Systems of academic referencing

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There are a number of referencing systems used in the academic world. Departments have different systems, and Departments in one institution may have different systems from their equivalents in other institutions. It has even been known for different lecturers in the same Department to insist on different systems. Some departments, study skills books and teachers, recommend - or insist upon - various style manuals. These suffer from the same limitations as the handbooks issued by many departments - that they are not necessarily consistent, either internally or with other publications that purport to use the same system. Examples include the British Standards in the UK and Turabian and her source, the Chicago Manual of Style; Strunk and White,

Follow the third principle of referencing recommended in this guide: "use your Department's system - with great care and attention to detail", and obtain any guidance available from your Department, such as a Student Handbook. Be warned that even if your Department says it follows one of the systems listed below, it may differ on the details; and if you work in more than one Department, they may differ from the same system in different ways. The same goes for academic journals; Bibliographic software such as EndNote and the web-based RefWorks contain templates to match the publisher's requirements for well over a hundred different journals.

The commoner systems are listed below.

  • Footnotes. Turabian says that this "has long been preferred in most areas of the humanities".
    • legal - a special form of footnotes
    • Endnotes are essentially the same system, with the referencing details placed at the end of the piece of writing rather than at the bottom of a page. Printers like the system, as it is much easier (and therefore cheaper) to deal with. (Endnotes can be placed at the end of each chapter or all together at the end of a book.) Undergraduates do not usually have to bother with end notes.
  • Author-date. Turabian regards this as "generally recommended ... in the natural and social sciences", although in some areas of the Commonwealth, the author-number system is much preferred for the natural sciences. This family of referencing systems has several members:
    • In the UK and some other countries of the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly the British Commonwealth), it is often called (inaccurately) the Harvard system
    • The APA, which stands for American Psychological Association.
    • The MLA, which stands for the Modern Language Association (of the United States).
  • Author-number system of referencing. This is most commonly used in the physical and medical sciences.
    • The particular form recommended by bodies such as the British Medical Association is known as the Vancouver system, after an international conference held in Vancouver, Canada in 1978.

APA and MLA are professional bodies setting up the recommended way of writing academic references in their fields. Consequently, they should not have given rise to variations. If your department expects you to use the APA or MLA systems, then you should refer to the different style manuals, the Publication Manual Of The American Psychological Association, Washington DC, American Psychological Association, 2001; and the MLA style manual and guide to scholarly publishing, Gibaldi, Joseph, New York, Modern Language Association of America, 2nd ed., 1998. Other professional associations have laid down their own rules, such as the British Medical Association; but these are not widely adopted, as MLA and APA have been, outside their professions, and so are not covered in this guide.