There are many different referencing styles. Queen Margaret University has developed a guide to provide staff and students with a common referencing style called Write and Cite: the QMU guide to the British Standard Harvard 2010 system of referencing.
Some subject areas follow a different referencing style - such as Psychology, which uses the APA referencing style - so it is essential you follow the guidelines in your course handbook.
To give credit to the author of ideas
Referencing is a way of acknowledging the work of others. If we don’t do this, we are plagiarising – making it seem like it’s our idea when it isn’t.
We have to give credit where it is due.
To enable anyone to follow up the ideas
If there is a reference, anyone can go to that source and read the work for themselves. This enables knowledge to be developed and this is why we need to provide enough information in the reference for someone to be able to locate the original, which means: author, title, year, and publisher. (We provide the full reference at the end of our essay.)
To provide evidence for the ideas
Referencing is a way of providing evidence for your claims. At university you are expected to do this. You have to get used to the idea that in order to be persuasive, you must provide evidence. You must say where you got your knowledge from, or someone could ask ‘Says who’?
For example, look at these claims:
In academic life, whoever writes these sentences must say what evidence they have to support them. If you put these sentences in an essay, you have to say what the evidence is for them. At university, we are self-conscious about where knowledge comes from and to get a degree you are supposed to understand where knowledge comes from in your discipline.
So what you have to do is provide references, such as this:
What you are doing when you add the references is saying that you have some support for your claims – it’s not just you saying it, acknowledged experts are saying it.
So, references provide evidence.
Note that we don’t have to provide evidence for generally accepted knowledge, such as:
To show evidence of reading
When you reference someone’s work you are saying that you are familiar with it. When writing an essay it’s a way of showing how widely you have read around the subject. Usually you have to explain the ideas as well as reference them.