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Referencing Styles: Find Your Own Way to Learn the Rules of All Styles

Jun 11, 2013
When you use somebody else's words or ideas from a book, magazine, newspaper, song, movie, or television program, you must give them the credit for it. Whether it was intentional or not, failure to do so is known as plagiarism, which is one of the most serious academic offenses. As a general rule, anytime you take an exact quote or a unique concept from any medium, you must acknowledge its creator(s).

Why is it necessary?

Just as inventors are protected by patents, writers and other creative individuals are protected by copyright and plagiarism laws. However, students and scholars are permitted to cite their works to strengthen a particular position or argument, as long as they give them credit. This arrangement is actually mutually beneficial. The authors or creator who is being quoted or cited receives increased exposure in the academic community, while the student is able to add credibility to their writing by including textual examples from a published work.
Just like the book reports you wrote as a grade school student, quotes and citations add depth to your writing. They also help you better understand the work or subject in question. After all, there is no better source than the original; and secondary criticism and interpretation can also be instructive.

Which referencing style is the right one?

One of the reasons students sometimes neglect to give a creator his/her due is that there are literally hundreds of referencing styles that they must follow, depending on their subject or field of study. They may not differ that much, but most academic disciplines have unique rules and standards when it comes to citing sources for research papers. If you fail to abide by these guidelines, you may receive a lower grade or even a returned paper.

Popular styles

Any discussion of referencing styles would be incomplete without reviewing the most popular styles that are used in most major academic subjects, both in undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

The APA

One of the oldest reference styles around, the APA stands for the American Psychological Association. It is widely used in education, business, the social sciences, and many other areas of academic study.

MLA

For obvious reasons, the style that was created by the Modern Language Association of America is used mostly in English and the Humanities. It is the reference style of choice for most non-scientific writers in the United States.

Chicago

Sometimes call Turabian after its author, this reference style comes to us through the Chicago Manual of Style. It is used mostly in theology, political studies, history, and the social sciences.

Harvard

Originally published by the Harvard Law Review Association, the Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation is naturally used to cite sources in legal research papers and sometimes in medicine, natural sciences, and social and behavioral sciences.

Vancouver

Used almost exclusively in the medical sciences, the Vancouver styles have been around for more than three decades now. It is the citation style of choice in medical journals in North America.

Which one to use?

We can't say for sure. The aforementioned styles are simply the most popular ones, but they only represent a small fraction of viable referencing styles. If you are uncertain about which referencing system you should use, simply consult your instructor or the course guide.

The discrepancies

As we mentioned, there isn't a whole lot of difference between most of these major referencing styles. However, scholars and professors can be persnickety when it comes to following the rules. Another issue is that there's a lot of overlap in referencing styles for the larger subjects. For example, students in the Creative Arts and Industries might be asked to use MLA, APA, Harvard, or Chicago styles. There are really only a handful of major subjects that can claim a single referencing style, such as Education (APA) and Theology (Chicago). All of the others pick and choose based on a myriad of requirements.

Referencing within the text

When you reference within the text, you place the citation directly after the quote, usually in parentheses. The format for these references varies slightly based on the style that is used. For example, the APA styles utilizes an author-date sequence and a page number for direct quotes, while the MLA style employs an author-page number format, or even a footnote.

Works cited pages

In addition to the in-text citation, most research papers must also include a reference list or a works cited page at the end. These pages typically reiterate the information that was first presented in either the original citation within the text or the footnote.

What you must do

In most cases, the discrepancies between reference citing styles involves the order of how each citation is presented. But the information is almost always the same. You will always need to know the author, editor, publisher, publication date, city of publication and page number(s) for a printed work.

Submission

As tough as your teachers or professors may be, they're nothing compared to journal or magazine editors. In most cases, an editor will not accept an article or paper for possible publication unless the author uses the correct referencing style. They will simply reject it and return it unread.

Other considerations

Although the order of information within the reference is important, punctuation and font should not be ignored. Using a comma where a semicolon should be or vice versa may result in a lower grade or even in rejection. It might seem like a minor point, but professors can be sticklers when it comes to citation reference styles.
If you don't want to bother your instructor or professor, it is often possible to locate the referencing style that is used at your school on the internet. Simply visit the website and search for the style manual. It should tell you everything you need to know about writing research papers at your college or university.
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By Kevin Demlon. Kevin writes helpful articles to share his knowledge with students in need. He enjoys writing articles on new subjects and does his best to create each post showing writing tips in a clear way.
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