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Addressing students' referencing errors

Options:     Print Version - Addressing students' referencing errors, part 2 Print view

Article Sections

  1. Introduction and background
  2. The Harvard referencing style
  3. References

The Harvard referencing style

Harvard referencing, also known as the author-date style, is one of the most commonly used and adopted styles of referencing in different schools or faculties of higher education institutions. It is also Emerald's approved system for citing other works (see: "How to... use the Harvard reference system" for Emerald's house style on how and where to use references within the text of your article, and how to compile the reference list at the end).

The Harvard referencing style (HRS) originated from the referencing technique used by a prominent zoologist, Edward Laurens Mark in 1881 (Chernin, 1988).

The HRS consists of two main parts:

  1. A citation.
  2. A list of references.

Citation

A citation is the in-text reference that is the source used within the text of a document. It includes the author surname(s) and the source's year of publication written inside parenthesis. However, depending on how the sentence containing the reference is structured, only the source's year of publication could be inside the parenthesis while the author surname(s) or organization name is written outside the parenthesis. The page number(s) of the reference is usually included in the citation if the reference is a direct quote, a figure, table, or statistical information. The author's initials are not included in the text as part of the citation.

List of references

A list of references containing details of the sources used in a piece of work needs to be included at the end of the document, assignment or report. This is to enable the reader to locate or retrieve any of the sources. Table I shows a list of what needs to be included in a list of references for key information sources.

Table I. Checklist of what to include for information sources
  Author Year Article title Publication title Issue Place Publisher Edition Page numbers URL Date accessed
Book Y Y   Y   Y Y Y      
Chapter Y Y Y Y   Y Y Y Y    
Journal article Y Y Y Y Y       Y    
E-journal article Y Y Y Y Y       Y Y Y
Internet site Y Y Y Y           Y Y
Newspaper article Y Y Y Y Y       Y    

Source: Adapted from University of Wolverhampton (2009, p.1).

Though most Harvard referencing guides state that citations in the text should contain authors' surnames and the source's year of publication (Aston University, 2007; Pears and Shields, 2005), they vary in the format with which the list of references is presented.

For example, two (non-Emerald) academic journals that require the HRS for their publications vary in their formats, as shown below:

  • Hedges, L.V. (1987). How hard is hard science, how soft is soft science? The empirical cumulativeness of research. American Psychologist, 42(5), 443-455.
  • Hedges, L.V. (1987). How hard is hard science, how soft is soft science? The empirical cumulativeness of research. American Psychologist, Vol. 42 No. 5, pp. 443-455.

Subsequently, two guidance materials on the HRS showed variations and inconsistencies in the referencing format. With respect to an edited book, one guidance material provided the following format:

  • Wright, J.K. (1996). A plea for the history of geography. IN: Agnew, J. et al. (eds.) Human geography: an essential anthology. Oxford: Blackwell, 243-269.

While the other material structured the reference as below:

  • Wright, J.K. (1996). ‘A plea for the history of geography', in: Agnew, J. et al. (eds.) Human geography: an essential anthology. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 243-269.

The above variations and inconsistencies in the format for the HRS create confusion for students, thereby suggesting to students that they may structure their references without following any particular format. In addition, these inconsistencies discourage the development of students' referencing ability from an early stage of their studies or careers.

This study therefore recommends the need to use a consistent format in the HRS so as to reduce students' referencing errors and to ensure that higher education institutions speak the same language, in terms of presenting the same format for a particular referencing system or style.

To facilitate this, this study further recommends that a recognized higher education body or organization, such as the Higher Education Academy, provides an updated version of a format to adopt on a yearly basis, and subsequently circulates this to higher education institutions. However, such circulations need to be done in good time so as to enable and ensure that staff and students adopt the updates and modifications.

Publisher's note:

The Harvard reference system is Emerald's approved system of citing other works. Articles submitted to Emerald for publication are required to use this system. To view Emerald's house style for using and displaying Harvard references, see: "How to... use the Harvard reference system" in our "For Authors" section.