Table of Contents (Guide To Publication)

Part II: Preparing, Presenting and Polishing Your Work – Chapter 5

5.2.3 Reference Lists and Bibliographies: Niggling Details

Compiling and recording sources in a reference list (or list of works cited in MLA style) or bibliography is more than simply attending to niggling details, of course – it’s a big job and constitutes a significant part of an academic or scientific paper – but the process can certainly give an author the impression of drowning in niggling details. As soon as the rules of any particular referencing style or set of guidelines begin to sink in, allowing the beleaguered compiler to surface for air, an exception pops up, and there are always exceptions – sources of a kind that just isn’t mentioned in the guidelines you’re using or unique sources that seem to belong in more than one of the reference categories you’re trying to follow or simply don’t fit any of the rules provided. So compiling a perfect list of sources, whether you call it References or Works Cited or Bibliography, can be a challenge as much of patience as precision, and as dull a task as many find it, a touch of imagination never hurts as you wrestle the many multimedia resources that tend to inform today’s academic and scientific articles into what remains a very traditional form of acknowledging and sharing scholarly sources. Being both accurate and thorough is as important today as it was 100 years ago – without all the correct information accurately recorded, you neither adequately nor respectfully acknowledge the work of other scholars, and you also make it difficult for your readers to find your sources. Today, the effect of a reference list, for good or ill, is immediate: your paper and sources appear online in many cases before they ever see print, and immediately enter a complex web of cross references on which scholars rely for a variety of reasons, from reviews of literature to assessments of journals.

Referencing styles and guidelines differ so markedly at times and in such tiny details at others that general advice beyond a mantra chanting ‘precision, precision, precision, consistency, consistency, consistency’ in your ear can only be so helpful. There are some general trends and distinctions that are worth knowing, however: a bibliography, for instance, is usually arranged alphabetically by the last names of authors (for help with the details of alphabetical order, most style manuals – the APA Manual is a good example – will provide instructions and examples), and a bibliography can contain not just all the sources you actually cite in your paper, but also any sources that you don’t directly cite in your paper but that nonetheless influenced your thinking as you did your research and drafted your article. A list of references or works cited, on the other hand, includes only the sources – all of them – that you cite in your paper. If you’re using an author-date style of citation, your reference list will be arranged alphabetically by authors’ last names just as a bibliography is, but while a bibliography usually includes the publication date near the end of a reference, in an author-date system the date of a source will follow immediately after the author name(s) in the list because dates are part of the way in which readers will find and identify sources. Dates should be kept in mind while listing references in both systems, however, since they determine the order in which sources by the same author(s) should be listed: some systems arrange such items with the earliest publication first moving forward in time to the latest, while others will have you list the most recent publication first with others following in reverse chronological order. For numerical referencing styles, neither author names nor dates are used to arrange the sources; instead, items are listed in the reference list in numerical order (the same order in which they’re cited in the paper) because in this case it is the number of a source that allows your readers to find and identify it.

The spacing and indentation of bibliographies and reference lists vary considerably as well. The relevant style manual or journal guidelines will provide details, but as a general rule maintaining the line spacing (double, for instance) you’ve used in the paper itself is a good policy, and using indentation and/or spacing to separate your references clearly and improve their legibility is good practice. A number of standard abbreviations are used in reference lists and bibliographies – ‘pp.,’ ‘Ed.,’ ‘ed.,’ ‘edn.,’ ‘Vol.,’ ‘No.’ and the two-letter abbreviations for American states are common examples – but these, too, vary between referencing styles, and some journals will encourage the use of further abbreviations, such as the standard abbreviations for journal titles (which can be found in various places online: the NLM Catalog of Journals Referenced in the NCBI Databases is an easy-to-use example). The bibliographical information in reference lists and bibliographies also differs between styles in the format of page number ranges (e.g., 222-4 vs. 222-24 vs. 222-224), and in the use of punctuation, capitalisation and fonts (on journal volume numbers, for instance, APA style uses italic font, whereas the guidelines for the medical journal BMC Public Health call for bold font on volume numbers).

