01 January 2013

Time to Question Unexamined Practices
- and start afresh?


The work here builds upon an article I had published in the Times Higher Education (25 June 2009) which is still available online at: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=407112. The positive feedback from many readers enabled me to improve upon my original idea. The present work, therefore, has benefitted from readers’ constructive comments. Any views you have to offer will also be greatly appreciated and considered.


If universities are genuinely concerned about ‘the student experience’, then it is time to examine a specific area that causes undergraduates unnecessary stress – the multitude of academic referencing styles (ARS). In essence, ARS are a legacy of the print industry; they cause needless anxiety for scholars and are dysfunctional in the digital age. Is it not now time to question the assumptions that underpin ARS and even consider a brand new, uniform and universal style?

Neville (2007:16), on behalf of LearnHigher: Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, has researched “the challenge of referencing” for several years. Considering that citing source material is the life blood of academia, he pointed out that “referencing per se is a rather neglected area of research”. Indeed, perhaps because ARS have not been investigated, a systemic ‘blind spot’ has occurred and serious problems experienced by our students have gone unrecognized.

After investigating the abundance of ARS, Neville (2007:15-16) concluded “referencing styles appear to have sunk their roots deep into disciplines and these prove stubborn ground in their resistance to change. However, the problems for students can occur when they move between departments on combined study programmes...[with] two or more referencing styles and this can be aggravated by teaching staff – who may advance their own idiosyncratic ideas about referencing practice within a particular style”.

What is the primary purpose of referencing? Levine (2009) highlighted six rules to decide whether referencing was ‘fit for purpose’: (a) to enable readers to track down sources; (b) use the style appropriate to the subject; (c) be helpful to the reader; (d) be transparent – openly show the logical steps in reasoning; (e) be consistent; and (f) use common sense – avoid getting obsessed by petty rules.

For me, the bedrock of referencing is Levine’s first rule to ‘track sources’. But it is his second rule – about ‘styles related to subjects’ - that is the key cause for the excessive growth in the variety of styles. Neville (2010a) estimated that there are 14 major styles used within the UK/HE. These included well-known ones such as Harvard (author-year); MLA (Modern Language Association); BSI (British Standards Institute = Running Notes and Numeric styles); APA (American Psychological Association); Vancouver; and OSCOLA (Oxford Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities) – but many thousands also exist, especially hybrids of Harvard.

Each university department decides which ARS its students must follow. Generally, but not always, Film Studies use MLA; Chemistry and Medicine, Vancouver; Business and English, Harvard; Psychology, APA; Law, OSCOLA footnotes; and Politics sometimes give their students a choice between footnotes or Harvard.

In essence, what is ‘style’ when it comes to a citation? Style is the juggling around with both punctuation (commas, full stops, different shaped brackets and inverted commas) and formatting of fonts (italics, capitalization, bolding and underlining). Given all these variables, there is an endless permutation of ways in which a citation can be presented. Historically, these subtle nuances were a vital clue to the source of any reference.

Each style layout, therefore, distinguished whether the source was a book, Act of Parliament, newspaper, chapter within an edited book, journal or whatever. Generations of students had no problem identifying sources - within their subject - by the way they were formatted. But that was in the cosy days of the now outdated print industry – when typesetters ruled supreme.

Academic journals are crucial for the publication of ideas, experiments, theories, conference papers, reports, theses, surveys, abstracts etc. Each research discipline has its own range of journals that feed upon (and into) the growth of knowledge. In order to carve out its own distinct identity, every journal (and academic publisher) evolved its own strict ‘house style’ – to which all contributors had to conform (otherwise, they would not be published). These bibliographic rules seemed set in stone. Such stipulations were tolerable when there were only a handful of printed sources to cite.

Campuses, likewise, followed the lead set by the journals and imposed a ‘house style’. In an attempt to make life simple for their students, each department produced guidelines on how to cite sources. These tended to be the responsibility of departmental secretaries or foisted upon a new member of staff. Handbooks were re-printed year after year, often neglected and rarely updated in any systematic way.

One result (experienced by study advice tutors – this is my line of work) is that students find these ‘how to reference’ guidelines are unreliable, limited in their examples (fail to show electronic sources), grossly inconsistent and contradictory. All the conflicting information causes not only confusion, but also seriously undermines self-confidence when a student is marked down because s/he ‘did not follow the correct referencing format’. In some respects, the ‘formulistic aspects of the process’ can inhibit student creativity in their academic writing (Neville, 2010b:30).

The lack of any clear guidelines has allowed some maverick lecturers to adopt a semi-dictatorial role when instructing their students. They tell them to “forget the handbook - reference the way I say it must be done”. Esoteric stipulations by lecturers have been described as a ‘fetish’ by Levine (2009:3). No wonder students experience confusion and their confidence is undermined.

An added complication in this mix is the diversity of students. Universities are now keen to recruit from a wide range of backgrounds: international, mature, disabled, distant learners, disadvantaged, etc. New recruits are disillusioned by the bedlam that confronts them when it comes to referencing. A student from Turkmenistan was delighted when she mastered the referencing system used by the Open University (OU) – “I felt I had learnt the British method of referencing – and I was happy”. Then, after arriving at Hull University, she had to learn a completely new system. When told she had referenced wrongly, she was disappointed.

Sanders (2009) made a personal exploration of ‘reverential referencing and the fetish of footnotes’ and the unnecessary stress caused by ‘citation overload’. He contrasted the relaxed 1990s attitude to referencing with the ‘academic paraphernalia’ of 2008 and the reams of guidelines on the topic – even the best OU documents have little unanimity. This triumph of form over content makes many new students feel inadequate at university.

Given this distressing and chaotic situation with ARS, an attempt has been made to resolve the problems by introducing a unitary style across all disciplines within a single campus at Coventry University. In 2006, all the disciplines (apart from Law) agreed upon a standardised version of the Harvard system for their students. There is some good qualitative feedback, but it is too soon to know the full benefits of this implementation. When a similar idea was proposed at Hull University in 2001 it was unanimously approved. The next question then was: “Which style would be adopted?” Each department declared “Ours, of course”. Overall, the notion of a unified system was subsequently met with vitriol by Heads of Departments. The proposal was soon dropped.

