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Reference styles

There are two main methods of referencing articles in journal and book publications. These are known as the Harvard (author-date) and Vancouver (author-number) reference systems. Many professional publications often have their own house style which introduce specific variations within these general conventions. For electronic citation, see our help guide on citing electronic resources.


Library resources

There are several books on writing and reference techniques at shelfmark CZ 330 in the BMA library. Some of the more recent are:

Gustavii B. How to write and illustrate a scientific paper. Cambridge University P, 2003
BMA location: CZ 330

Hall GM. How to write a paper. BMJ Books, 2003
BMA location: CZ 330

Montgomery SL. Chicago guide to communicating science. University of Chicago P, 2003
BMA location: CZ 330

Peat J. Scientific writing : easy when you know how. BMJ Books, 2002
BMA location: CZ 330 also available as an e-book (login required)

Ritter RM. Oxford guide to style. Oxford University P, 2002
BMA location: CZ 350

Other useful sources
Harvard style: Style manual for authors, editors and printers 6th ed. Sydney: John Wiley and Sons, 2002. (ISBN 0701636483)

Chicago style: The Chicago manual of style: for authors, editors and copywriters 15th ed. University of Chicago P, 2003.

Turabian style: Turabian KL. A manual for writers of term papers, theses and dissertations 6th ed. University of Chicago P, 1996.


Harvard (author-date) style

This system uses the author’s name and date of publication in the body of the text, and the bibliography is given alphabetically by author. There are many variations on the style - examples are below:

’The author has discussed the implications of these proposals on the National Health Service in another paper (Loft, 1991). Other writers have commented on related issues, notably Lane (1992, 1994) and Lewis (1995, p.54).

Names and dates are enclosed in parentheses unless the author’s name is part of the sentence. If two papers are cited by the same author, and both are published in the same year, the first should be referenced as (Loft 1997a), then (Loft 1997b), and so on.

The full citation is listed at the end of the article, which is arranged in alphabetical order by author. Journal names are given in full and are italicised, as are book names. References would be cited as follows:

Annas, G.J. (1997a), ’New drugs for acute respiratory distress syndrome’, New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 337, no. 6, pp. 435-439.

Grinspoon, L. and Bakalar, J.B. (1993), Marijuana: the forbidden medicine, Yale University Press, London.


Variations on the Harvard style

Universities have many variations for use in their own institutions, a few examples are linked below.

Leicester University (UK)
Year of publication is not in brackets and is followed by a full stop; article titles are not placed within quotes, volume numbers are in bold and are not spelled out

Monash University (Australia)
Article titles are in double quotes

University of Western Australia (Australia)
In this recommendation, the year of publication is not in brackets


British Standards 1629 and 5605

There are two British Standards outlining reference styles. They use an author-date format:

  • Recommendations for references to published materials. BSI, 1989. BS 1629
  • Recommendations for citing and referencing published material. 2nd ed. BSI, 1990. BS 5605.

Vancouver (author-number) style

The Vancouver system differs from Harvard by using a number series to indicate references. Bibliographies list these in numerical order as they appear in the text. The main advantage of the Vancouver style is that the main text reads more easily, and some editors consider this to be less obtrusive. Additionally, references in the bibliography are directly correlated to numbers, saving the reader time in searching alphabetically for the first author of a reference.

Vancouver style is so named as it is based on the work of a group, first meeting in Vancouver in 1978, which became the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). The style was developed by the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) and adopted by the ICMJE as part of their ’uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals’. The NLM has an ICMJE page which gives sample references for 41 different circumstances, and should be considered as the authoritative style. See the full Uniform Requirements (2003).

The NLM’s annual publication 'list of journals indexed in Index Medicus' lists journals and their accepted abbreviations. The NLM abbreviation for a journal title is commonly required by medical journals. The list is available in a number of different formats and can be obtained from the Library’s website.

’The author has discussed the implications of these proposals on the National Health Service in another paper (1). Other writers have commented on related issues, notably Lane (2,3) and Lewis (4).

References in the Vancouver style would be cited in numerical order as below. This is a more economical style than Harvard, and excessive punctuation, spacing and formatting is absent. Journal names are abbreviated.

(1) Annas GJ. New drugs for acute respiratory distress syndrome. N Engl J Med. 1997;337:435-9.

(2) Grinspoon L, Bakalar JB. Marijuana: the forbidden medicine. London: Yale University Press; 1993.

(3) Feinberg TE, Farah MJ, editors. Behavioural neurology and neuropsychology. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1997.


Variations on the Vancouver style (medical journals)

Medical journals generally require the Vancouver style, but it is important to consult ’Instructions for Authors’. 

Variations frequently include:

  • In many publications the in-text numbers used to cite references are often in superscript
  • Capitalisation, particularly in book titles
  • Place of publication and publisher may be reversed from the order given above
  • Page numbers sometimes elided as 805-9 or in full as 805-809
  • Abbreviations for journal titles or full titles
  • Punctuation conventions vary considerably between publications.

BMJ guidelines for authors

The BMJ conforms in most respects to the Vancouver style, however its advice to contributors is as follows:

Examples of BMJ style

  • Nantulya V, Reich M. The neglected epidemic: road traffic injuries in developing countries. BMJ 2002;324: 1139.
  • Murray C, Lopez A. Alternative projections of mortality and disability by cause 1990-2020: global burden of disease study. Lancet 1997;349: 1498-504.
  • Clarke R, Lewington S, Donald A, Johnston C, Refsum H, Stratton I, et al. Underestimation of the importance of homocysteine as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in epidemiological studies. J Cardiovasc Risk 2001;8: 363-9.
  • Land Transport Safety Authority. New Zealand household travel survey. Wellington: Safety Standards Branch, Land Transport Safety Authority, 1991.
  • World Health Organization. International classification of diseases, 9th revision: clinical modification. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers, 1980.
    Department of Health. National service framework for coronary heart disease. London: DoH, 2000. (accessed 6 Jun 2003).

In the text, reference numbers are given in superscript. Notice that issue number is omitted if there is continuous pagination throughout a volume, there is a space between volume number and page numbers, page numbers are in elided form (51-4 rather than 51-54) and the name of journal or book is in italics.


Other web resources

How to acknowledge what you’ve read: citing and referencing tutorial (Monash University, Aus)
A well designed online tutorial covering constructing references in Harvard, Vancouver, American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA) and other styles used in disciplines such as engineering

Reference formats (Hardin Library for the Health Sciences, US)
Guide covering the Vancouver and American Psychological Association (APA) styles: look under ’RefWorks Quick Start Guide. (PDF format, 7 pages)