How can I create, lay out and order reference lists?

This is the third and final lesson about References and Reference Lists. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.

– Discuss the correct use of reference lists in academia

– Explore how to decide references, display those references and correctly order them in a reference list

– Provide an example reference list to help guide the reader

Lesson 3

Having discussed the intricacies of forming references in Lessons 1 and 2, the third and final lesson of this short course focuses specifically on creating, laying out and ordering references correctly in an academic reference list. After reading through this information, students are recommended to complete our Lesson 3 activities to check their progress and understanding of references and reference lists.

Step 1: Deciding References

When creating a reference list, the first question you should ask yourself is Should I include this particular source in my reference list? Unlike a bibliography, a reference list should only include the sources that you’ve directly cited in your academic research. The general rule then is this: if you didn’t cite it, don’t reference it. However, knowing exactly when to use citations can be challenging for some students, particularly for their first few academic essays. To help you in this area, try carefully studying the table below: 

Step 2: Displaying References

Once you’ve decided precisely which sources are being cited in your essay or presentation, the next step is to consider how you plan on displaying those references within a reference list. The following are four useful strategies that students should attempt to follow.


1. Include a title at the top of your list, such as ‘References’

2. Place your reference list on a fresh blank page at the end of your assignment

3. Start every reference on a new line and consider using hanging indentation to separate those references more clearly

4. Correctly format your references according to the font types, font sizes and spacing requirements of your course


Using our example references from Lesson 1, we’ve created an example reference list for you below that follows all of these requirements:

Step 3: Ordering References

While step two might create a well-presented reference list, it doesn’t inform you about how to correctly order those references. What do you notice when you look carefully at how the references are ordered in our example reference list? Hopefully you can tell that most references are ordered alphabetically from A to Z, with ‘Atkinson’ coming first and ‘Smith’ being placed last. However, when two different references have the same authors, it’s not possible to order them with the alphabet. Consider how the following two references have been ordered:

Clearly, when two sources are authored by the same person (Jones, P.), the next way to order a reference is instead by year of publication. Using a chronological ordering (from youngest to oldest), we can therefore place ‘1999’ before ‘2015’ in the previous example. However, what should students do if both the authors and the year of publication are identical, as in the examples below?

As you can see, both of these sources were published by ‘Smith, R.’ in 2016. To determine their order in a reference list, we must therefore next turn to the alphabetical title of the source, as in ‘A book…’ vs. ‘The referencing…’. Notice also that the lowercase letters ‘a’ and ‘b’ have been used to distinguish these sources, as will also be necessary in the correlating in-text citation: (Smith, 2016a). To make this ordering clearer, we’ve summarised the rules for you in the table below:

Please note: there are many different possible referencing styles such as APA or Chicago. All examples demonstrated in this lesson are of the Harvard Style of referencing as in Cite Them Right.

3 of 3 Lessons Completed


Once you’ve completed all three lessons in this short course about References and Reference Lists, you might then wish to download our Lesson Worksheets to check your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

Lesson 1 explores the topic: What are the many types of academic reference? Our Lesson 1 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Lesson 2 explores the topic: How can I write accurate references in English? Our Lesson 2 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Lesson 3 explores the topic: How can I create, lay out and order reference lists? Our Lesson 3 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

To save yourself 2 Marks, click on the button below to gain unlimited access to all of our References and Reference Lists Lesson Worksheets. This All-in-1 Pack includes every lesson, activity and answer key related this topic in one handy and professional PDF.


There are currently no PowerPoint activities, additional teacher resources or audio and video recordings created for this topic. Please come back again next semester.


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