Documenting Your Sources with Perfect References
Adding, proofreading and perfecting the list of references for a scholarly paper before submitting it to a journal for publication are activities that many academics and scientists loath. In most cases, this feeling has nothing to do with an aversion to citing sources and acknowledging the work of scholarly predecessors. No, it is usually more a matter of those references presenting extra work – work that can be extremely time consuming – when a busy researcher would much rather move on to more interesting tasks. However, references must be reported accurately and thoroughly, and in most cases they must also be formatted in a specific way in order to meet journal guidelines. Failing to perfect your references can result in rejection without your paper ever being read.
Some academic and scientific journals will provide detailed instructions and examples for references, while others will offer very little guidance or simply ask that authors use articles already published by the journal as examples to emulate. Whatever the situation may be as you prepare your work for submission, the following list of details and patterns to watch for in journal samples and instructions may prove helpful as you construct your list of references.
• Notice the various bits of information required when recording each type of source. A book, for instance, will usually require less information than a journal article simply because the title of both the article and the journal are needed for a journal article. Some documentation styles will call for an identification of the type of source (book, article, web site etc.), and several layers of information may be required for some web pages.
• Observe the order in which bibliographical information is presented. Documentation styles vary in this regard, with the list of references to accompany parenthetical author–date citations, for instance, placing the author name along with the date of publication first so that readers can efficiently connect in-text citations with the sources listed at the end of a paper. The order may also vary according to the type of source, so do be alert to differences so that you meet journal requirements with precision and consistency.
• The abbreviations used and their exact format are also important. Abbreviations such as ‘ed.,’ ‘pp.,’ ‘trans.’ and ‘vol.’ are frequently used in bibliographical references, but they can vary in format among documentation styles and journals, so notice exactly how they appear in the guidelines and use them or not accordingly. When recording the page numbers of book chapters, for instance, ‘pp.’ is often used, but the abbreviation is usually not necessary for article page numbers. Journal titles are often abbreviated as well, but be sure to look up the appropriate abbreviation so that you do not lead readers to the wrong journal.
• Pay attention to the fonts used for the separate parts of each reference. The base font for your reference list should be the same as the font you use in the rest of your paper, but certain bits of information may need to be set in different fonts. Book and journal titles, for example, are often set in italic font, while article titles and journal volume numbers are sometimes set in boldface.
• Capitalisation patterns are important in bibliographical references because they determine where the various bits of information begin and end. Author names usually require initial capitalisation on each element as do places of publication and publisher names. The capitalisation of titles, however, can vary markedly from style to style as well as by type of source (book, article, journal, thesis etc.), so careful attention should be given to where capitals appear in sample references.
• Each documentation style tends to use specific punctuation patterns, and such tiny elements of references can be easily missed, but they need to be correct. If publication dates are enclosed in parentheses in the instructions provided by the journal, then the publication dates in your list of references must be enclosed in parentheses. If a colon is used to separate journal volume numbers from article page numbers, do not use a semicolon instead and vice versa. If quotation marks are used around the titles of journal articles, you should use them too.
• The layout of the list as a whole is also a concern. Some journals provide very little information on this aspect of reference lists, but consulting papers already published by the journal can be particularly helpful here. Do the lists of references usually begin on a new page? What patterns of indentation are used? Is there extra spacing between references? Doing all you can to lay out your list of references correctly will save you work down the road.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.