Academic Referencing

Academic referencing systems

Which referencing system?

Academic referencing styles can differ considerably, so it is always important to speak to your head of department at your university and ask for a style guide relating to your specific subject.

You want to be graded on your ability and the quality of your work, not let down by using the wrong referencing system.

There are many academic referencing systems used in academic writing. Here is a list of the most common referencing systems:


List of academic referencing systems:

Harvard – parenthetical system, widely used

Vancouver – numeric system used in sciences

Oxford – uses footnotes and endnotes

Chicago (CMOS – Chicago manual of style)

Turabian – similar to Chicago

MHRA – Modern Humanities Research Association


MLA – Modern Languages Association

OSCOLA – The Oxford Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities

APA – American Psychological Association

APSA – American Political Science Association

ASA – American Sociological Association

ACS – American Chemical Society

academic referencing styles

Referencing systems by academic subject

As a general guide, Arts and Humanities departments usually use the Harvard format or MHRA.

Social Sciences and Languages often use MLA, while Natural Sciences usually use numeric systems such as Vancouver referencing (popular in Medicine).

OSCOLA is used for Law texts, APSA for politics, APA for psychology and ACS for chemistry.

There is overlap between subjects and many academic referencing systems are used only loosely.


Author-date or footnotes

The academic referencing systems can be split into two main styles. The first uses parenthetical citations and the reference stays within the body of the text; the second uses footnotes.

Both styles of referencing usually include a reference list or bibliography at the end of the text. The specific format for in-text citations, footnotes and reference lists changes depending on the exact style of referencing you use.

Some of the most common academic referencing systems are described below:

Harvard referencing

Harvard is the classic author, date, or in-text citation, format, where the citation is included in the body of the text. This includes the author, date and page number in brackets after the quotation or paraphrase.

Harvard uses a bibliography at the end of the work, listing the books and journals in full. Everything should be included in the Harvard bibliography, both texts cited within your essay or dissertation and others you have consulted during your research.

In-text citations

Harvard referencing for in-text citations is simple. After the quotation or paraphrase, insert author surname, date and page number in brackets. For example:

In 2008, there were ‘almost one million different kinds of words in the English language’. (Jones, 2009, p. 37)

This reference will correspond to the full book reference in your bibliography.

The bibliography

Harvard referencing for a book in a bibliography is written in this format:

Author surname, author initials. [date of first publication] (date of edition used in text) Title. Place of publication: publisher

Harvard referencing for a journal article in a bibliography is written in this format:

Author surname, author initials. (date) ‘title of article’, title of journal, part number, page numbers (beginning of article – end of article)

The title of a book is always italicised or underlined, but not both. If the book has more than one author, you should list them in the order they appear on the book. If the book has more than three authors then the abbreviation et. al. (and others) can be used.

Harvard referencing for websites requires the full URL to be given (the address in the bar at the top of the screen). Due to the fast-changing nature of web publishing, the date that you accessed the site should also be given.

academic referencing - bibliography

Example of Harvard referencing for books

Examples of a Harvard bibliography reference for a book, an article, essay or chapter within an edited book and journal article:

Smith, J. P. [1980] (1992) The English Language. London: Penguin

Smith, J. P. (1999) ‘How to Spell’ in B. Jones (ed.) English for Learners. London: Penguin

Smith, J. P. (2008) ‘Writing in English’, Journal of English Studies, 5, pp. 104-115

Smith, J. P. (2009) Listening practice. Date accessed: 10/02/2010.

MHRA referencing

MHRA (Modern Humanities Research Association) format uses footnotes to cite the references.

Footnotes (small numerical characters) are placed at the bottom of the page in which the reference occurs and a corresponding number placed in the text itself. All modern word processors can place footnotes.


Oxford referencing

Oxford referencing uses footnotes and bibliography, but only those books used in the text should be listed in the bibliography. If you merely consulted a book but did not take any quotations or ideas from it, you should not list it as a reference.

Oxford referencing can also use Endnotes – these are listed at the end of the essay but before the bibliography.

You can ensure your work is referenced properly by hiring a professional academic editor, who will ensure your academic referencing is perfect and your work is referenced to the correct style requirements.

We offer specialist proofreading and editing services, which includes proper academic referencing. Contact us to find out how we can help proofread and edit your non-native English text for just £12 per 1000 words.


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