Different Referencing Systems

Writing materials that are someone else’s work is tantamount to cheating in academic work. It is also called plagiarism. It can be defined as ‘the use of published or unpublished work within a student’s assignment, which is not acknowledged and either deliberate or accidental (in case of novice writers).’ One of the ways of ensuring that you avoid plagiarism in your assignments, whether they are essays or research papers, is to correctly reference all your writing.

There are some specific elements that should be referenced within your assignment. These inclusions are likely to be theories, research, other people’s ideas and viewpoints, statistics, diagrams, and so on.  When you use another person’s idea which you have read, you need to acknowledge it as a ‘citation’ within the text itself. This reference will have to be detailed, as in the reference list at the end of your writing to indicate all the sources you have included in formulating the writing. There is also a bibliography list which includes the list of the sources you have included, as well as those you have read during your readings on the topic.

The work of other people can be used and acknowledged (cited) in a few different ways –

Quotation is where you use the words or phrases exactly as they are by the original author and put them in quotation marks. For example, “Referencing is important to avoid plagiarism.”

Paraphrasing is where you put the information from your reading into your own words. For example, ‘Writing needs to be referenced to prevent plagiarism.’

Summarizing is when you recap someone’s ideas. For example, ‘Good writing must avoid plagiarising other people’s work. This can be achieved through accurate referencing of the source.’  

Copying is where you can present diagrams, statistics or any other illustrations from a particular source.

The different referencing systems used by various subjects, academic institutions, journals –

Harvard Referencing System is the most commonly used system. In fact, most academic institutions provide detailed updated guidelines for using this system. It is easy to find these guidelines within university student information pages, as well as via any search engine on the ‘net.

Numeric Referencing System works by numbering the references within the text. If quotes are used, then the page number is provided after the numbering. As the references are numbered the reference list is easier to compose, since the list is made up on the order of numbering rather than alphabetical approach. This is not such a common style of referencing, but again the guide with examples of all different situations of referencing have been provided. A couple of good sites providing this information are from University of Sussex and London Southbank University.

Vancouver Referencing System is the same as the numeric referencing system. The numbering in the text can be provided as a superscript or in brackets, just as the numeric referencing.

Oxford Referencing System is very similar to the Harvard system, except that the year of publication comes at the end of the reference within the list rather than after the author’s name. The other difference is the reference of a web document contains the detail the site was accessed on before the URL. There is also a system of providing footnotes and endnotes to provide information from a particular source. You can access a good guide from the website of the University of New South Wales Learning Centre.

Cambridge University Press provides guidelines that extend from the actual referencing, which is similar to the Harvard system to detailed guide for writing for publication with the Cambridge University Press. These can be seen in the press’s website on the ‘net.

Modern Humanities Research Association provides guidelines for referencing used in publications of journals and books relating to any language studies. These are strict guidelines and actually give details, not only about referencing but all aspects of writing in the form of a ‘Style Guide’ available in hard copy from the association and online.  

There are detailed guidelines for writing for various journals and publishing houses such as:

OSCOLA: The Oxford Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities

APA: American Psychological Association

MLA: Modern Languages Association

Turabian (used for art history and theory, tends to have the footnote and bibliography approach) or Chicago, where the author date approach is used.

Open University tends to use the Harvard System, but might vary in different faculties. The Open University version can be found as a handout which you can download from the ‘net.

BMJ is the referencing style for publishing in the British Medical Journal.

To summarize, it is important to carry out wide and deep reading around the topic that has to be written about. To develop strong arguments and sound academic work, the information from the reading has to be incorporated in the writing. There is a need to ensure that the others’ work is acknowledged to avoid plagiarism. This is enabled through good referencing. Guidelines of how referencing is carried out in various journals, publications and academic institutions are readily available to assist novice writers and should be followed rigorously.