Using a reference style
What is a reference style?
A reference style is a set of guidelines for writers. The overall aim of reference styles is to increase readability and clarity of the text, thereby avoiding misunderstandings. Although different reference styles give more or less the same information to the reader, this information is provided in different ways. In some styles source information is given in the running text, whereas other reference styles rely on a note system, for instance. Most reference styles have some kind of reference list containing all sources referred to. Depending on the way in which they refer to sources, reference styles can be divided into three main categories: documentary notes styles, parenthetical or author-date styles, and numbered styles:
How do I read a reference style manual?
Most reference style manuals are comprehensive works, providing guidance on a multitude of reference types and situations. Guidelines for reference styles are published in book form and sometimes also online. As reference manuals are updated on a regular basis, writers should use the latest edition available. Changes will usually not affect basic style conventions, but will provide guidance on how to refer to new types of sources, for instance.
What do reference styles regulate?
Reference styles primarily formalise three aspects of writing:
1. How to structure the text and how to present its contents
Text structure depends on text type and on disciplinary conventions. Some reference styles offer guidelines on structure and also on manuscript format and the use of tables and graphics, for instance. Although we do not go into style-specific information on formatting issues on AWELU, we provide general information on format in academic writing:
2. How to refer to sources within the text
Different reference styles recommend different kinds of referencing and practices also vary between disciplines. For general information about reference giving, see
- How to Give References
For style-specific information about referencing, see
3. How to compose a list of the sources that have been used
Although reference lists look somewhat different depending on what reference style is used, they contain basically the same information:
Which reference style should I choose?
The choice of reference style largely depends on the academic discipline; as most reference styles have been issued by scholarly associations, they are adapted to relevant kinds of research writing within the field. Numbered styles are more common within the Sciences, whereas notes styles are more favoured within the Humanities and the Faculty of Law. Parenthetical styles are used in Sciences, Social Sciences as well as within the Humanities.
Students should always follow the referencing guidelines stipulated by their departments. Some LU departments issue their own guidelines, while others will direct their students to style guides in book form or online.
Research publications need to comply with the reference guidelines stated by the editors of the publication. Many publishing houses and scholarly journals have a so-called 'house style,' which is the specific style preferred by that specific publisher. These house styles are often clearly documented on the publisher's homepage under headings such as 'Author Instructions' or 'Submission Guidelines'. When the publication follows a general reference style with no amendments, this will be stated, often with a suggestion of which style manual to consult.
Does the medium of access matter?
Although reference styles are fairly static, in the sense that they do not change much over time, the Internet has led to a need for adjustments and expansions of referencing conventions. Today, texts are often available in different formats, and writers need to check if the reference style they use requires documentation concerning medium of access, for instance whether an url and date of access ishould be used or not.