“The Harvard System” of referencing.

I was recently working with a group of students who had been asked to write a list of references using “The Harvard System”. The students asked me how to reference a particular source type. I wasn’t sure exactly what the lecturer wanted so I asked him. He was a little annoyed and simply told me to tell the students to use “The Harvard System”, not realising that there is no such thing, and that such pieces of advice are not helpful. By that I mean that there is no definitive documented version, so he needs to be more specific.

So what does “The Harvard System” mean these days? The problem is that it means different things to different people. So you can’t just say: “Use The Harvard System” to your students and expect that they will get it right. It needs defining. As I understand it, the phrase “The Harvard System” is just a shorthand way of referring to the author-date system in parentheses used by many people and organisations. It is not a definitive documented system from Harvard University as many people think. Chernin (1988) traces the history of the Harvard System back to the Zoologist Edward Laurens Mark (1847-1946), the director of Harvard’s zoological laboratory until 1921. In 1881, Mark had published an article using a parenthetical author-date citation accompanied by an explanation. This seems to be the first use of such a system. It is not clear how this usage became widespread but according to the British Medical Journal in 1945, the system was “not introduced by Harvard University. It is believed that an English visitor to the library at Harvard University was impressed by the system of bibliographical reference in use there and dubbed it the ‘Harvard System’ on return to the UK” (Chernin, 1988, p. 1063). But it is still true that there is no definitive version of the system, and almost every publisher and university seem to have their own version of “The Harvard System”! and, in many cases, believe it is the correct one!

In this sense, the Harvard System contrasts mainly with the numerical system, often called the Vancouver style, the numerical style or BS 1629. See, for example, International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (1991}; British Standards Institution (1989, 1990a, 1990b) or Patrias (20077) for more information. Since I originally write this, I’ve also recently been asked to teach students to use  “The Vancouver Style”, and again there is no definitive version as far as I can see.

Although the Harvard system is the most common system, there is no definitive version of it and most universities have their own and they all differ slightly. I don’t know why, but that seems to be the case. Is there any payment involved in specifying, for example, the APA style? I don’t know. When my colleagues and I wrote our writing textbook a few years ago, we originally used the APA style. The publisher, however, asked us to use their own ‘Harvard’ style, which is quite rudimentary – one page – so we finished up inventing our own system in many cases!

If, then, the Harvard System is basically another name for the parenthetical author-date method, then the main documented version of it is the American Psychological Association style – this is well known and often used (American Psychological Association, 2010). The Modern Languages Association (1998, 2009) – see Gibaldi (2003) for examples – is similar in that it includes the author’s name in the text, but no date. Not everyone sees it in this way and they certainly do not agree with each other. Pears & Shields (2008), for example, stick mostly to ‘The Harvard System’ – without any indication of where it has come from – but have separate sections on APA and MLA styles. Neville (2007), however, understands the problem with the term ‘Harvard’ system and uses BS1629 and BS 5605 (British Standards Institution,1989, 1990a, 1990b) as his reference points with separate sections on APA and MLA. His description of ‘The Harvard System’ is therefore very different from that of Pears & Shields.

For example, Pears & Shields:

Bell, J. (2005) Doing your research project. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Bright, M. P. (1985) ‘The poetry of art’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 46 (2), pp. 259-277.

Whereas, Neville recommends:

BELL. J. (2005). Doing your research project. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

BRIGHT, M. P. (1985). The poetry of art. Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 46, no. 2, pp. 259-277.

And Williams & Carroll (2009), saying that they use the Harvard system, would have:

Bell J (2005). Doing your research project. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Bright MP (1985). The poetry of art. Journal of the History of Ideas. 46(2)  p259-77.

All these books are excellent and would be useful reference books for our students, if we could agree which one we are using. As we can’t agree, we need to be clear to our students about exactly what we want, as saying “use The Harvard System” is not good enough. Does it matter? I don’t know; I have met some lecturers who it does matter to. Williams & Carroll (2009, p, 11) say that it doesn’t matter if you: “use or don’t use commas, full stops, capitals in titles, underlining/italics”, but I’m not sure if that is true for all lecturers. As pragmatic EAP teachers, we need to be sure what our colleagues want.