In contrast to this territoriality and the protection of little empires, modern-day students are not only caught between a ‘rock and a hard place’ of confusing guidelines and intransigent academics, but also have to reference a flood of new source material that scholars never had to cite in previous times.

I allude, obviously, to the growing mass of digital material. Although the ‘digital penny’ does not seem to have dropped with some academics, the fact is that reliable resources are now available on the World Wide Web. For example, respectable websites include: encyclopaedias; OED; government publications; Who’s Who; statistics; Hansard; vast databases (Web of Science); and most learned journals now have equivalent eJournals. In addition, there is more or less sound educational material in the form of: BBC podcasts, YouTube videos, eBooks, academic blogs, patents, eMusic, Shakespeare’s plays, software, ePoems, etc. The current crisis can be summed up as: the traditional juggling with fancy formatting is now too convoluted and ridiculous to cope with the tsunami of new sources of digital information.

In many respects, the rising tide of technology is not a problem for most modern-day students. They are confident when it comes to citing multimedia sources. Our web-savvy students are fully equipped (mentally and technically) to handle digital information. They have their broadband speeds, Wi-Fi laptops, mobile phones, iPlayers, emails, iPads, Google Scholar search engine, Facebook, Twitter, Web 2.0 ‘cloud’ storage, and digital everything. Speed is all. Given their cyber lifestyle on the super highway, the last thing they need is to hit a traffic jam caused by vintage ARS. Why should they? Why do academics stubbornly insist upon anachronistic practices? Were students in the 1960s forced to write their exams with quill pens?

Some believe that the answer to this digital logjam lies in technology itself by using reference management software (RMS) to handle citations. This has its uses (for full-time researchers), but the programs are too time-consuming for undergraduates - a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. Currently, there are 29 such RMS systems (from Aigaion to Zotero). EndNote (2010), for example, claimed “access to more online resources and publishing styles - 3,900+ online connection files...and 3,700 journal styles”. When I re-checked in 2012, they now boast “EndNote Styles collection contains more than 5,000 bibliographic styles for a variety of disciplines” (EndNote, 2012). Are these alarmingly high figures accurate? Does anyone have the correct total of ARS? I believe that these RMS systems produce more and more hybrid styles. Some RMS sites even have the facility to ‘create your own style’. In effect, they seem to be spreading the ‘cancerous growth’ of ARS, rather than curing any symptoms.

In summary, students today experience serious and growing problems with ARS: departments are grossly inconsistent and contradictory in the guidelines they produce; some staff are highly subjective and seemingly have a ‘fetish’ for their own peculiar style; disciplines are unscientific in the dogmatic way they perpetuate antiquated methods – even in the face of rapid advances of technological change; and the area of referencing is rarely researched by academics. “Physician, heal thyself” – or should that be “Academic, research thyself”?

Set against this background, I have devised a brand new referencing style that severs all links with the bygone print industry and is specifically tailored to the demands of the digital age. That is, it avoids any going back-and-forth to impose formulaic layouts. It is ‘minimalist’. Less is more: less formatting and more speed whilst citing a source. In essence, it eliminates most of the customary commas, brackets, italics etc. It is a student-friendly style that should do away with elaborate ‘how to reference’ guides. Only a few basic principles need be followed.

I propose the C-T-S style which stands for Creator – Time – Source. The C and T are easily explained. They are a variation on the traditional Author-Year style. ‘Creator’ is used rather than the limited ‘author’ in the old-fashioned book or journal sense. Creator embraces producers of videos, patents, films, paintings, software, music/songs, statues, TV programs and all printed sources. Creators can be individuals or institutions.

Likewise, the T is for Time rather than the broad ‘year’. When it comes to citing multimedia material (CDs, YouTube videos, DVD films, etc) an exact time (or specific period) is more useful and accurate. All the time elements of the CTS style are only stated once and brought together immediately after the name of the creator (e.g., McLEAN, Renwick. 21 June 2006. eNewspaper - see list below).

The innovative aspect of CTS, however, is the S for Source. This crucial, novel element has rarely been used in past ARS. Compilers of bibliographies know first-hand what ‘source’ they have consulted. It is, therefore, their duty to state openly the Source they used – that is, to declare whether it is a journal, website, ePainting, book, blog or whatever. This then immediately makes redundant the vast array of punctuation that has been used for centuries. No more game of Cluedo when deciphering a bibliography.

The predominant (but not sole) punctuation within the CTS style is the full-stop. It is the key separator between each element of a citation – it is strong and unambiguous. It is perhaps best to show by example. The following bibliographic list highlights nineteen different sources that have been modified from a recent consultation document produced by the BSI (2008) in conjunction with the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) - version 690.

APPLE COMPUTER INC. 27 June 2006. Software. Mac OS X Update 10.4.7 Intel. http://www.apple.com. Path. Homepage. Mac OS X. Downloads. Apple. Accessed 15 July 2006.

BOMTEMPO, João Domingos. 23 June 2006. eMusic score. Quinteto para piano e cordas. Composed 18??. Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal. Biblioteca Nacional Digital. http://purl.pt/792. Accessed 19 July 2006.

BRY, Ilse and AFFLERBACH, Lois. 1968. Journal. In Search of an Organizing Principle for the Behavioral Science Literature. Community Mental Health. 4.1.75-84.

CENTRAL ADVISORY COUNCIL FOR EDUCATION (ENGLAND). 1967. Report. Children and their Primary Schools. Plowden. London. HMSO.

CHAGALL, Marc. 1913. ePainting. Paris Through the Window. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York. Artists Rights Society. Paris. ADAGP. 2005. JPEG 298x286px. 38.88 KB. http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_28_2.html. Accessed 9 September 2006.

CRANE, Diana. 1972. Book. Invisible Colleges. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.

CUTTER’S WAY. 1981. Film. Director Ivan PASSER. USA. Gürian Entertainments & United Artists.

