Academic referencing system

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Areas covered well in these examples:

  • Clear details and information regarding the Harvard referencing system are given
  • Explanation of why a referencing system is needed
  • Clear and helpful examples of how to use the referencing system


Riverside College, Halton, FD Information Technology & E-Business

Harvard System of Referencing

Language Explained:

CITING means formally recognising, within your text, the resources from which you have obtained information.

BIBLIOGRAPHY is the list of sources you have used.

REFERENCE is the detailed description of the item from which you have obtained your information.

Why is Referencing Necessary?

It is to acknowledge the work of other writers; to demonstrate the body of knowledge on which you have based your work; to enable other researchers to trace your sources and lead them on to further information.

For these reasons it is very important that you think of the information needed to cite material correctly when you are carrying out a literature search.

Always ensure that you record references to materials you consult precisely. Failing to do so could cause you additional work when you need to incorporate a reference into your bibliography.

A standard system of citing these references ensures an easier system of tracing academic and other knowledge more efficiently. There are a number of systems for referencing but we recommend the Harvard System as it is commonly used in Universities so, for those who progress onto the final year degree programme, it is a good habit to get into now.

The bibliography for assignments represents the results of your information/literature search and you may wish to discuss your search method in the text of your writing e.g. in a 'methodology' section. This is particularly relevant when investigating a particular topic, where the research methods would be identified, justified and described.

What is Harvard ?

This system developed in the USA and grew in popularity during the 1950's and 1960's, especially in the physical and natural sciences and more recently the social sciences.

Over several decades it has become the most common system internationally and is frequently the standard house style for academic journals and in many Universities.

The Harvard system has advantages of flexibility, simplicity, clarity and ease of use both for author and reader. There is no third place to look such as footnotes and chapter references that are features of other systems.

There are three styles in common use as ways to highlight the key element of a reference; they are the use of bold text, underlining and italics. You should use one, and only one, of these techniques throughout your bibliography.

In order to maintain consistency in your bibliography you should only use the initial letters of the writer's forename(s), even when you have more information. In some cases you may feel that this hides the gender balance of the research base; in such cases it is possible to refer to the writer's full name in the main text.

Citing in the Text

The Harvard system of citation is the most straightforward method of acknowledging other people's work, because initially all you need to do is mention the author and date of publication in the text of your work. So, at each point in the text that refers to a particular document, insert the author's surname and publication year.


The work of Preece (1994) was concerned to emphasise the importance of quality in social research.

The reader can easily locate the full description of the item you have cited by referring to the alphabetical list of references (or bibliography) provided at the end of your report. The system has the advantages of showing at a glance the authority used, who may well be recognised, and how recent or contemporary the information might be.

Note the following points:

  • In the main text, initial letters are only used when two or more authors have the same surname and have published in the same year, in which case initials should identify them in order to avoid confusion.
  • Use lower case letters after the date if referring to more than one item published in the same year by the same author.


The CBI, which has been very influential in raising the public profile of guidance, has itself adopted three very different positions on this matter: having initially argued that the careers service should be transferred from LEAs to Training and Enterprise Councils (CBI, 1989a) it subsequently appeared to support the notion that it should be led by LEA-TEC partnerships, and then announced that the TECs should not be directly involved in guidance delivery at all (CBI, 1993). There has however been increasing support for the notion of an individual-centred system. It is significant that the CBI speaking on behalf of its employers generally argued the classic liberal case for individual choice in the education training market in its report Towards a Skills Revolution (1989b)

  • If the author's name occurs naturally in the text, the year follows in parentheses.


Customer compatibility management emphasises the controllability of customer-to-customer interaction in the higher education environment (Rowley, 1996). If the customer-to-customer interaction is good then you will get a return visit. It is the objective of effective customer compatibility management to enhance the service experience. Thus Rowley (1996) asserts that the ethos of the student environment does have an impact on student achievement.

Citing in the Bibliography

The bibliography appears at the end of your work, is organised alphabetically and is evidence of the literature and other sources you have used in your research. The first two elements of your reference, i.e. author and date, constitute the link you made in the text. Thus the reader can move between the text and the bibliography and trace a correct reference.

The following uses a Book reference as an example, however other types of sources are referenced in a similar manner. You should use the title page (if any) rather than the document cover as your authority.

Include the following information.

The order is:

  • Author(s), editor(s) or the institution responsible for writing the document. (Note: ed. is a suitable abbreviation for editor.)
  • Date of publication (in brackets).
  • Title and subtitle (if any). Underlined, emboldened or in italics (be consistent throughout the bibliography.)
  • Series and individual volume number (if any).
  • Edition if not the first.
  • Place of publication if known.
  • Publisher.
  • Any other relevant details that will assist the reader to locate the reference.