These days we strongly associate the parenthetical author-date system with APA, but it wasn’t until 1957 – almost 30 years after the first version of the publication manual –  that the APA adopted the Harvard (name-date) style. The earliest version of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association was a short, seven page guide published in the Psychological Bulletin in 1929. This was followed by a 32 page version by John E. Anderson and Willard L. Valentine in a 1944 issue of that journal. The first edition of the Publication Manual appeared as a supplement to the Bulletin in 1952 and was 61 pages in length. It was revised twice prior to the publication of the second edition (1974, with many reprintings). In this 136 page volume, the section dealing with referencing accounts for only 12 pages. New editions have appeared regularly. The 3rd edition (1987) had 9 pages on referencing plus a 24 page appendix of examples. The 4th edition (1997) had 20 pages plus a 29 page appendix of examples. For the first time, it included a 5 page section on electronic media. The fifth edition (2001) included a large section on electronic formats and was 439 pages in length in total. It had grown dramatically in size and coverage from the 2nd edition. Seventy four pages were allocated to the sections on referencing, which gave many examples of every possible variation The current edition (the sixth, 2010) is however substantially rewritten and much shorter, consisting of only 270 pages with 45 pages allocated to the sections on referencing.

It is important to keep up to date with the various editions – and make sure students know which edition they should use – as the systems change.

For example, I was working with some students recently who needed to know how to cite multiple sources. As I am most familiar with APA (2010, p. 178), I suggested putting the works in alphabetical order)

A number of studies (Jones, 1989;  Peters, 1976; Smith, 2005; Young, 1963) found that …

The students soon told me that they were required to use Cite Them Right so I changed my advice to (Pears & Shields, 2008, pp. 14-15) chronological order starting from the most recent:

A number of studies (Smith, 2005; Jones, 1989;  Peters, 1976; Young, 1963) found that …

until I realised that the latest version of Cite Them Right (Pears & Shields, 2013, p. 5) advises chronological order with the earliest work first:

A number of studies (Young, 1963;  Peters, 1976;  Jones, 1989; Smith, 2005) found that …

APA also had changed dramatically since the first publication manual in 1929:

History of the APA Publication Manual

1. Instructions in regard to preparation of manuscript. (1929). Psychological Bulletin, 26, 57-63.

2. Anderson, J. E., & Valentine, W. L. (1944).The preparation of articles for publication in the journals of the American Psychological Association. Psychological Bulletin, 41, 345-376.

3. American Psychological Association, Council of Editors. (1952). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. Psychological Bulletin, 49(Suppl., Pt. 2), 389-449.

4. American Psychological Association, Council of Editors. (1957). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (Rev. ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

5. American Psychological Association. (1967). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (Rev. ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

6. American Psychological Association. (1974). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

7. American Psychological Association. (1983). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

8. American Psychological Association. (1994). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

9. American Psychological Association. (2001). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

10. American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Examples:

1.

Atwater, C. B. Binocular rivalry, Psychol. Rev., 1907, 18, 342-389.

Eldridge, S. The organization of life, New York, Cromwell, 1925.

2.

BILLS, A. G. The influence of muscular tension on the efficiency of mental work. Amer. J. Psychol., 1927,38, 227-251.

WHITEHEAD, T. N. The industrial worker. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1938.

3.

Archer, P. W. The tactile perception of roughness. Amer. J. Psychol., 1950, 63, 365-373.

Jefferds, C. V. The psychology of industrial unrest. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951.

4.

Archer, P. W. The tactile perception of roughness. Amer. J. Psychol., 1950, 63, 365-373.

Jefferds, C. V. The psychology of industrial unrest. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951.

5.

Archer, P. W. The tactile perception of roughness. American Journal of Psychology, 1950, 63, 65-373.

Jefferds, C. V. The psychology of industrial unrest. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951.

6.

Harlow, H. F. Fundamental principles for preparing psychology journal articles. Journal
of Comparative and Physiological Psychology,
1962, 55, 893-896.

Jefferds, C. V. The psychology of industrial unrest. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951.

7.

Bernstein, T. M. (1965). The careful writer: A modern guide to English usage. New York: Atheneum.

Spetch, M. L. & Wilkie, D. M. (1983). Subjective shortening: A model of pigeons’ memory for event duration. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behaviour Processes, 9, 14-30.

8.

