Which referencing style is the right one?

There are literally hundreds of different referencing styles from which to choose when you are citing the sources of your research material. Different academic disciplines have differing priorities of what is important to the subsequent reader of an academic paper, and different publishing houses have differing rules about the citation of sources.

Referencing styles used at the University of Auckland

A few of the common referencing styles, and their origins, are explained below:

  • APA stands for "American Psychological Association" and comes from the association of the same name. Although originally drawn up for use in psychological journals, the APA style is now widely used in the social sciences, in education, in business, and numerous other disciplines.
  • MLA comes from the "Modern Language Association of America" and is used mainly in English and the Humanities.
  • Chicago is sometimes referred to as Turabian or Chicago/Turabian. It comes from the "Chicago Manual of Style" and the simplified version of it, "A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations", that Kate Turabian wrote [Source: The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill]. Chicago is used mainly in the social sciences, including history, political studies, and theology.
  • Vancouver originally came from The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors which produced the "Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals" following a meeting that was held in Vancouver in 1978 [Source: Jönköping University Library]. The Vancouver style is used mainly in the medical sciences.
  • Harvard came originally from "The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation" published by the Harvard Law Review Association. The Harvard style and its many variations are used in law, natural sciences, social and behavioural sciences, and medicine.


If you are unsure which referencing system to use, consult your course guide or ask your lecturer.

Thankfully, there are some referencing styles used by the majority of disciplines.

The following are brief outlines of the American Psychological Association (APA) system, the Modern Languages (MLA) system and the Chicago notes system, and some of the reasons for the differences:

APA 6 (author / date)

APA is an author/date referencing system common in the social sciences; it uses parenthetical in-text citations to refer readers to the list of references at the end of the paper. Numbered notes or footnotes are reserved for extra explanatory information that would disrupt the continuity of the text. The date of the research is important in scientific disciplines, since it conveys how recent or indeed historical the material is, thus the author/'s last name and the year of publication appear within the text. Page numbers are used in the text only in the case of direct quotations, not for paraphrased material.

Example

  • Pinker (1999) notes that memory loss, including memory for words, is an obvious and early symptom of Alzheimer's disease.


The alphabetical Reference List at the end of the paper provides the necessary information for readers to locate and retrieve any source cited in the body of the text. It lists alphabetically in this order: the last name of the author followed by the initials and the year of publication in brackets. In the case of a book with one author, the title of the book comes next, in italics, with just the initial letter of the first words of the title and subtitle capitalised. This is followed by the place of publication, and the name of the publisher. The information in the List of References must be detailed enough to enable the reader to easily locate the edition or volume or issue number, in the case of journals, or web page etc.

Example

Pinker, S. (1999). Words and rules: The ingredients of language. London: Phoenix.

See Quick©ite for full details of how to reference in APA.

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MLA 8 (author / page number)

The MLA system, common in the arts and humanities, is similar to APA in that it uses parenthetical in-text citations keyed to a List of Works cited at the end of the paper. The author's last name appears in the text close to the borrowed material along with a page number rather than the year. Literature and language rely more on exactly where in the text the quoted material can be found, either directly quoted or paraphrased, rather than the year - after all Hamlet would be 404 if he were alive today! Numbered notes or footnotes are only for extra information that would disrupt the continuity of the text. MLA is generally simpler and more economical than other styles; interruptions are kept to a minimum, usually citing just the last name of the author and the relevant page number within the text.

Some scholars in the fields of art, dance, history, music, religion, theatre and theology use Documentation Notes (endnotes or footnotes) to document sources. In this case, a list of works cited or a bibliography may be unnecessary.

Example

  • Pinker notes that memory loss, including memory for words, is an obvious and early symptom of Alzheimer's disease (281).


The List of Works Cited at the end of the paper provides the necessary information for readers to locate and retrieve any source cited in the body of the text. It lists alphabetically in this order: the last name of the author followed by the first names. In the case of a book with one author, the title of the book comes next, italicised, with the initial letter of each significant word in the title capitalised. This is followed by the book edition (if any), the name of the publisher and the year of publication.

Example

Pinker, Steven. Words and Rules: the Ingredients of Language. Phoenix, 1999.

See Quick©ite for full details of how to reference in MLA.

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Chicago 16th (footnotes)

The Chicago notes-bibliography citation system, used by some humanities and social sciences, signals to the reader by a superscript number at the end of the sentence that a source has been used:

Example

According to Pinker, memory loss, including memory for words, is an obvious and early symptom of Alzheimer's disease.1

The source of the quotation and information about the author, title and publication details and the relevant page numbers are then cited in a correspondingly numbered footnote at the bottom of the page, or endnote at the end of the paper. If the text is cited again, the subsequent notes may be shortened.2

Although the same information appears in both the notes and the bibliography it serves two different functions: The notes supply a quick check of the source, and the bibliography illustrates the extent of the research and the relationship to earlier studies. Thus both notes and bibliography are usually provided. There are, however, slight differences in punctuation since the notes are designed to be read as text and the bibliography constitutes a list of independent entries. The authors' names appear in the notes as first name last name: Amy Smith, while the bibliography entry inverts the primary author's name: Smith, Amy.

Number all notes consecutively from 1. Substantive notes are inserted as appropriate within the list of footnotes.3
________________________________________
     1. Steven Pinker, Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language (London: Phoenix, 1999), 281.
     2. Pinker, Words and Rules, 297.
     3. Supplementary information that would disrupt the flow of the text ...

See Quick©ite for full details of how to reference in Chicago.

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