Reading your reading list and recognising references

Got your reading list but not sure what you’re being asked to read (is it a book, is it an article, is it a bird, is it a plane…)? Or are you just not sure how you’re meant to search for and find these items in the Library (in print or online)?


Being unsure about this is very common for new students so you’re not alone but if you can learn how to read your reading list and recognise references now it will make you more confident using the Library and will save you a lot of time and effort in your studies. And these skills will be of use to you at all stages of your University life and beyond.

What’s in a reading list?

Reading lists are just lists of essential, recommended or further readings for your course. They can include a wide range of material including books, book chapters, journal articles, documentaries, films, newspaper articles, websites, blogs, etc., but I am going to concentrate on the 3 most common:

  • Book
  • Book chapter
  • Journal article

Want to watch a short video about this instead? Reading your reading list (UoE students and staff only) was put together for the Medieval Worlds course, example references used are specific to that course.

Book reference:

A.A.M. Duncan, Scotland: the making of the kingdom (Edinburgh, 1992).

Author, Title of book (Place of publication, year of publication).

The title of the book will normally be italicised while the author will normally appear at the beginning of the reference (sometimes the surname will appear first, Duncan, A.A.M.) Some references will also give the edition and publishers name.

  • To find items in the Library (either print or online) use DiscoverEd.

DiscoverEdLogoWoBWebUse keywords from the title and authors name for your search.
Or click on Advanced Search in DiscoverEd and search by title and/or author.


Book chapter:

David d’Avray, ‘Symbolism and Medieval Religious Thought’, in Linehan and Nelson (eds.), The Medieval World (London, 2001), pp. 267-78*

Author of chapter, ‘Chapter title’, in author/editor(s), Title of book (Place of publication, year of publication), chapter page numbers.

The author and title of chapter appear first, with the chapter title often within ‘single quotation marks’. The reference tells you that the chapter is IN and then gives details of the book itself, similarly laid out as the book reference. You will also be given the chapter page numbers (or sometimes chapter number) to help you find it in the book.

  • Look out for use of “in” and the page numbers to help you distinguish that this is a reference for a book chapter and not a book.

DiscoverEdLogoWoBWebUse keywords from the book title and book author/editors name for your search. Or use Title and/or author/creator in Advanced Search.

If you try searching DiscoverEd for the chapter title or author of chapter then you will generally not find it. Search for the book itself.


Journal article:

Jackson, R.V., ‘Rates of industrial growth during the industrial revolution’, Economic
History Review, 45 (1992): 1-23.

Author of article, ‘Title of article’, Journal Title, volume number (year): article page numbers.

The title of the article will normally appear within ‘single quotation marks’ and the journal title is italicised. A volume number (and sometimes individual issue number) and year of publication are provided to help locate the specific article, as are the page numbers.

  • Compared to a book chapter reference, a journal article will only mention one author, it will normally not use “in” and no place of publication or publishers will be mentioned. A volume number and sometimes an issue number will also be provided.

DiscoverEdLogoWoBWebUse keywords from the article title and article author’s name for your search. DiscoverEd will provide article level records for a number of the journals the Library has access to.


If you can’t find the article though don’t give up. Try searching for the journal title instead.


lego_book_puzzled_othershelf2_resizedIt all seems very obvious when written out in black and white like this but being unable to recognise type of reference listed or what parts of the reference should be used to search for the item in DiscoverEd is something that trips up new students quite a lot.

And not just new students. As you progress through University you will do your own research and being able to decipher references in bibliographies or endnotes/footnotes within books or journal articles will be essential.

Look out soon for blog posts on searching DiscoverEd and using it to locate print material and access online material. In the meantime though, have a look at this collection of  short videos that show you how to find a book, search for journal articles, renew books and request books via DiscoverEd.

DiscoverEd – the University of Edinburgh’s Library discovery service

You can also find a wealth of information about using DiscoverEd, including extensive FAQs on the Library Discovery webpages.

Caroline Stirling – Academic Support Librarian for History, Classics and Archaeology