Bernstein, T. M. (1965). The careful writer: A modern guide to English usage. New York: Atheneum.

Spetch, M. L. & Wilkie, D. M. (1983). Subjective shortening: A model of pigeons’
memory for event duration. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behaviour Processes, 9, 14-30.

9.

Bernstein, T. M. (1965). The careful writer: A modern guide to English usage. New
York: Atheneum.

Spetch, M. L. & Wilkie, D. M. (1983). Subjective shortening: A model of pigeons’
memory for event duration. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behaviour Processes, 9, 14-30.

10.

Bernstein, T. M. (1965). The careful writer: A modern guide to English usage. New
York: Atheneum.

Spetch, M. L. & Wilkie, D. M. (1983). Subjective shortening: A model of pigeons’
memory for event duration. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behaviour Processes, 9, 14-30.

References in Text

The early publications recommend footnotes or endnotes (“bibliographical references placed at the end of the article in numerical or alphabetical sequence”).

For example in 1929 (p. 60):

b. Place of reference in manuscript
Two forms are commonly used: (1) footnotes, and (2) bibliographical references placed at the end of the article in numerical or alphabetical sequence.

There was a slight change in 1944 (p. 354):

References to bibliography.
Where fewer than five references are made in the body of the article some editors prefer the use of footnotes numbered in series to cumulated references at the end. Where more than five references are made the references should be cumulated at the end of the article and indicated by numbers in parentheses within the body of the text.

However, by 1952 (p. 22) footnotes are discouraged:

3.7 References and Quotations in the Text
3.71 References. Show all references in the text by numbers in parentheses that refer to the list of references at the end of the article. The reference numbers may be used with or without authors’ names. Examples: “Manuals on editorial style (21, 24, 26) advise that ….” Bruner (5) tells of some of her experiences ……

Do not use footnotes to cite references to the literature. Cite the reference by number, and give the full description in the alphabetical list at the end of the article.

The big change to the present author-date system came in 1957, when an amendment page substitutes the original:

4.7 References and Quotations in the Text
4.71 References. Show all references in the text by numbers in parentheses that refer to the list of references at the end of the article. The reference numbers may be used with or without authors’ names.Examples: “Manuals on editorial style (20, 22, 23) advise that ….” “Fowler (12) gives amusing examples…”

with:

4.7 References and Quotations in the Text
4.71 References. Show all references in the text by citing in parentheses the author’s surname and the year of publication as entered in the list of references at the end of the article. Example: ” … a recent study (Jones, 1958) has shown “

From 1967 (p. 46) onwards:

8.6 References in Text
Cite all references in text by enclosing in parentheses the author’s surname and the year of publication. Example: A recent study (Jones, 1954) has shown . . .

Nothing much had changed by the previous edition (2001, p. 207):

Reference Citations in Text
Document your study throughout the text by citing by author and date the works you used in your research. This style of citation briefly identifies the source for readers and enables them to locate the source of information in the alphabetical reference list at the end of the article.

and the current edition (2010, p. 174):

Citing References in Text
References in APA publications are cited in text with an author-date citation system and are listed alphabetically in the reference list. This style of citation briefly identifies the source for readers and enables them to locate the source of information in the
alphabetical reference list at the end of the article.

It is particularly interesting to see how APA recommend that reference to websites should be made.

In the 4th edition of the publication manual (1997), the first time websites are mentioned, reference is made to Li & Crane (1997). An example is:

Lehman, M. A. & Brown, R. H. (1994). Intellectual property and the national information infrastructure [Online]. Available: http://www.ilt.colombia.edu/CONF/EdPlan.html [1995, May 16].

In the 5th edition (2001), we would have:

Lehman, M. A. & Brown, R. H. (1994). Intellectual property and the national information infrastructure. Retrieved October 5, 2000 from http://www.ilt.colombia.edu/CONF/EdPlan.html

And in the latest edition:

Li, X. & Crane, N. (1996, May 20). Bibliographic formats for citing electronic information. Retrieved from http://www.uvm.edu/~xli/reference/estyles.html

The date of retrieval is not given unless it a website that is likely to change regularly such as a wiki.


MLA

Humanities students using the Modern Language Association of America style (MLA) also need to be careful:

The current MLA Handbook developed from the original 31-page MLA Style Sheet of 1951 (Parker, 1951)

The first three editions, published between 1977 and 1988 were titled the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. The title changed to the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers in 1995 (4th ed.) and again to the MLA Handbook in 2016 (8th ed.).