DAVE ALLEN AT LARGE. 25 February 2006. TV. BBC.

GERMANIA: CUM PRIUILEGIO. 1579. eMap. ca. 1:3,000,000. Antwerp. 36x48cm. University of Berne. Ryhiner Map Collection Ryh 4301. http://www.stub.unibe.ch/stub/ryhiner/. Path. Homepage. World maps. Germany. Accessed 10 June 2006.

IETF: Internet Engineering Task Force. March 2005. Web memo. RFC 3979. Intellectual Property Rights in IETF Technology. Edited by S. BRADNER. http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc3979.txt. Accessed 18 June 2006.

KAFKA, Franz. 1925. eBook. The Trial. Translated by David WYLLIE. Project Gutenberg. Updated 2006-03-08. 462 KB. http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext05/ktria11.txt. Accessed 5 June 2006.

KING’S SINGERS. 1981. Music score. Christmas with the King’s Singers: Six Arrangements for Mixed Voices. London. Chappell Music.

McLEAN, Renwick. 21 June 2006. eNewspaper. Canary Islands Species Threatened by Soft Borders. International Herald Tribune. Paris. http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/06/20/news/ecology.php. Accessed 7 July 2006.

MYERS, Michael P., YANG, Jay and STAMPE, Per. 15 December 1999. eJournal. Visualization and Functional Analysis of a Maxi-K Channel (mSlo) Fused to Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP). Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso. Chile. Electronic Journal of Biotechnology. 2.3. http://www.ejbiotechnology.info/content/vol2/issue3/full/3/3.pdf. Accessed 28 June 2006.

PAX, Salam. 21 February 2003. Blog. Where Is Raed? http://dear_raed.blogspot.com. Path. Homepage. Archive. Accessed 10 July 2006.

PHILIP MORRIS INC. 7 January 1981. Patent. Optical Perforating Apparatus and System. European application 0021165 A1.

ROGUE WAVES. 12 July 2006. Podcast. Engines of Our Ingenuity. Episode 2111. KUHF-FM Houston Public Radio. http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi2111.htm. Accessed 28 May 2010.

SMITH, C. 1980. Chapter. Problems of Information Studies in History. In. S. STONE. ed. Humanities Information Research. Sheffield. CRUS. 27–30.

WORDS WITHOUT BORDERS. 2005. eMagazine. The Online Magazine for International Literature. PEN American Center. http://www.wordswithoutborders.org. Accessed 12 July 2006.

A comma is used to separate the creator’s surname from the first name (JOYCE, James). I prefer to use upper case for the creator’s surname (it makes the name stand out and easily indicates the next citation); the forename is given in full (lower case, after the initial upper case letter) so that a person’s other research can easily be traced via a search engine. The names of corporate authors are also printed in capitals; however, if there is a short acronym, then this is used at the start of the citation and, after a colon, the full title is shown (NICE: National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence). Films and other titles, at the start of a citation, are also shown in capitals. Any punctuation that is embedded within a title, especially a colon to signpost a sub-title, must be respected and left unaltered.

Only websites will be underlined - automatically, as a hyperlink. The traditional terms used with journals (Volume, Issue and Pages) are omitted and replaced by the numbers with a full stop in between (122.1.39-50). An intelligent academic should know the logical sequence and be able to trace the source. In-text citations remain as before in the traditional styles. My reform is purely upon the A-Z reference list at the end of the work and within footnote citations.

There are two strong reasons why there is an urgent need to dump the old ARS and adopt a unified CTS style. First, academics should practice what they preach. They must reflect upon how they reference their source material, be objective and self-critical, analyse the changes brought about by digital sources and progress with the times. Academics must question their underlying assumptions about their pre-digital ARS. I believe that the proposed de-cluttered CTS style is ‘fit for the future’. It is simple, explicit, avoids mysterious clues, reduces keystrokes, and can cope with an unlimited array of multimedia source material – now and in the future.

Second, students today are consumers of expensive education. They pay for it, but are not getting value for money. They are being short changed with shoddy, archaic styles of referencing that should have been revised decades ago. Academia is universal and students are globe-trotters. Their speed of progress must not be impeded by being forced to switch between subtlety dissimilar ARS as they move from publication-to-publication, department-to-department, campus-to-campus and country-to-country.

The digital clock is ticking – let’s introduce a brand new universal style for our students and ‘go beyond’ what has always been.

Dr. Alec Gill MBE

E: a.gill@hull.ac.uk or alec.gill@hotmail.co.uk – the latter is my preferred email.
26 John Street, Kingston Square, HULL HU2 8DH, Yorkshire.
T: 01482.225009 M:07786_582195


NOTE: All the research and writing connected with the CTS style has been conducted in my own time (as this work was frowned upon as not being within my University study advice duties).

Reference List

BSI: British Standards Institute. 21 October 2008. eReport. BS ISO 690. Information and documentation. Guidelines for bibliographic references and citations to information resources. 08/30147086 DC. http://shop.bsigroup.com/en/ProductDetail/?pid=000000000030147086. Accessed 5 June 2010.

COVENTRY UNIVERSITY. 2010. Website. Harvard Referencing Style. http://home.ched.coventry.ac.uk/caw/harvard/index.htm. Accessed 24 May 2010.

EASTWOOD, Maureen. 2010. Internal Monthly Report. Table showing student worries about Referencing. Scarborough. University of Hull. Study Advice Service. [Unfortunately, this research is not included in this blog because the graph would not Copy and Paste]

ENDNOTE REFERENCE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE. 2010. Website. EndNote X3 New Features. http://www.endnote.com/enx3info.asp. Accessed 1 May 2010.

ENDNOTE REFERENCE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE. 2012. Website. Output Styles. http://www.endnote.com/support/enstyles.asp. Accessed 13 January 2012.

GILL, Alec. 25 June 2009. eArticle. There are 3,000 ways to cite source material - why not make it one? Times Higher Education. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=407112. Accessed 9 August 2012.

