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Writing Notes: References

When you write a scholarly document, you support what you have to say by means of references to the published literature. In some disciplines you do this by having footnotes that provide the bibliographic details of relevant work; in our discipline, it's more common to have citations in the body of the text, and complete bibliographic details in a reference list or bibliography at the end. This page gives you some pointers to how to format bibliographic data. Note that if you use BibTeX in conjunction with LaTeX, or a program like EndNote in conjunction with Word, you will be shielded from having to think about much of what is described here; these programs apply standard formattings to underlying databases of bibliographic information.

Here's a typical bibliographic reference:

H Couclelis [1996] Verbal directions for way-finding: space, cognition and language. Pages 133-156 in J Portugali (ed), The Construction of Cognitive Maps. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Berlin.

There are many standards for formatting bibliographic data: if you scan the reference lists in papers in different journals you'll see that these often vary from one publisher to another. For example, one format might put the date immediately after the author's name; another might put the date at the end. One might put the author's first name as an initial preceding the surname, as above, while another might put it after the surname, separated by a comma, as in Couclelis, H.

The important thing is that your references should be complete -- you should make it as easy as possible for your reader to locate the work -- and consistent -- you should adopt a common style for all your references.

You'll find many sites on the web that give information on reference list formatting. You could start with the APA Reference List Format; if you want to dig into this more deeply, there's a a useful screencast from the London School of Economics -- this is 45 minutes long, but talks in some depth about the functions of citation. And then there's this very comprehensive resource page.

The main thing to note here is that you need to adopt different formatting for referring to different kinds of entities; that means you also need to develop the ability to distinguish the different kinds of entities.

The Harvard method is fairly close to the format I use, with a number of differences in the details, listed below.

For web-based reference lists, a good thing to do is to have your reference list incorporate pointers to electronic versions where these are available and where you have the right to link to them: this is generally the case if they are available on a public web site, and not the case if you have, for example, obtained a PDF from a service provided by the library. There are different ways you can do such linkages: one is to make the title of the work be a hyperlink; another is to indicate at the end of the reference that a PDF file is available by means of a link that just says 'PDF', perhaps with an indication of its size so that the reader can decide whether downloading is a good idea.

[Did you find this page useful? Did it miss out something on the topic you thought was important? Is some part of it wrong? Mail me and let me know.]

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Last Modified: 21st July 2013