The style has changed too:

MLA Style Sheet (Modern Language Association, 1951; Parker, 1951)

The first version of the MLA Style Sheet recommends a footnote system, with full details of the source given in the footnote.

For example:

1Frank Smith, Reading (Cambridge, 1978), p. 15.

2David Abercrombie, “Paralanguage,” British Journal of Disorders of Communication, 3 (1968), 55-59.

Although, if a bibliography is required, the following examples are given:

Bibliography

Book

Smith, Frank. Reading. Cambridge, 1978.

Journal Article

Abercrombie, David. “Paralanguage,” British Journal of Disorders of Communication, 3 (1968), 55-59.

MLA Style Sheet (2nd edition) (Fisher, 1970)

List of Works Cited

Book

Smith, Frank. Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Journal Article

Abercrombie, David. “Paralanguage,” British Journal of Disorders of Communication, 3 (1968), 55-59.

1st Edition (Gibaldi & Achtert, 1977)

In the first edition of the handbook, a three stage – note number, endnote, works cited – system is recommended. The following suggestions are made for the list of works cited:

Works cited

Book

Smith, Frank. Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Journal Article

Abercrombie, David. “Paralanguage.” British Journal of Disorders of Communication, 3 (1968), 55-59.

4th edition (Gibaldi, 1995)

By the 4th edition of the handbook, the parenthetical system is recommended, with the following style for the list of works cited – one or two slight changes with punctuation:.

Works cited

Book

Smith, Frank. Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Journal Article

Abercrombie, David. “Paralanguage.” British Journal of Disorders of Communication 3 (1968): 55-59.

6th edition (Gibaldi, 2003)

Book

Smith, Frank Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Print.

Journal Article

Abercrombie, David. “Paralanguage.” British Journal of Disorders of Communication 3 (1968): 55-59. Print.

Website

Gillett, Andy. Using English for Academic Purposes. 28 Sept. 2015.  13 Nov. 2017. <http://www.uefap.net>.

7th edition (Gibaldi, 2009)

The 7th edition adds “medium of publication” – print, web, radio, television, …

Book

Smith, Frank Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Print.

Journal Article

Abercrombie, David. “Paralanguage.” British Journal of Disorders of Communication 3 (1968): 55-59. Print.

Website

Gillett, Andy. Using English for Academic Purposes. 28 Sept. 2015.  Web. 13 Nov. 2017. <http://www.uefap.net>.

8th edition (MLA, 2016)

Book (notice the place of publication is not used)

Smith, Frank. Reading. Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Journal Article

Abercrombie, David. “Paralanguage.” British Journal of Disorders of Communication, vol. 3, 1968, pp. 55-59.

Website

Gillett, Andy. Using English for Academic Purposes. 28 Feb. 2016. http://www.uefap.net. Accessed 15 May 2017.


Some people have very strong opinions about these systems. Here are a few quotations that I Iike from what is probably the most useful modern book on punctuation (Trask, 1997). I do think it is important, though, that as pragmatic EAP teachers we find out what our students need to produce and help them to do it. We can still have opinions, though (highlighting is mine):

Especially in academic writing, it is frequently necessary to refer in your text to other work of which you have made use or to which you want to direct the reader’s attention. There are several different systems for doing this, and they are not all equally good.

By far the best system is the Harvard system, also called the author – date system, and this is the one I recommend.

A second widely used system is the number system, which is particularly popular in some scientific circles…. . I don’t like this system, and I don’t recommend it, but you may at times find yourself obliged to use it.

There are several other ways of citing references, but they are all highly objectionable and should never be used.

Worst of all is the dreadful hotchpotch used by many scholars in arts subjects, in which references are presented sometimes in footnotes and sometimes in the text and are almost always incomplete and full of cryptic abbreviations which the reader has no hope of deciphering. If you spatter your work with unexplained exotica like DCELC, REW 1317, Schuch. Prim., Urquijo BSP IV, 137 ff., and so on, then no doubt the other eighteen specialists in your field will follow you, all right, but the rest of your readers will be helpless. Do not provide incomplete references, and do not use unexplained abbreviations. If you find that the use of some abbreviation is unavoidable, then explain it clearly either the first time you use it, or, better still, in a list of abbreviations at the beginning of your work.

