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Chemistry: Citing references

A guide to finding information in chemistry. Includes links to key resources and sources of help.

Whenever you refer to another person's work in your own essay, dissertation or article you must acknowledge them and give full details of your source. You risk being accused of plagiarism if you fail to do so. See the video on Avoiding unintentional plagiarism (below) for tips on using sources in your work and avoiding poor academic practice.

Which referencing style should I use?

The Chemistry Department usually requires students to follow the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) referencing styleConsult the guidance below to discover how to create correct references in this style. 

For further help with formatting your references consult your Academic Liaison Librarian, Jackie Skinner. Email, come to the weekly drop-in, or make an appointment.

How should I use references in my work?

If you are unsure about using references in your work, and whether to use quotes or paraphrase, take a look at this guide:

For further help on using references in your work make an appointment with one of our Study Advisers:

RSC referencing

The Chemistry department usually require students to use the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) style which is a numbered referencing style. There are brief examples of how to reference the most common types of sources below. See also the link below to the RSC's own guide to referencing:

In-text citations - RSC style

In-text citations are given using a superscript numeral i.e. Atkins.1 This is the same for all types of source.

Your citations should be numbered consecutively in the order they are used in the text. If you cite the same source more than once, you should use the same number each time.

Citations can either be placed directly after a word or at the end of a sentence, but should be placed after punctuation i.e. after a comma or full stop.

Here is a short example:

Despite some difficulties,1 this method was proven to be effective.2

Author(s) can be mentioned at their first citation in the text, but this isn't essential. Just use their surnames - no initials. For papers with one or two authors simply mention their names. For those with three or more authors just mention the first one followed by et al. Examples:

Chen and Qi used this method for the first time.3

Zanka et al. used proton-nuclear magnetic resonance to characterise source fingerprints and ageing processes.4

Any figures or images you use from other papers should also include a numerical citation in the caption. These numbers must be part of the sequence you use through the text, and have a full reference in the bibliography at the end.

If you have multiple citations for a piece of information you should list them all.

If you are citing three or more sources at once and the numbers are consecutive, you can separate the first and last sources using a dash i.e. 1–7.

If they are not consecutive or you are citing two sources, you should separate them with commas (no spaces) i.e. 1,5,12 or 7,8.

You can also use a combination of both such as 1,3,5–9.

Here is a typical example:

Such reactions are often rationalised using empirical reactivity rules derived from resonance theory,or calculated properties such as FMOs,6,7 and electrostatic potentials.16–19 

Extract from: J. J. Brown and S.L. Cockroft, Chem. Sci., 2013, 4, 1772-1780.

You can find instructions on creating both superscript and subscript (i.e. H2O) text in Microsoft Office applications via this link:

References - RSC style

At the end of your work, you will need to produce a reference list. This will include full details of all sources you have cited (used) in your text.

  • List your sources numerically in the order you referred to them in your work - not in alphabetical order.
  • All authors must be individually listed for each source, in the format initials followed by surname e.g. R. R. Schrock. You must not use et al. in a reference. If there are two authors, put 'and' between them e.g. T.J. Hebden and Q. Li. If there are more than two, list them all with commas between each and 'and' before the last one.
  • You do not need to include the titles of a journal articles in your references.
  • Journal titles should be written using an abbreviated form (see the 'Journal articles' tab for further information on the form to use).

Guidance on citing the most common types of publication is available via the tabs in this box. For other types of publication see the RSC guide:

Books with a single author should be referenced as:

Author name, Title, Publisher, Place of publication, Edition (if not the first), year.

P. W. Atkins, Chemistry: a Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2015.

Note that every significant word in the title is given an initial capital letter.

Books with multiple authors should be referenced as:

 Author names, Title, Publisher, Place of publication, Edition (if not the first), year.

C. E. Housecroft and A. G. Sharpe, Inorganic Chemistry, Pearson, Harlow, 5th edn., 2018. 

Chapters in edited books should be referenced as:

Chapter Author, in Title of book, ed. Book Editor(s), Publisher, Place of publication, Edition (if not the first), year, chapter number, pages.

M. J. White, in Chemical Information for Chemists: A Primer, ed. J. N. Currano and D. L. Roth, RSC Publishing, Cambridge, 2014, ch. 3, pp.53-90.

Note that 'ed.' to indicate an edited book remains ed. not eds. where there are multiple editors.

Journal articles (online and in print) should be referenced as:

Authors, Abbreviated Journal Title (in italics), year, volume number (in bold), page numbers.

A. K. Gayen, R. Singla and S. Ramakrishnan, Chem. Commun., 2024, 60, 1534-1545.

Note: when using the RSC style, you do not need to include the title of the article.

If there are no page numbers include the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) instead. This may be the case for articles which have been published online but are not yet available in print.

J. Frau and D. Glossman-Mitnik, Chem. Cent. J., 2017, 11, DOI: 10.1186/s13065-017-0239-7.

Search the following database to find the correct abbreviations for journal titles:

If you can't find the journal you want to cite in this list have a look at other titles containing the same words to see how they have been abbreviated and construct a sensible abbreviation. If this isn't possible then cite the full journal title.

Websites should be referenced as:

Name of resource, URL, [month and year you accessed the resource].

ChemSpider,, (accessed May 2022).

Patent references are very short! Include the following:

Country code, patent number, and the date of the patent.

Br. Pat., GB2548342, 2016.
US Pat., 5 057 555, 1991.


Any images, tables or diagrams that are reproduced from another source should be numerically referenced in the figure caption. Numbering should fit in with the existing citations. For example:

Example image showing molecular structures

Figure 1: Electrooxidation of (a) dopamine, (b) ascorbic acid and (c) cholesterol biomolecules.5

Reference list

5. N. Thakur, D. Gupta, D. Mandal and T. C. Nagaiah, Chem. Commun., 2021, 57, 13084-13113.

Reference management tools

Consider using EndNote or Mendeley to manage your references. See the EndNote/Mendeley page in this guide:

Avoiding unintentional plagiarism video

If you are unable to view this video on YouTube it is also available on YuJa - view the Avoiding Unintentional Plagiarism video on YuJa (University username and password required)

Your Chemistry librarian

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Jackie Skinner
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Please contact me if you have a query about literature searching, accessing resources, referencing or using EndNote/Mendeley.

Use the buttons above to email me or make an appointment (in person or online).
Quick query in semester-time? Come along to my weekly drop-in on Tuesdays 13:00-14:00 in Harry Nursten Room 2-64. I am also usually on the Study Advice and Academic Liaison Desk on the Ground Floor of the Library on semester-time Tuesdays 11:00-12:00.