As a tool to help you take careful note of the many elements that vary from style to style, I’m providing here a list of the same source (a chapter within an edited book) recorded in the bibliography/references/works cited formats required by eight different styles:

  • Chicago Bibliography (in-note): Hardman, Phillipa. “Presenting the Text: Pictorial Tradition in Fifteenth-Century Manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales.” In Chaucer Illustrated: Five Hundred Years of the Canterbury Tales in Pictures, edited by William K. Finley and Joseph Rosenblum, 37-72. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2003.
  • MLA (author-page or author-short title-page if necessary): Hardman, Phillipa. “Presenting the Text: Pictorial Tradition in Fifteenth-Century Manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales.” Chaucer Illustrated: Five Hundred Years of the Canterbury Tales in Pictures. Ed. William K. Finley and Joseph Rosenblum. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2003. 37-72. Print.
  • Vancouver (numerical): 1. Hardman P. Presenting the text: pictorial tradition in fifteenth-century manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales. In: Finley WK, Rosenblum J, editors. Chaucer illustrated: Five hundred years of the Canterbury Tales in pictures. New Castle (DE): Oak Knoll Press; 2003. Pp. 37-72.
  • American Medical Association (AMA: numerical): 1. Hardman P. Presenting the text: pictorial tradition in fifteenth-century manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales. In: Finley WK, Rosenblum J, eds. Chaucer Illustrated: Five Hundred Years of the Canterbury Tales in Pictures. New Castle, De: Oak Knoll Press; 2003:37-72.
  • BMC Public Health (numerical): 1. Hardman P: Presenting the text: pictorial tradition in fifteenth-century manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales. In Chaucer Illustrated: Five Hundred Years of the Canterbury Tales in Pictures. Edited by Finley WK, Rosenblum J. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press; 2003:37-72.
  • APA (author-date): Hardman, P. (2003). Presenting the text: Pictorial tradition in fifteenth-century manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales. In W. K. Finley & J. Rosenblum (Eds.), Chaucer illustrated: Five hundred years of the Canterbury Tales in pictures (pp. 37-72). New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press.
  • Chicago Reference List (author-date): Hardman, Phillipa. 2003. “Presenting the Text: Pictorial Tradition in Fifteenth-Century Manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales.” In Chaucer Illustrated: Five Hundred Years of the Canterbury Tales in Pictures, edited by William K. Finley and Joseph Rosenblum, 37-72. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press.
  • Harvard (author-date): Hardman, P. (2003) Presenting the text: Pictorial tradition in fifteenth-century manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales. In: Finley, W. K. & Rosenblum, J. (eds.) Chaucer Illustrated: Five Hundred Years of the Canterbury Tales in Pictures. New Castle, DE, Oak Knoll Press, pp.37-72.

A close examination of these examples reveals not only many of the differences in formatting and arrangement used by a selection of common styles, but also, and equally importantly, the consistency with which all eight styles record the same details about the source despite the variations (with MLA style calling for the medium of publication – print in this case – as well). It is essential that you provide complete bibliographical information of this sort for each and every source in your list, so a careful check through all your references is necessary once they’re typed in. You should also double-check each reference against the original for accuracy, against others like it for consistency, and against the citations of it in your paper to be sure that names, dates, reference numbers and any other information that appear in both places are identical. If you use any sources in languages other than English, you may want to translate the titles into English in your reference list or bibliography (some journals will insist on this): a standard way to do this is to place the English translation in square brackets immediately after the original title. Remember to provide URLs and DOIs (uniform resource locators and digital object identifiers) for sources that you accessed online, and, if the style or guidelines you’re using require it, an access or retrieval date. Finally, be sure to check the journal guidelines regarding the number of references you are allowed to use in your paper: some journals will set a limit of 20 or 40 references, for instance, depending on the type of paper.

PRS Tip: Even when all instructions are followed and the utmost care is taken to cite sources accurately and construct a thorough reference list or bibliography, errors and inconsistencies will inevitably creep in, and correcting them is especially time-consuming because each and every detail needs to be checked against both the sources and the style sheet or guidelines. A professional proofreader familiar with academic and scientific referencing styles can be of enormous assistance, but a proofreader cannot provide citations or construct a reference list for you. So the key to making a proofreader’s work serve you well is to do your very best to provide appropriate citations in your text and complete bibliographical information in your list in as consistent a manner as possible that conforms as closely as you can manage to the style with which you’re working. Then send your paper and your reference list, along with information about the style or guidelines you’re following, to us at PRS, and we’ll check, correct and comment on these aspects of your work. If you’re using your own format for references, be especially careful to be as consistent as possible throughout your list, because only if you set the pattern clearly can a proofreader determine what that pattern is and help you conform to it as he or she ensures that all your references are complete and adhere to good academic or scientific practice. 

Table of Contents (Guide To Publication)

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