Referencing Style or System? A Guide for the Confused

Referencing Style or System? A Guide for the Confused

  • Feb 04, 2021
  • 5 min read

In the Becoming A Proofreader course, we look at referencing styles and systems. But what is the distinction between a referencing style and a system? We use these terms as follows:

  • A referencing style is a generic approach to citing sources (e.g., Harvard, Oxford, Vancouver). However, there may be several versions or variations of any given style.
  • A referencing system is a citation style set out in a published style guide (e.g., APA style, MLA style, or Chicago style), meaning there is a single authoritative source on the correct style.

We’ll look at what a new proofreader needs to know about both below.

Common Referencing Styles

Three common generic referencing styles you’re likely to encounter as a proofreader are:

  • Harvard – A term for parenthetical author–date referencing. This is when sources are cited by giving the author’s surname and a year of publication in the main text, with full source details then given in a reference list at the end of the document.
  • Oxford – Another name for footnote referencing, where sources are cited in footnotes at the bottom of the page and listed in a bibliography.
  • Vancouver – A name for number–note referencing, where sources are cited using numbers in the text. Each number then points to an entry in a reference list at the end of the document.

All versions of a referencing style will overlap in some respects. However, different educational institutions, publishers, and writers will often use slight variations on the same basic style.

For instance, all versions of Harvard referencing will use parenthetical references with an author’s surname and a year of publication. But they may vary on how citations are presented or punctuated. All of the following, for example, are “Harvard style” citations:

This variation can be confusing (Smith 2001, 24).

This variation can be confusing (Smith, 2001, p. 24).

This variation can be confusing (Smith 2001:24).

As such, if your client says they are using one of these styles, you will want to find out the exact version they have used and ask them to send you a copy of their style guide. You may also be able to look up the relevant style guide online in some cases. You can then suggest (or, if your brief permits editing citations, make) changes in line with the relevant system.

If they are not able to specify a version, simply make sure that their referencing is clear and consistent to the best of your abilities, noting any issues you spot for the client to amend.

Academic Referencing Systems

As well as generic styles, there are plenty of formal citation systems available for academic writers. We cover some of the most common in the Becoming A Proofreader course, including:

  • APA – An author–date referencing system developed by the American Psychological Association. Commonly used in the social sciences.
  • MLA – A parenthetical referencing style developed by the Modern Languages Association. This style involves citing the author’s surname and a page number (but no year of publication). Commonly used for arts, languages, and other humanities subjects.
  • Chicago – “Chicago style” typically refers to a form of footnote referencing set out in the Chicago Manual of Style. However, this guide also contains advice on parenthetical referencing, giving writers a choice of referencing styles. Used in various subject areas.
  • IEEE – A number–note system used in IEEE journals and for other technical writing.

In addition, there are many subject-specific referencing styles, such as ACS style (chemistry), ASA style (sociology), and AMA style (medicine), each with their own requirements.

Typically, a formal referencing system will be more consistent than a generic style (e.g., all papers that use APA referencing should present citations in the same way). However, these systems are sometimes updated when a new edition of a style guide is published. As such, you may still need make sure that you’re using the same version of the system as your client.

Becoming A Proofreader

If you want to learn about academic proofreading, we have you covered. Our course includes modules on academic writing and referencing, providing a detailed introduction to the topic and plenty of guidance on how to proofread citations and references.

To find out more about the course, sign up for the free trial today.

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