We have highlighted the top 10 most common mistakes that students make below. Many of the 'top 10 mistakes' outlined below can be avoided by using Cite them Right for guidance. This 'walkthrough' video of Cite them Right gives further guidance in how to navigate and use this resource.
A common mistake we see is the incorrect use of et al. To remind you, this stands for 'and others' and it should be used in both in-text citations and your reference list, to indicate a work has multiple authors.
It should only be used if the source you are referencing has four or more authors. Where a source has one, two or three authors, you should name them all in both your in-text citation and your reference.
et al. should always be written in italics, with a full stop at the end of al.
Citation: Bickley et al. (2019) provide a comprehensive guide to physical examination....
Reference: Bickley, L.S. et al. (2021) Bates' guide to physical examination and history taking. 13th edn. Philadelphia: LIppincott Williams & Wilkins.
Cite them Right has a section on Setting out Citations, which is listed on the homepage. This gives comprehensive guidance on how to cite one, two, three and 'four or more' authors. You will need to log in with your SGUL network login to see this page.
The Harvard style of referencing is all about the author of a publication and the date it was published. It’s these pieces of information that dictate the order that your references appear at the end of your work: you should list them in alphabetical order, by the author’s surname.
We regularly see students who have unnecessarily numbered their references in an otherwise exemplary alphabetical list, or have listed their references in the order they appeared in the body of their work. To see a great example of a reference list, log in to Cite them Right and use the Basics section near the top of the screen to find the link called 'sample text and reference list using the Harvard style'.
It is always a good idea to double check that your reference list is in alphabetical order before you submit your work.
Similarly, we also regularly see people mixing up different referencing styles in their work. For example, the Vancouver style uses numbers as in-text citations which correspond to a numbered reference list.
For Harvard, this is incorrect. Harvard is an Author-Date style of referencing which requires both of these pieces of information within your in-text citation.
For correct citations, log in to Cite them Right and view the 'Setting out Citations' section on the homepage.
As previously mentioned, Harvard is an Author-Date style of referencing, so your citations should contain the author's surname(s) and the year of publication, e.g. (Williams, 2019). However, we regularly see people also including the author's first name(s) or intial(s) within their citations, e.g, (Williams, J., 2019). This is not required in Harvard. You do need to include initals within the full reference in your reference list, but not in your citation.
We’ve often found that there is some confusion over where and when to include page numbers within in-text citations. This is what Cite Them Right has to say on the matter:
If you are quoting directly or using ideas from a specific page or pages of a work, you should include the page number(s) in your citations. Insert the abbreviation p. (or pp.) before the page number(s).
(Pears and Shields, 2019, p. 7)
How you set out your citation depends on the flow of your writing or the idea you are trying to communicate. Log in to Cite them Right and you will find several pieces of useful information in the Basics section which can be found near the top of the homepage. This includes 'Quoting, paraphrasing and summarising in your text'.
In another example of mixing up referencing styles, we’ve seen plenty of examples of written assignments that use footnotes to display references. Footnotes are not used in Harvard (or other Author-Date styles of referencing) so you should avoid using them in your written work.
You should ensure that all of your citations appear in the body of your written work and that your references are listed in alphabetical order on a separate page at the end of your assignment. If you are having trouble succinctly paraphrasing or synthesizing information in your work, have a chat with the Academic Success Centre advisors who can help you develop your academic writing.
In another example of mixing up referencing styles, it’s fairly common for us to see the terms ibid. (referring to an immediately preceding cited work) or op. cit. (referring to previously cited work) in place of the correct author-date style of in-text citation. These terms are broadly used to save on space (or your word count!) but as with footnotes, neither of there terms are used within Harvard referencing so you should avoid using them in your written work.
Websites are probably the most common references we see that are missing their vital bibliographic details. If you find that lots of your sources are missing dates, ask yourself if you might be able to find a better, more reliable source for your work. eBooks are just as good, if not better than, websites for background information and have the benefit of including all the necessary bibliographic information at the beginning of the book.
Information on how to manage missing details such as author or date can be found in the 'Websites and web pages' section of this guide. You can apply this information to other sources beyond websites if they are also missing date or author.
Remember: You should avoid using websites for academic work which have no obvious author, title and date. In general, using sources with missing bibliographic information is not recommended.
The key to successfully referencing a chapter in an edited book is to ensure you are recording both the author(s) and title of the chapter you have read as well as the editor(s) and title of the book as a whole. A common mistake we see usually involves including only one or the other.
You also need to remember that in your in-text citation you should include the author(s) of the chapter and the date, not the editor(s) of the book.
Arguably the trickiest – and most tiresome – thing about any kind of referencing is ensuring your references are formatted correctly, with all the necessary punctuation in the right places. If you’ve got an errant full-stop, or a missing comma, you may be marked down.
How do I make sure my formatting is correct?
Attention to detail is key: following the exact layout of the examples provided in Cite them Right - whatever the source - will help you achieve referencing perfection. We have highlighted the most useful sections of Cite them Right in this guide, as well as giving you a range of examples.
Giving yourself time is also important! Leaving referencing to the very last minute often means forsaking accuracy in an effort to turn your assignments in by the deadline. Marks for correct referencing are easy to earn and easy to lose, so give yourself the best chance and try to reference as you go and keep track of the bibliographic information of your sources too.