The perpetrators of such inexcusable obscurity have the further outrageous habit of citing references with the Latin abbreviations ibid. and op. cit. What do these mean? Well ibid. means ‘This is another reference to the last thing I cited it’s back there somewhere, maybe only a page or two, you’re lucky.’ And op. cit. means ‘This is another reference to the work by this author which I cited some time ago, and if you want to know what it is, you can leaf back through: twenty-five or fifty pages to find it, you miserable peasant.’ (Technically, they mean ‘in the same place’ and ‘in the work cited’, but my explanations are far more honest.) Don’t use these ghastly things. A writer who uses them is expressing utter contempt for the reader, and should be turned over to the Imperial Chinese Torturer for corrective treatment.

Use the Harvard system. It’s vastly superior to everything else.

(Trask, 1997)

References

American Psychological Association (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

British Standards Institution (1989). Recommendations for references to published materials. BS 1629. 1989. London: BSI.

British Standards Institution (1990a). Recommendations for citing and referencing published materials. BS 5605. 1990. London: BSI.

British Standards Institution (1990b). Recommendations for the presentation of theses. BS 4821. 1990. London: BSI.

Chernin, E. (1988). The “Harvard system”: A mystery dispelled. British Medical Journal, 297, 1962-1063.

Fisher, J. H. (1970). The MLA style sheet (rev. ed.). New York: Modern Language Association of America.

Gibaldi, J. & Achtert, W. S.  (1977). MLA handbook for writers of research papers, theses and dissertations. New York: Modern Language Association of America.

Gibaldi, J. (2003). MLA handbook for writers of research papers (6th ed.). New York: Modern Language Association of America.

Gibaldi, J. (2009). MLA handbook for writers of research papers (7th ed.). New York: Modern Language Association of America.

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (1991). Uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals. BMJ, 302, 338-341.

Li, X. & Crane, N. B. (1997). Electronic styles (2nd ed.). Medford, NJ: Information Today Inc.

Modern Language Association (1951). The MLA style sheet. PMLA, 66(3), 3-31.

Modern Language Association (1998). MLA style. Retrieved December 18, 1998, from http://www.mla.org/

Modern Language Association (2009). MLA handbook for writers of research papers (7th ed.). New York: Modern Language Association of America.

Modern Language Association (2016). MLA handbook (8th ed.). New York: Modern Language Association of America.

Neville, C. (2007). The complete guide to referencing and avoiding plagiarism (2nd ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Parker, W. R. (1951). The MLA style sheet. New York: Modern Language Association of America.

Patrias, K. (2007). Citing medicine: The NLM style guide for authors, editors, and publishers (2nd ed.). Bethesda. MD: National Library of Medicine. Available from:http://www.nlm.nih.gov/citingmedicine

Pears, R. & Shields, G. (2004). Cite them right: Referencing made easy. Newcastle: Northumbria University.

Pears, R. & Shields, G. (2005). Cite them right: The essential guide to referencing and plagiarism (Rev. ed.). Newcastle: Pear Tree Books.

Pears, R. & Shields, G. (2008). Cite them right: The essential reference guide (Rev. ed.). Newcastle: Pear Tree Books.

Pears, R. & Shields, G. (2013). Cite them right: The essential reference guide (9th ed.). Houndsmill: Palgrave Macmillan.

Trask, R. L. (1997). The Penguin guide to punctuation. London: Penguin.

Williams, K. & Carroll, J. (2009). Referencing and understanding plagiarism.. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

2 thoughts on ““The Harvard System” of referencing.

  1. Thank you for that. Intermittently one of the teachers I work with (who have to write) or one of the colleagues (who have to mark that writing) comes up with a strongly held belief on the subject and I have often wondered how they can end up so varied in their opinions yet so certain. The fact that that happens makes more sense now I have seen it set out as a sequence like this.

    • I’m glad you agree, Sally. I have a lot of books on writing etc and most of them have a section on referencing. They are all fine in themselves, but why do they all have to be different? However, as pragmatic EAP teachers we need to accept it and deal with it, but sometimes … You know the quote from Winnie The Pooh:
      “Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.” A. A. Milne
      .

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