  • Spence, B. ed. (1993) Secondary school management in the 1990's: challenge and change. Aspects of Education Series, 48. London, Independent Publishers.


  • Mohr, L.B. (1996) Impact analysis for program evaluation. 2nd ed. London, Sage.

Sample Bibliography

  • Bennett, H., Gunter, H. & Reid, S. (1996) Through a glass darkly: images of appraisal. Journal of Teacher Development, 5 (3) October, pp.39-46.
  • Conference on Economic Crime, 2nd. 1977. London School of Economics & Political Science. (1980) Economic crime in Europe Leigh, L.H. ed. London, Macmillan.
  • Fragile Earth, 5. (1982) South American wetland: Pantanal. Henley on Thames, Watchword Video, [video:VHS]
  • Holland, M. (1996) Harvard system [Internet] Poole, Bournemouth University. Available from: <> [Accessed 22 August, 1997.]
  • Now Voyager (1942) Directed by Irving Rapper. New York,Warner [Film:35mm].
  • Porter. M.A. (1993) The modification of method in researching postgraduate education. In: Burgess, R.G. ed. The research process in educational settings: ten case studies. London, Falmer Press.
  • Spence, B. ed. (1993) Secondary school management in the 1990's: challenge and change. Aspects of Education Series,48. London, Independent Publishers.
  • Whitehead, S.M. (1996) Public and private men: masculinities at work in education management. Ph.D. thesis, Leeds Metropolitan University.
  • World in Action. (1995) All work and no play. London: ITV, 21st January, [video:VHS]

Hints and Common Conventions

Ibid. (Latin) is used as a ditto instead of repeating the previous reference.


  • Lashley,C. (1995) Improving study skills. A competence approach.London, Cassell.
  • Ibid. p.155
  • Ibid. p.170

Op. Cit. (Latin) is used after an author's name to mean the same work as last cited for this author.


  • Bennett, C. (1996) Researching into teaching methods in colleges & universities. London, Kogan Page.
  • Manger, J.J (1995). The essential internet information guide. New York, McGraw Hill.
  • Bennett, C. op. cit. p.175.

Et al (Latin) commonly used as an abbreviation for "and others".


  • Bennett, H et al. (1990) Managing Education. London, Falmer Press.


Accrington & Rossendale College BA (Hons) English


You will note from the Assessment Criteria (above) that to achieve Upper Second Class Honours (or higher), your work has to be properly referenced. The main purposes of referencing is to make it clear to the reader what your sources are, so that other people can find the material that you have used; and, to make it clear which ideas, arguments, and words are your own, and which are someone else's.

In your essays, you will normally find yourself using other people's work - for instance critics and theorists. Sometimes you will be agreeing with them and at other times you will be arguing with them. Either way, you need to acknowledge your sources. In some cases, failing to acknowledge and properly reference your sources can be considered to be plagiarism - which means, passing off somebody else's work as your own. In academic writing, and in creative writing too, plagiarism is considered a serious act of deception. Even a small amount of unintentional plagiarism will lower the grade of your essay. Major acts of plagiarism can cause you to fail.

The correct form of referencing to use is the Harvard System. Below is a brief summary of the main points. More details can be found in leaflets in the library, and in numerous books and websites. This will also be discussed with you at various points during the course.

The Harvard System

All books, articles, websites etc which you have referred to in your essay, or in your research towards the essay, should be listed at the end in a bibliography. They should be put in alphabetical order of surnames, in the following format:

  • SMITH, H (1997), Marxism and the Novel, Blackwell Press, London

The title should be in italics, if you're using a word-processor. If you use a conventional typewriter or handwriting, then underline the title.

When you mention the book within the body of your essay, there's normally no need to give the title, unless it fits naturally into the style of your sentence. Just give the author's name (usually just the surname) and the date. For instance you might write:

Smith (1997) argues that Dickens is an over-rated novelist.

If you actually quote a critic's words, you should give the page number as well. Short quotes can be included within your own sentence, but use quotation marks to clearly mark off the words you're quoting from your own words. For instance:

Harold Smith accuses Dickens of creating "not rounded characters but parodies of particular social types" (Smith 1997, p.233).

Longer quotes are sometimes better put in a paragraph on their own - in which case the paragraph should be centred, and doesn't need the quotation marks. Still put the name, date and page number in brackets at the end.

If you use a book in which articles by several different writers have been collected, still put the actual author's name (not the editor's name) into the body of your essay. If you quote from it, give the page number from the actual book you've used. Your bibliography at the end of your essay should make it clear where you found the article. For instance:

  • JONES, G (1998), "Dickens and the Modern Reader", in HARRISON, P (ed), Dickens and Victorian Society, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Note that the title of the article goes in inverted commas, not italics. Italics are used only for titles of books.