Scholarly referencing refers to a series of conventions used to point readers towards sources that you have cited, quoted, or otherwise borrowed from in your work.

There are many different referencing styles (and the three main categories are discussed below), but they all provide the same fundamental pieces of information to enable a reader to go and find a source you've cited in your work and look at it for themselves:

  • The author of the work
  • The title of the work
  • The type of publication (e.g. whole book, book chapter, journal article, webpage)
  • The date of publication of the specific edition of the work you're using (if you're using a specific edition of a classic text, it's of more practical use for a reader to know that the edition you're referring to was published in, say, 2000, than that the original was published in 1818, though this information is sometimes provided in square brackets in the bibliography in addition to the year of the current edition)
  • The publisher and place of publication
  • If applicable, additional details (volume and issue number, page range) to enable your reader to find the specific source

The Harvard "system"

Harvard deserves a special mention among author-date systems: while it's very likely that your university uses Harvard for referencing in at least some disciplines, it's also equally likely that your university's idea of what Harvard referencing looks like is slightly different from any of its neighbouring universities. Whereas referencing styles like Chicago and MLA form part of detailed style guides that provide explicit rules on many aspects of scholarly writing (not just referencing), Harvard simply defines the types of information that should be included in a reference and some broad principles about formatting.

There are almost as many variations of the Harvard system as there are institutions and publications that use it, and though the variations are generally pretty minor they include things like the following:

  • Whether authors' names are capitalised in the references list
  • Whether "p." or just a number is used when referring to page numbers
  • Whether a comma separates the author and date in the parenthetical reference (Smith 2012 or Smith, 2012)
  • The organisation and formatting of various bibliographic elements

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