LEVIN, Peter. 8 June 2009. ePaper. Does an Insistence on Detailed and ‘correct’ Referencing inhibit Students from Thinking for Themselves? LearnHigher Symposium. Referencing and Writing. University of Bradford. http://www.learnhigher.ac.uk/learningareas/referencing/resourcesforstaff.htm. Accessed 15 May 2010.

NEVILLE, Colin. 2007. ePaper. The Challenge of Referencing. LearnHigher. http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/TLTC/learnhigher/Resources/resources/Referencing/Staff/Summary%20of%20referencing%20issues.pdf. Accessed 21 June 2009.

NEVILLE, Colin. 2010a. Book. The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism. 2nd Edition. Maidenhead. Open University Press.

NEVILLE, Colin. 9 June 2010b. Unpublished Paper. International Students, Writing and Referencing. LearnHigher Symposium. University of Bradford.

SANDERS, John. 3 June 2009. Unpublished Paper. Horray for Harvard? – Reverential Referencing and the Fetish of Footnotes. OU Conference. Making Connections: Exploring Scholarship for the Digital Age. Open University.

19 September 2009

ACADEMIC REFERENCING: Second Version of New Style

Thank you to everyone for your helpful feedback on my Times Higher Education (THE) article (25th June 2009). It proposed a unified academic referencing system – especially to simplify the complex formatting found in over 3,000 different bibliographic styles. Feedback flooded in from three primary sources: (A) THE website - http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=407112; (B) my Academic Reflexions blog http://academicreflexions.blogspot.com/; and (C) LDHEN: Learning Development in Higher Education Network – a membership only discussion group. Librarians in particular made a valuable contribution to the whole debate.

Feedback was entirely constructive. In essence, most comments were highly positive, agreed with the notion that there is an abundance of academic referencing styles and that something needs to be done to improve the situation – especially for students. Criticism was primarily aimed at my punctuation. I must confess that - with the benefit of hindsight and your comments - I was a bit ‘colon crazy’. It was also pointed out that the full-stop is a far superior separator – as against the more confusing colon or comma (thanks especially to Mike Simpson and Dan the Librarian –full name not given).

I have embraced the various strands of advice, re-formulated the whole academic referencing style and produced a second version. I now rely upon the full-stop to give the reader a bold, clear signal that the medium has changed and a new element of the citation has been reached.

Indeed, as I re-framed this new version, I began to recognise that most citations comprise five major elements: author (who), year (when), type (what), title (which) and location (where) - plus a few variations here and there depending upon the type of material being cited. In essence, that is all the information a scholar needs to trace the source of any writing.

Therefore, I will now re-present a revised A-Z list of citations using the full-stop as the principal separator. Any colons that have survived are those that exist ‘naturally’ within the title of a publication. Here then is my updated list in its second incarnation:

CAVENDISH, Camilla. 2009. eNewspaper. Insane Spendaholics are Mortgaging our Future. The Times. 20 March. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/camilla_cavendish/article5941273.ece accessed 2 June 2009.

CHALKE, Steve. 2003. Book. How to Succeed as a Working Parent. London. Hodder & Stoughton.

CLINE, William R. 1992. eBook. The Economics of Global Warming. Peterson Institute. http://books.google.com/books?id=kTJvx2-fTYUC&printsec=frontcover accessed 2 June 2009.

HALLIDAY, Jim. 1995. Report. Assessment of the Accuracy of the DTI's Database of the UK Wind Speeds. Energy Technology Support Unit. ETSU-W-11/00401/REP.

HORAN, David. 2002. Painting. Kipper in the Cat's Mouth. Watercolour. 20x30 cm. London. National Gallery.

JONES, J. 1994. Paper. Polymer Blends Based on Compact Disc Scrap. in Proceedings of the Annual Technical Conference. Society of Plastics Engineers. San Francisco. 1-5 May 1994. Brookfield, CT. 2865-2867.

KNIGHT, C.J. 1997. Email. Cumbrian Windfarms. 29 May to J.Q.Parker-Knoll.

MACKAY, C. 2002. Newspaper. Alert over Big Cat. Daily Mirror. 4 July. 28.

MACLEOD, D. 2007. eNewspaper. Oxbridge Trainee Teachers 'twice as likely to get jobs'. Education Guardian. 3 August. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2007/aug/03/schools.uk1 accessed 28 August 2008.

MASON, R. 1994. Chapter. The Educational Value of ISDN. In Mason, R. and Bacsich, P. (eds) ISDN: Applications in Education and Training. Exeter. Short Run Press.

MORISHITA, M. 2003. Thesis. Empty Museums: Transculturation and the Development of Public Art Museums in Japan. Unpublished PhD. Milton Keynes. Open University.

NHS (National Health Service) CHOICES. 2009. Web. Jet Lag. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Jet-lag/Pages/Introduction.aspx?url=Pages/What-is-it.aspx accessed 21 March 2009.

OPEN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY. 2005. Web. Welcome to the Open University Library. http://library.open.ac.uk/ accessed 2 February 2006.

OPEN UNIVERSITY. 1984. Text. T281 Basic Physical Science for Technology. Unit 9. Thermochemistry. Milton Keynes. Open University.

OPEN UNIVERSITY. 2008. DVD. T320 E-business Technologies: Foundations and Practice. DVD 1. Video Case Studies. Milton Keynes. Open University.

SLONIOWSKI, L. 2005. Blog. Information Literacy in Canada - Because Sharing is Nice. 30 June. http://blog.uwinnipeg.ca/ilig/archives/learning_objects/ accessed 2 February 2006.

SPITZER, K.L., EISENBERG, M.B. and LOWE, C.A. 1998. Web. Information Literacy: Essential Skills for the Information Age. ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology. Syracuse University (ED 427 780). http://ericit.org/toc/infoliteracytoc.shtml accessed 28 October 2003.

STRANG, W. 1903. ePainting. Neil Munro 1864-1930. National Galleries of Scotland. http://www.nationalgalleries.org/index.php/collection/online_az/4:322/results/0/3342/ accessed 2 February 2006.

