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RMIT University Library - Learning Lab

Understanding referencing


Why is referencing important?

In ‘western' universities, academic knowledge is built around different and often competing theories. One of the roles of academics/scholars is to research and develop their own theories, which are built on their own analysis and understanding of previous knowledge. The knowledge produced by individual academics is seen as their creation or product and therefore their intellectual property. This means:

  • authors have ‘ownership’ of their own ideas
  • everyone who uses these ideas must acknowledge who owns them. In academic writing this is done by referring to (or referencing) the ‘owner’ or original author.

What is expected of students?

Students are expected to:

  • read widely
  • write about the different theories in their field
  • demonstrate knowledge of these theories as they apply to their assignment topic
  • acknowledge (or reference) the original sources of their information

If students do not acknowledge the authors of their readings it is considered to be plagiarism, a form of cheating.

More information


Watch the videos

Now go to Student stories where international students were asked "Was referencing a new skill for you?"