  • Limit the use of footnotes.
  • Footnotes should be used to provide additional information that is not a natural part of the text. In other words, for information that is not essential for understanding your text.
  • You can decide to use either footnotes (which go at the bottom of the page) or endnotes (at the end of each chapter or at the end of the text as a whole). If you decide to use footnotes, it is good practice to use a small font to distinguish them from the main text.
  • Be careful not to confuse references to your list of reference with the references to footnotes or endnotes.
  • Precisely how you indicate references to footnotes or endnotes will often depend on the reference style you use. For example, if you use numbered references, it is not a good idea to use numbers to refer to footnotes.
  • Appendices can contain lists of items such as tables and figures included in your dissertation, questionnaires, observation forms, interview guidelines and so on. Appendices should be numbered and placed after the list of references.

Distortion of the original meaning

Even when you are quoting a text correctly (citing the source/indicating the presence of a quotation), be careful not to take the quotation out of its original context. Apart from ethical considerations, you will risk violating the Copyright Act, as Section 25 of the Act provides, among other things, that the character of a work must not be changed or degraded. Be careful not to distort the original meanings of texts when you are assembling arguments put forward by different authors. For example, be careful when shortening quotations and do not omit references to conflicting data or arguments.


Read and compare the text in the boxes

  • Reflect on how the citation which is done conflicts with discipline methodology and the Intellectual Property Act.

Bittersøtt (Bittersweet) by Willy Pedersen is based on a qualitative research project containing interview materials on youth’s views on smoking hashish:

– How do you experience smoking hashish?
– It is fucking good. Fun. You enter yourself and become one with everything. Everything is cool. Fantasy, dreams and all sorts of interesting stuff.
You get fucking hungry. Eating kick. And the fits of laughter.
– You also seem a bit sceptical to smoking hashish?
– Problem is that you get a fucking bad emotional life from being on the road. You never cry. You almost never feel sad. If you are with a girl and she dumps you, you think: What the hell?

In the chapter “På kjøret” in Historien om Norge V (The history of Norway V) by Karsten Alnes, this content is represented like this:

Why did they smoke hashish?
« It is fucking good. Fun. You enter yourself and become one with everything. Everything is cool. Fantasy, dreams and all sorts of interesting stuff. You get fucking hungry. Eating kick. And the fits of laughter.You never cry. You almost never feel sad. If you are with a girl and she dumps you, you think: What the hell?’»

For a more elaborate analysis, see Rognstad, Nagel, Laupsa & Tønnesson (2006) God skikk – Om bruk av litteratur og kilder i allmene, historiske framstillinger (p. 120). (In Norwegian only.)

Last updated: August 30, 2019

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