THE APPRENTICE. 2008. TV. BBC1. 11 June.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: The Two Towers. 2003. Film. Directed by Peter Jackson. New York. Newline Productions Inc.

THE WINGS OF A BUTTERFLY. 2005. Podcast. ABC Radio National. Sydney. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/default.htm#mind accessed 16 September 2005.

THOMPSON, K. 2003. Journal. Fantasy, Franchises, and Frodo Baggins: the Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood. The Velvet Light Trap. 52.Fall.45-63.

VIRKUS, S. 2003. eJournal. Information Literacy in Europe: a Literature Review. Information Research. 8.4.159. http://informationr.net/ir/8-4/paper159.html accessed 28 October 2003.

WILLIE, S.S. 2003. eBook. Acting Black: College, Identity and the Performance of Race. Taylor & Francis eBook Collection. http://library.open.ac.uk/linking/index.php?id=311027 accessed 10 April 2006.


This second version is still ‘work in progress’ and I need more of your practical feedback. You probably noticed that the first five authors were listed along with their first names. During the first-version debate, it was pointed out (by Gavin Moodie) that putting only the author’s initial(s) was not useful in our age of split-second search engines. He cleverly demonstrated this by using my name as an example to demonstrate his point. That is, by entering only “A.Gill”, a Google Scholar search found 26,000 hits; whilst “Alec Gill” yielded 17. Supplying both the first and last name greatly helps anyone who wishes to look into an author’s other work. Try this yourself using your own name.

Once the decision is taken to add first names, then there needs to be clarity as to which is the author’s first and last name. An international student might be confused by various English names that are identical as either a first or last name; for example, Alexander, Charles, Gordon, James, Leslie, Neville, Scott or Wayne – the list goes on. Stating the last name in capitals avoids the problem of mistaken identity.

Much has happened since the Times article was published. For those new to this debate, I would like to reiterate the purpose of this new style:

* By explicitly and simply stating the ‘type’ of source material that is being referred to, it automatically eliminates most of the traditional formatting that adorns contemporary citations. The key aim is to discard punctuation such as brackets, italics, underlinings, colons, single or double quotations marks and commas here, there and everywhere.

* The present-day permutation of punctuation is then made largely redundant. Ideally, the 3,000+ (and growing) referencing styles will soon become extinct.

* The old print industry is dead. We now have the benefits of the digital age. Added to that, and as a result of that, young students today have a vast number of electronic resources to cite (DVDs, eBooks, blogs, websites, YouTube, podcasts, etc).

* It is primarily because the range of source material has grown far beyond the conventional printed publications that I argue for a uniform universal academic referencing style. The new system is a direct response to the demands of the digital technology and the speed that it brings.

* Finally, I am not a minimalist in my everyday life, but I strongly recommend that this philosophical approach be embraced when it comes to a future academic referencing style. That is, the citation is stripped down to its fundamental features.

I have deliberately omitted any consideration of whether the ‘place of publication’ should or should not be replaced by a book’s ISBN as a more accurate means of identification. Equally, it is beyond my brief to urge that all websites adopt the simpler and shorter ‘tinyurl’ system to replace the long, ugly URL addresses. Although I can see value in both these ideas, I feel enough suggestions have been made for one day.

I need to know the merits and de-merits of what I have re-proposed above. Once I feel there is some degree of academic consensus upon how a new referencing style is formulated, it will be time to push this issue forward into more powerful decision-making domains.

Many Thanks for all your help, Alec Gill (Sept 2009).

05 June 2009


This is the full-length version of an article that will be published in the 'Times Higher Education' on 25th June 2009 (pp 24-25). It is online at: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=407112. It was originally written around 20th April; but THE asked me to shorten it to a 750-word piece for their Opinion section. I have done this - and you know what it is like when sacrifices have to be made. Anyway, here is the detailed article. I am especially keen to show a range of examples of the new author-year-type referencing system that I have proposed.

Time to Move from Chaos to Order
by Alec Gill MBE

The internet is, fortunately, causing havoc with the way academics reference their source material. It is forcing a re-think about the archaic referencing rituals that are performed within the ‘ivory towers’ of academia.

In the pre-web days, it was reasonable to insist upon the curious underlining of book titles, the idiosyncratic italicisation when naming journals, single inverted commas for chapters within edited books, the dots, commas, brackets in specific places (or not) and full-stops here, there and everywhere. The permutation of punctuation is endless - and the methods of citing references are cumbersome.

Some departmental heads still vigorously defend their scholastic territory - perhaps to maintain a vestige of petty control. They had battled with bibliographies; therefore, the next generation of students must also uphold the outmoded practices.

Students today, however, are under a host of pressures never encountered before. Leaving aside financial and workload worries, they have to reference academic material from a wide range of multi-media sources (not envisaged even a few years ago). Overseas and mature students (and those with dyslexia) are often baffled by all the dots, commas, brackets and underlinings that are used to distinguish a variety of different source material. And joint-degree students (e.g., Politics and Law) have to switch between two different styles: ‘Harvard’ and footnotes. An international student from Turkmenistan was highly delighted when she mastered the referencing style used by the Open University (OU) – “I felt I had learnt the British method of referencing – and I was happy”. Then, after arriving at Hull University, she had to learn a completely new system and felt cheated.

From my own experience as a study advice tutor, I can testify that many of the departmental handbooks are grossly inadequate and often provide confusing guidelines. In theory, these should give reliable directions about how to reference; but in reality, they are riddled with inconsistencies. Even the best handbooks contain contradictory information within the examples that are meant to clarify the situation. And many a student has complained that some academics blatantly tell them to ignore the handbook completely and reference the way their lecturer tells them it must be done.

The referencing of websites has certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons. Many guidelines ignore the existence of the internet or provide an example from a traditional journal and merely add the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) web address at the end. However, a variety of web resources have no stated author, year or page number to cite. For example, the NHS (National Health Service), CBI (Confederation of British Industry), the BBC, and Hansard websites are classed as ‘corporate authorship’. Students have to guess how to reference such material. In addition, more and more students have to cite multi-media material: blogs, podcasts, DVDs, CDs, YouTube, works of art, television programmes, films, and so on.

