References – cite and list


Neil Stamper 

Apart from content and relevance, only two things are important for references. They should show all the details necessary for any reader to find every reference. You should give those details in a manner that is consistent, with a standard form of punctuation, for all references. 

Two systems

There are two main ways of handling references: 

  • name/year, eg “experts say (Stamper, 1996)”, with an alphabetical (by author) list at the end of the document 
  • numerical in order of appearance, eg “experts disagree1,2 on this technique”, with a numerically ordered list at the end. 

The numerical system has a few benefits – but these are swamped by its disadvantages: 

  • it is a vast chore to change all the text and list numbers when adding one reference to the middle of a document 
  • it gives the reader no information about the reference 
  • it is clumsy when references are cited repeatedly. 

You may be forced to use the numerical system (eg to submit a paper to a journal that uses numerical references). You will probably still find it easier to produce your document using the name/year system, converting only at the last minute, when everything is finalised. 

Citations in the text

If the author’s name is a natural part of your text, cite the year only. Otherwise, cite both name and year. Separate name and year with a comma. Separate multiple references with a semicolon. See example below. 

Few would see fit to argue with Stamper (1996). However, the study of bibliography has not been without heretics in the recent past (Oddsocks, 1989; Parminter, 1991). 

Where a citation has up to three authors, name them all, eg: (Smith, Jones and Oddsocks, 1996). For four or more authors, use et al (Smith et al, 1996). 

If there is no author, eg a short news piece in a newspaper, cite it as (Anon, 1996). 

Types of reference

Four types of reference occur frequently: 

  • article in a journal, magazine or newspaper 
  • book or thesis 
  • chapter in a book 
  • internet item. 

If you follow the style given below, references can easily be converted to meet the requirements of any journal (almost all of which differ on minor points of punctuation). 

Journal article

Smith A and Jones B (1996). Surreal medicine. Medical Artist 12(1): 25-29. 

Magazine article

MacSporran K (1996). Fuel rods make Scotland a US nuclear dustbin. Atlantic Monthly July: 45-48. 

Newspaper article

Anon (1996). Resistant bugs bite back. The Guardian 24 March: 7. 


Archer D C, Baker D F and Fraser J (1996). A Guide to Forgery. Second edition. Edinburgh, Canongate. 

Thesis (once accepted)

Vanilli M (1996). Opportunities for Herbal Remedies. PhD thesis. Glasgow, University of Glasgow. 

Book chapter

Constable P C (1996). Forensic techniques for paint evaluation. In: Tate A and Lyle B (Eds). Finding Fiendish Forgers. London, Macmillan. 

Internet item

Author (year of publication). Title [online]. Place of publication, publisher. URL [accessed date].

Stamper N (1997). References – how to cite and list [online]. [24 March 1997].

List guidelines 

Arrange references in alphabetical order by author. If you have two references by one author, put them in date order. If both are from the same year, label them a (first to be cited in text) and b (second in text). Jointly authored works follow these rules but come after the works of the author alone. The example below may clarify this: 

Smith A (1990a) 

Smith A (1990b) 

Smith A (1996) 

Smith A and Jones B (1989) 

Smith A and Zigzag P (1977). 

In your list, if a piece of work has up to six authors, name them all in full. If there are seven or more, give only the first author et al. 

In journal articles and book chapters, capitalise only proper names, eg: 

The earliest years of the British Medical Association. 

Put journal names and book titles in italics. 

Give journal titles in full – this makes your reference more ‘error proof’, eg: 

British Medical Journal not BMJ

Give start and finish page numbers in full. This increases redundancy but again acts to ‘error proof’ your reference. 

Capitalise only the significant words in journal names and book titles, eg: 

Journal of Surrealist Medicine, The Hat with No Heart

Include in your reference list only those references you have cited in your text. Any other fine and relevant works by your grandmother or professor should be listed separately, under the heading “Reading list” or “Bibliography”. 

When dealing with references that do not belong to the three major types, base your style on those types and be consistent. Always remember that the purpose of a reference is to allow others to find your source. For unpublished works, try to include a name and address, from which the enthusiastic reader can obtain a copy. Avoid citing “personal communications”. What use are they if no one else can see them? 

For books, always include the town of publication, not just the county or state. For smaller US towns, it is customary to include both the town and state, eg: 

Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall. 

Before submitting a paper to a journal, obtain a copy of their “Notes for Authors”. Look at a copy of the journal and ensure that your references comply with their style. 

Beware of copying references from lists produced by other people. Wherever possible, check the original. If you cannot do this, try to check your references against a library catalogue or an on-line source of journal material. 

Be not downhearted

If you feel this part of your work, organising references, to be pointless, nit-picking and a waste of time, you are only partially correct. 

  • The point is to inform others through your sources. 
  • To do so takes time but is quicker if you only have to apply a set of arbitrary rules. 
  • To help others reach your degree of enlightenment cannot be a waste of time. 
  • Be organised – when you first see a reference, capture all its details on a card index or computer database. 

Seriously interested?

If this brief guide has whetted your appetitite for matters bibliographic, you can easily access a range of more eminent sources (especially on internet citations). Remember to look for the heading “Writing and editing – cite references”, after you click on bookmarks

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Please contact neil at if you find this guide useful.