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Referencing Systems

There is no universally adopted referencing system for academic writing; even within a single academic discipline there may be a number of acceptable systems. A quick survey of different books and articles will usually reveal a wide variety of practices. Most scholars and students employ one of the most popular systems currently in use in the UK and America, which include:

  • Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA),
  • The Harvard System (often called the 'Author Date System'),
  • Chicago System
  • Modern Language Association of America (MLA)
  • American Psychological Association (APA)

The choice of system is generally up to you, although if you come to publish your work properly you will find that publishers and journals usually specify exactly how authors should format their references. This may be enforced very strictly, with precise prescriptions governing the use of footnotes and the format of citations. Other publishers have a more relaxed policy.

Note: Some departments of the University may specify which system you should use in your written assignments: check your handbook, as you will be penalised if you do not follow the prescribed system.

'Name-date' systems like the Harvard system, where short citations are included in brackets in the text, are becoming more popular than systems in which full references to sources are set out in notes at the bottom of each page (footnotes) or at the end of the piece of work (endnotes). Why not look at a number of journals in the library to see which systems are used in academic publications for your particular subject?

This tutorial provides detailed guidelines and exercises to enable you to become familiar with two particular systems, one of which makes use of footnotes (MHRA), the other parenthetical references (Harvard). However, there are many possible variations on the systems set out here, which are also correct.

Whichever particular system you choose, BE CONSISTENT: you must maintain exactly the same style of citation throughout each piece of work. Similarly, the style used in the bibliography should mirror that employed in the references or notes. As well as acknowledging intellectual debt, this shows you are conscientious about the presentation of your work, and are keen to maintain the highest academic standards.

The most important thing is to ensure that you include references in all the right places in your work, and acknowledge your indebtedness to others for ideas and facts.