In an endeavour to help academics cope with the citation complexities, new software has come into use in recent years. These programmes are certainly marvellous and do a great job. However, they tend to pander to the time-honoured comic convolutions of compiling a bibliography. EndNote is a dedicated “easy-to-use bibliography” package that claims to handle 3,300 journal styles. Microsoft’s Word 2007 now has a special ‘Citations & Bibliography’ section under its ‘Reference ribbon’. It formats references into a host of different publishing styles: APA, Chicago, GB7714, GOST, ISO690, MLA, SIST02, and Turabian (but, please, do not ask me to explain what they all mean). And, RefWorks is a web-based competitor to the two previous (static) systems. It is part of the new Web 2.0 ‘cloud’ technology that allows users to share their bibliographic material through social networking and also benefit from the two-way process.

All this juggling about, however, seems to be building a new Tower of Babel. It is time to change. Academic referencing must be reformed, unified and simplified. There has to be a move toward speed when referencing and the reduction of time-consuming keystrokes. My proposed method builds upon the traditional author-year system [popularly, but erroneously, referred to as the ‘Harvard’ system]. However, it strips away the guesswork element that has scholars looking for clues in order to work out whether the source is a book, journal, chapter, newspaper or whatever. I urge that italics, underlining, brackets, bold type, inverted commas and some full-stops are made obsolete. The aim of the new system is to be more explicit. That is, after stating the name(s) of the author and year, the citation openly tells the reader what type of resource follows - such as a book, website, painting, chapter, etc. The new system could be called: author-year-type. In effect, future bibliographies will insert the type of material that is being referred to; but save time, effort and the stress of going back and forth over the text to insert fancy formatting. The list at the end of the academic work will, of course, remain in alphabetical order. The way sources are cited within the body of the text will also stay the same (author, year, and page number where necessary).

Obviously, there has to be consistency, and this I hope to provide by showing a variety of specific examples (see below). Initially, I endeavoured to compile my own list of references. I wanted these to be genuine and began to hunt for appropriate material to cite. This proved difficult and I felt a certain bias creeping into the process. Then I came across a ready-made list that proved ideal. It is by the OU (in the UK) on their website. Although this list gave me a sound basis, I have taken the liberty to chop and change it around. Added to this, I have presented the following list of references in two broad categories: Traditional (books, journals, chapters) and Digital (websites, blogs, DVDs, TV programmes) – I have also inserted a corporate authorship and other web-based references (and deleted a couple).


Chalke, S. 2003 Book: How to Succeed as a Working Parent, London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Thompson, K. 2003 Journal: Fantasy, Franchises, and Frodo Baggins: the Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood, The Velvet Light Trap, 52/Fall/45-63.

Mason, R. 1994 Chapter: The Educational Value of ISDN, in Mason, R. and Bacsich, P. (eds) ISDN: Applications in Education and Training, Exeter: Short Run Press.

Mackay, C. 2002 Newspaper: Alert over Big Cat, Daily Mirror, 4 July/28.

Halliday, J. 1995 Report: Assessment of the Accuracy of the DTI's Database of the UK Wind Speeds, Energy Technology Support Unit, ETSU-W-11/00401/REP.

Jones, J. 1994 Paper: Polymer Blends Based on Compact Disc Scrap, in Proceedings of the Annual Technical Conference, Society of Plastics Engineers, San Francisco, 1-5 May 1994, Brookfield, CT, 2865-2867.

Open University 1984 Text: T281 Basic Physical Science for Technology, Unit 9, 'Thermochemistry', Milton Keynes: Open University.

Morishita, M. 2003 Thesis: Empty Museums: Transculturation and the Development of Public Art Museums in Japan, Unpublished PhD, Milton Keynes: Open University.

Horan, D. 2002 Painting: Kipper in the Cat's Mouth, Watercolour: 20x30 cm, London: National Gallery.


Spitzer, K.L., Eisenberg, M.B. and Lowe, C.A. 1998 Web: Information Literacy: Essential Skills for the Information Age, ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology, Syracuse University (ED 427 780) http://ericit.org/toc/infoliteracytoc.shtml accessed 28 October 2003.

Open University Library 2005 Web: Welcome to the Open University Library
http://library.open.ac.uk/ accessed 2 February 2006.

NHS (National Health Service) Choices 2009 Web: Jet Lag http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Jet-lag/Pages/Introduction.aspx?url=Pages/What-is-it.aspx accessed 21 March 2009.

Cline, W.R. 1992 eBook: The Economics of Global Warming, Washington DC: Peterson Institute http://books.google.com/books?id=kTJvx2-fTYUC&printsec=frontcover accessed 2 June 2009.

Willie, S.S. 2003 eBook: Acting Black: College, Identity and the Performance of Race, Taylor and Francis e-book collection
http://library.open.ac.uk/linking/index.php?id=311027 accessed 10 April 2006.

Virkus, S. 2003 eJournal: Information Literacy in Europe: a Literature Review, Information Research, 8/4/159 http://informationr.net/ir/8-4/paper159.html accessed 28 October 2003.

Cavendish, C. 2009 eNewspaper: Insane Spendaholics are Mortgaging our Future, The Times, 20 March http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/camilla_cavendish/article5941273.ece accessed 2 June 2009.

MacLeod, D. 2007 eNewspaper: Oxbridge Trainee Teachers 'twice as likely to get jobs', Education Guardian, 3 August http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2007/aug/03/schools.uk1 accessed 28 August 2008.

Sloniowski, L. 2005 Blog: Information Literacy in Canada - Because Sharing is Nice, 30 June http://blog.uwinnipeg.ca/ilig/archives/learning_objects/ accessed 2 February 2006.

Wings of a Butterfly 2005 Podcast: ABC Radio National, Sydney http://www.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/default.htm#mind accessed 16 September 2005.

