Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why is it when you look online you can find many different ways to do Harvard style citations?

So, one employer asked me to take a test to show I have editing skills. This is not the first time I have employers require tests (even though I have already taken tests through Guru and they are displayed on my profile). However, as all of you should know, editing is not cut and dried: This is right; this is wrong. Yes, certain things are right and certain things are wrong, but there are some things that change depending on the style manual you are using. The last time I did an editing test for an employer, I was told I failed because I did not know which style manual they were following (after the fact, I determined it was probably Chicago style, which is my least favorite).

Before taking this test, I asked which style it would cover. I was told APA and Harvard. The first part of the test was simple, but then the second got tricky. When I came to the first Harvard style question: "Which is the correct way to cite this reference in Harvard style?" Neither of the two answers was correct: (Wayne, Smith, Johnson, & McClennen, 2014) OR (Wayne, Smith, Johnson and McClennen, 2014). The correct in-text, parenthetical, Harvard style citation would be (Wayne, Smith, Johnson & McClennen 2014). This happened for three questions- I only guessed correctly one of the three times.

Needless to say, I went online to find out why this test was messed up- after all they had to use some resource that obviously wasn't the original (which is the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers, 6th Ed. 2002). What I discovered was that people are confusing Harvard style (which is a complete style guide) with the Harvard system of referencing. I also think I know why Harvard style is called Harvard style even though it is from Australia.

It all started when a Harvard professor decided to use the in-text citation at the turn of the 20th century. The other methods of citation use footnotes and endnotes (Vancouver- IEEE uses this). Technically, any parenthetical citation in-text is the "Harvard" system and that is probably why the AGPS became known as Harvard style. However, some people use "Harvard" to refer to the name-date parenthetical style. This is where it gets confusing. If, as some people on the Internet claim, Harvard style refers simply to a citation system where you use the name and date in parenthesis- it has nothing to distinguish it from, say, APA which is also a name-date citation style. In general, if professors and journals want any name-date style, they will simply say use a "name-date citation style." (Or that is what they should say rather.)

Internationally, commas are frowned upon as a general rule (sad, but true). So the AGPS, which is the official style manual of Australia, is an international standard when house style manuals are not used. Keep in mind that Harvard style is a full style guide. If you are writing a thesis in Austrailia, you will be required to follow it. Harvard referencing or the Harvard system of referencing only means you should not be using foot- or endnotes. Keep in mind, though, that many of the websites talking about Harvard referencing (1) Are university websites compiled by librarians and seem to be based on what the librarians themselves prefer, and (2) have no clue what they are talking about: One stated that MLA was a footnote/ endnote referencing style. MLA is actually a parenthetical style (like Harvard) that uses the author and page number (instead of author-date).

So, that is why there is the confusion about style online. Some people (and universities) have created their own style guides using Harvard referencing as their citation method. This is very wrong of them to do. If they want to use Harvard referencing, they should call it the name-date system to help avoid confusion. Especially since they use "Harvard referencing" to specifically mean name-date as opposed to parenthetical referencing. In general, I think it is due to a lack of knowledge- kind of like when I bought the Harvard Blue Book, which is not a style manual but a legal citation guide. To further reduce confusion, Harvard style should go back to being AGPS style, but that will probably not happen.

So, your professor told you to write a paper and you don't know if you should follow the style manual or just cite works using an author-date system- what do you do? First, if you follow the Harvard style manual, you won't get marked down- or if you do you have a case you can present and you should win. (You did know you can appeal university grades, right?) Second, if you don't want to purchase the Harvard manual, you could just use its method of citation (follow the link above under "Harvard style"). Third, you could ask your professor what exactly is meant and impress (or irritate) him or her with your knowledge of citation and referencing systems. Or, fourth, you could hope your professor meant Harvard referencing, find a citation method that is name-date that you like, and be consistent throughout.

Consistency is the key with anything. That is the whole reason style manuals were developed- so you didn't use serial commas in the first paragraph and drop them elsewhere (for example). In fact, that is the whole reason Webster wrote the dictionary- so there would be more consistency in spelling. As an editor, consistency is the number one thing I have to fix.

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