• 3-minute read
  • 27th April 2016

Harvard Referencing: 4 Things You Need to Know

Maybe you’ve already used Harvard citations in an essay and think you know everything. Maybe you’re a newcomer looking for guidance. Or maybe you’re here by accident (hello stranger!) and you’re not even sure what Harvard referencing means.

That was before. By the end of this post, you’ll all be people who know at least four important facts about Harvard referencing. It’s nice to have something in common.

1. The Harvard ‘System’ isn’t a System

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as the ‘Harvard referencing system’.

In actuality, ‘Harvard referencing’ is a generic term for author-date citations and many universities have their own modified version of this referencing style. As such, it’s essential to check your institution’s style guide for detail on how to cite sources.

2. Quality Beats Quantity

We’re sometimes asked whether an essay has ‘enough’ references, but nobody has ever earned a passing grade for sheer number of citations.

Quality is far more important with referencing, so it’s crucial to know when a citation is required. For Harvard referencing, this usually includes:

  • Quoting or paraphrasing a source
  • Using a diagram or illustration from a book, web page or article
  • Using published data or results from someone else’s study
  • Summarising a thinker’s beliefs or thoughts

You don’t need to provide a citation for something considered common knowledge (e.g. ‘London is in England’ or ‘ice is cold’) and doing so will not earn bonus points.

3. Parenthetical Citations

Another term for an author-date citation is a parenthetical citation, which reflects the way Harvard referencing provides source details in parentheses. The information required for most source types with in-text citations is the author surname and publication date:

Modernist art was partly a response to historical change (Britt, 1974).

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However, only the date of publication is included in parentheses when the author is already named in the text:

Britt (1974, p. 8) says multiplicity is ‘Modernism’s message’.

As in the example above, you should also provide page numbers (if available) when quoting a source.

4. The Reference List is Important

The reference list is where the full detail of each source in your essay should be recorded. In case the subtitle above doesn’t make it clear enough, this is very important.

The information required here depends on the source type, but typically includes the title of the work, its author and relevant publication details. For example, the book cited above would appear as:

Britt, D. 1974. Modern Art: Impressionism to Postmodernism. London: Thames & Hudson.

To ensure clarity, your reference list should also:

  • List only cited sources (additional reading can be listed separately)
  • Invert author names (i.e. surname first) and arrange sources alphabetically by surname
  • List multiple works by the same author chronologically, earliest first
  • Italicise the names of books and journals
  • Give a URL or DOI for all online sources

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