Strang, W. 1903 ePainting: Neil Munro 1864-1930, National Galleries of Scotland http://www.nationalgalleries.org/index.php/collection/online_az/4:322/results/0/3342/ accessed 2 February 2006.

Open University 2008 DVD: T320 E-business Technologies: Foundations and Practice, DVD 1: Video Case Studies, Milton Keynes: Open University.

Knight, C.J. 1997 Email: Cumbrian Windfarms, May 29 to J.Q.Parker-Knoll.

The Apprentice 2008 TV: BBC1, 11 June.

Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers 2003 Film: Directed by Peter Jackson, New York: Newline Productions Inc.

My final recommendation - to prevent misunderstanding when referencing - is to avoid the use of only lowercase fonts in titles. I strongly advise the use of traditional capitalization of titles. The fashion for all lowercase titles is a passing fad that will fade. A recent example was when Hull City Council promoted “hull – the pioneering city”.

Academics often tell students to be objective when examining scientific situations. It is time to practise what we preach. We need to become detached and analytical about what is at the heart of scholarly inquiry – the way we reference our source material. Too much student and research time is wasted upon such trivial traditions. My motivation is to ease the stress upon our globe-trotting students, especially those who straddle academic disciplines.

Compiling a bibliography is not a game of Cluedo. The reader should not have to waste time guessing where a particular academic source is located. The purpose of a reference list is to enable other researchers to find the source material if they wish. And, the more explicit we make it, the better.

Reference reform is long overdue. The demands and pace of technological advances are forcing change in many areas of everyday life. Indeed, academics of all people, must apply scientific logic and critical thinking to their own methodology. The onus is upon us to bring referencing up to date and into the 21st century. This process is not ‘dumbing down’; it is a catching up with reality, de-cluttering absurdity, and joining the Digital Age.

[P.S. The above long version of this article was written before I attended the University of Bradford symposium on 'Referencing & Writing' (8 June). That is why - for those who noticed - the introductions are different - thanks.]


EndNote 2008 Web: EndNote X2 New Features
http://www.endnote.com/enx2info.asp accessed 19 Dec 2008.

Gill, A. 1997 Web: Talk Topics - English, Psychology, Reminiscence, Hull’s Trawling Heritage, and Superstitions
http://www.hull.ac.uk/php/cesag/index.htm accessed 5 January 2009.

Microsoft Office Online 2009 Web: Create a Bibliography
http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word/HA100674921033.aspx accessed 24 March 2009.

Open University 2009 Web: Citation Guides: OU Harvard Style, OU Library Services
http://library.open.ac.uk/research/citastyle/index.cfm accessed 11 February 2009.

RefWorks 2009 Web: Your Online Research Management Writing and Collaboration Tool
http://www.refworks.com/ accessed 19 March 2009.

Alec Gill - MBE BSc MSc FHEA
The University of Hull
Study Advice Service
Academic Tutor + MultiMedia Developer
01482.466344 - Office
www.hull.ac.uk/php/cesag - my research work

24 February 2009

FINAL WEEK - Brief, Initial Thoughts on Good Practice

Good practice during online tutoring is an essential element. We have been asked to list our own goals (briefly) in this area:

BE FRIENDLY: The personality and enthusiasm of the online tutor is an important ingredient when interacting with students. Hopefully, no amount of cold technology can stifle the human dimension,

LEARNING STYLES: Respect that everyone is different and absorbs information differently. Online design must provide a variety of approaches.

K.I.S.S. = Keep It Short & Simple: Clarity is key. Online activities must be explained clearly, goal-achievable, deadlines meet-able and assessment consistent.

RAPID RESPONSE: Asynchronous does not make it easy to be quick, but an effort has to be made to quickly follow up student requests. This aside, positive feedback is a key element - the 'back-patting' patter is a must.

FOLLOW-UP OPTION: Online students perhaps need to have the option to come back to the course - to clarify any points when the 'penny dropped' later.

21 February 2009

WEEK THREE - Reflexions

Expectations can be both a blessing and a burden. Good or bad, we bring and unpack them into many life situations: a new date, house, job, or VLE computing course.

The major expectation I brought to this online experience was that I hoped to be shown how to organise and present - to our Hull University students - a brief [say, 90-minute] VLE workshop. I wanted to gain knowledge, for example, on how to:
  • devise and try out online quizzes;
  • structure activities that would engage our students in an educational and entertaining manner;
  • invite them to raise specific questions and issues;
  • get tips on the effective use of academic video clips online [say, via YouTube, with advice about how to get the best of this facility];
  • debate important topics relevant to the subject of the workshops I plan to set up;
  • search out specific academic material - either on the web or more traditional sources; and
  • draft out a plan for a specific essay, assignment, report, etc.
These are some of my immediate goals that I must fulfil for my current campus computing work before this year is out. Although I did not have any of these specific 'great expectations' satisfied, I have ended up with something else. As John Lennon once sang, "Life is what happens whilst you are busy making other plans".

My eyes, instead, have been opened to a whole galaxy of useful social networking software (Web 2.0) that I had never encountered or used before. And, having been exposed to this dynamic material and been 'forced' to use it to achieve pre-set goals, I can see possibilities of how these applications might be useful for my current webwork and how they might be applied to a future academic context for our students.

The new software I have enjoyed using include:
  • Delicious Bookmarking of websites - highly recommended;
  • Google Documents for creating and storing useful material on the internet;
  • Forum Discussions;
  • FLICKR - this was used to answer the course question: "Who Am I?". Being a photographer [with 20 solo photo exhibitions in the UK and US], I took to the idea of trying a new venture to display my pictures. I need to get back to this website and improve the rushed work I did - lots of scope for growth. It is located at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/34788179@N03/;
  • Checking Who's Online - call me nosey, but I often liked to check which of my fellow students were also online;
  • Chat Room option - I found this useful from time to time (but soon realized that the chats were not as private as I at first assumed they should be - so I gradually ceased to use this facility here);
  • PBWiki - this seemed a bit limited, but perhaps I still have aspects to discover (I need to check the web for tutorials about this application - YouTube can be good in this regard). Actually, thinking back, I seem to recall that there is a section dedicated for 'Educators' - something else I must explore - if I have time and remember all these things to explore; and
  • Blogger.com - I have already reflected upon the value of this option in an earlier reflexion. The potential of using a blog with our students, however, is another multi-media area that needs to be investigated at some future time.

