How to stop sucking at academic referencing thanks to Word

With Microsoft Word being pretty much the ubiquitous document editor for students and teachers, I’m still puzzled to see just how poorly done references can be. What most people don’t realise is that Word isn’t just a basic document editor, but a fully featured academic toolkit. Through my entire university career, people were constantly blown away with how easy referencing can be with Word, compared to the hyperbolized “death trap of tricks” that our lecturers and tutors told us it would be.

If done correctly, references entered into word can follow you throughout your academic career, making every document just that little bit easier to write.

Let’s start off with filling out a new resource. In Word, the resources tab on the top menu will contain everything we need for the rest of the article.

After clicking “Manage Sources” a detailed popup will appear that looks similar to below. Except your left panel will be empty.


Click on “New…” to see the editor view.

The first Item we’re going to add is a book resource. Using the dropdown for “Type of Source”, make sure “Book” is selected. After completing the required fields (Show below) click “OK”. This item should now be added to your master list on the left, and the document list on the right.


We’re now going to add a URL based resource and have a look at the other optional fields. Click on the “New…” button again and select “Web site” from the dropdown.


The Goal with referencing in Word, is to throw it as much information as you can. To help with that, make sure you check “Show All Bibliography Fields” to see what you have to work with. The red asterisks indicate what you HAVE to include as a minimum.

Now, because there’s dozens of different painstaking ways you can write a reference, Word does all the heavy lifting again, giving you a list of options on how to render the information you’ve provided. If you’re not really sure what format to use, APA or Harvard is a solid bet.


Now that you’ve got all your resources added in, the next thing to deal with is inserting the Bibliography / Reference Widget into the page. Click the “Bibliography” button in the “References” menu to see a popup similar to below. Simply click the one you want and it will be inserted into the document at the current position.

If you’ve opted for a reference list, you now need to add in your citations. Again the “References” menu can help with an “Insert Citation” option. It automatically grabs the snippets from all your references and inserts the correctly formatted citation (for your given style) into the document.



The benefit to letting Word manage your resources, is that they’ll always be there and ready to use when you need them. It also takes all of the pain and stress about making the style and formatting changes for each item out of the equation, allowing you to focus 100% on your content!

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