Using different reference styles in academic writing

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One of the first questions I ask my academic proofreading clients is what referencing or citation style are you using, or does your university or journal prefer? There are many different styles of referencing, so it’s important to know what you’re dealing with. If there is no set style then I tend to use Harvard for everything except law dissertations, where I apply OSCOLA. The main styles I work with are Harvard, APA and OSCOLA. Everyone has their favourite and I know of a few editors who hate the APA style because of the proliferation of full stops. I have to admit that I have grown to like the legal referencing style OSCOLA, which is quite plain with little punctation, although I wasn’t very keen on it initially.

Why is it important to use references?

All academic research and writing should be supported by references, correctly cited, to credit the sources used in the study. This avoids issues of plagiarism and enables the original authors or researchers’ work to be identified. The use of a particular referencing style gives consistency to the document. The various styles fall into two camps: in-text referencing, and footnotes or endnotes. In theses, dissertations and longer works the references are also detailed at the end of the work in a reference list or bibliography.

How many reference styles are there?

The predominant style in UK universities seems to be Harvard, although some universities have their own modifications. My research threw up twelve different styles, listed below, but I’m sure there are more. Leave me a comment if you are using a different style, I’d be interested to know how many there are.

  • APA American Psychological AssociationOSCOLA UK legal referencing style format; footnote style
  • Harvard Harvard – similar to APA and favoured in UK and Australia
  • MLA Modern Language Association
  • Vancouver Used mainly in the medical and scientific field
  • Chicago Chicago Manual of Style
  • Turabian Developed by Kate Turabian for University of Chicago, first published in 1937
  • MHRA Modern Humanities Research Association
  • IEEE Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers
  • Oxford New Hart’s Rules; I use this as a general style guide for all writing
  • ASA American Sociological Society
  • Bluebook US legal referencing style

Useful links

• This page contains a link to the free OSCOLA pdf
• The American Psychological Association otherwise known as APA
• This is a good guide to Harvard from Anglia Ruskin University

The OSCOLA style of legal referencing uses virtually no punctuation. It’s a footnote style. So, the first thing to do is to strip away most of the full stops and commas. In fact, when citing a book in a footnote there are only two punctuation marks used – a comma after the authors initial, before the title and a full stop at the end. Whereas, both Harvard and APA use in-text, author-date styles, but the difference is that APA links two or more authors with an ampersand, but Harvard uses the word ‘and’.

Can you identify a style?

Here are three examples of the same book title in each of these styles – can you identify the referencing style? Which one do you prefer?

1. Wilson S and Kenny P, The Law Student’s Handbook (2nd edn, OUP 2010)

2. Wilson, S. & Kenny, P. (2010). The law student’s handbook. (2nd ed.). Oxford: OUP.

3. Wilson, S. and Kenny, P., 2010. The Law Student’s Handbook. 2nd ed. Oxford: OUP.

[Answer: 1. OSCOLA, 2. APA, 3. Harvard]