GREEN TEAM Collaboration - it continued to be a positive experience this week with the rest of the gang. There feels to be a high degree of warmth and helpfulness between us - even though we are spread out (as far as Australia in one case). It feels like what the military call the 'buddy' system - whereby we look out for each other. The main thing, as far as I am concerned, is that we just 'get the job done and move on'. We are not out to win the Noble Peace Prize, it is simply an online exercise and I feel we performed well and did what was asked of us. From a brief glance at next week's tasks, it seems that the teams will no longer be necessary. On one hand, I will miss that aspect, but on the other, I am looking forward to completing the course because I have two immediate goals I wish to complete (outside my paid academic work): (1) an article about referencing academic sources and (2) complete the final of seven modules (Excel) for the ECDL [European Computer Driving Licence] before the three-year deadline in August this year.

SET READINGS - later in the week than planned, I got my teeth into the set readings (added to this, there seemed more of them this week). Nevertheless, they are very interesting and will prove useful once I get back to my university work (proper) and start to put some of the 'theoretical' material into 'practice'.

AT WORK - we began our tentative steps to introduce Skype-to-Skype for the future benefit of our students. That is, we will direct most of our students - with what we call 'quick queries' [mainly about how to reference academic work] - to contact us via Skype. Further, it will be an option for our Overseas and Distant Learners (ODL) to contact us for study advice. It is all very exciting and should be great once all the technical hurdles are overcome.

That is all for this week...

15 February 2009

WEEK TWO - Final Reflexions

During this second week online I had an interesting dialogue with Lindsey Fulker. In essence, it was about 'academics verse computer techno-types' within the same university. A summary of our discussion went:

"...our university is the same as yours, especially the computer people when they say things like 'we do not support this or that application / software'. They issue an implied 'threat' that if you do something outside THEIR control, then 'upon your head be it'! For example, my boss and I are keen for us to use Skype as a means of contacting our students (especially if they have, say, a quick query about referencing). But, just to cover ourselves, she suggested I email the computer service to get their opinion on this new situation. I know the bloke who replied (and he is OK), nevertheless, he came back with computer-jargon: intranet or internet, and wittered on about some proxy server addresses and post IDs - without explaining what these things meant in plain English. My boss was angry and said 'they like to make us feel small' by using techno-speak. Anyway, as you say, institutions have this thing about 'SUPPORT', but it really results in our multi-media creativity being SMOTHERED. The computer buffs prefer to deal with their machines / equipment / objects / software - and rarely come f2f with students. Also reflecting upon what you said, the present online experience is refreshing in that sense of diving into the Web 2.0 experience and encouraging us to use the new packages out there."

Therefore, academics should be able to shake off the straight-jacket and regulations of having to use strictly controlled software (institutionally-approved VLEs), be truly 'supported' by our computer colleagues, and be allowed to engage with our students in their own Web 2.0 environments where they feel comfortable.
Overall, though, the Green Team did extremely well, we collaborated in many areas and completed our tasks before the deadline. It was fun. Bring on Week Three...

14 February 2009

WEEK TWO - More Reflexions

Blogs are a bit like diaries. Apart from my Outlook Calendar for future appointments (mainly centred around my University work), I do not keep a diary or record of what I do - I just get on with it and move on. Indeed, I dislike diary-keeping. Nevertheless, since doing this VLE course, I feel fairly comfortable about doing a blog - indeed, I was eager to start this one!

The second week is drawing to an end now. I have just finished doing the proof-reading and tidying up of the Green Team's Google Document Presentation. Geli has done most of the actual work and structuring. As reported in the previous posting, I did my bit on Friday 13th and that contribution seemed to have some constructive benefit to the team effort - see more details later.

Actually, talking about Friday the 13th, I commented to Katy (my boss) that "this has been the first year for ages that no one from the media has been in touch with me to talk on radio or TV about Superstitions". Then, as I was making a pot of tea for my lunch, she dashed into the office kitchen and urgently informed me that LBC (a London radio station) was on the phone and wanted me to do an interview. It turned out that a presenter called Jeni Barnett was doing her show and wanted me on at 2 pm. Katy kindly blocked out any potential student appointments on our booking system to free my time for the call. Anyway, it was a great interview and she gave me lots of time to speak. Most interviewers set out to make fun of superstitions, but she was genuinely interested, gave me more time on air than usual and said I had made a positive contribution to the afternoon on the topic.

Anyway, back to these academic reflexions. I have learnt a lot and am happy with the team interaction. I was keen to agree with the view that we should argue that "online participation should be compulsory". In one discussion I stated: "Yes, I fully agree that we should push the FOR argument. My premise was: "The very fact that someone has joined / subscribed to an online course implies a compulsion to partake in the required activities". ANALOGY: The very fact that a passenger buys a train ticket strongly implies that s/he will join and travel on the train."

I also proposed an Outline as follows:
WHO: "Who We Are" as the Green Team - perhaps we could each insert a photo and one-line blurb (if we have time)
WHAT: The Purpose of our Presentation - keep it short, sweet and simple (Less is More). That is, we are FOR the motion...
HOW: Structure (80% of our slides)
WHY: The Benefits when students part-take online

By chance, I read an article in The Times which had a bearing on the course. It was an article in Times 2 by Matt Symonds (2009 - Wed 11th Feb 8-9) 'How to Connect to Generation Y'. He puts forward the view that "Students live their lives on FaceBook and the colleges are finally starting to get the idea".

Therefore, although the Green Team are adopting a tough FOR line, we also state that university VLEs are boring [because they like to keep CONTROL] and tutors / institutions have to devise ways to increase online participation so that students want to part-take. That is, follow the Oxford VLE course approach, embrace Web 2.0 and establish themselves on FaceBook, Flickr, My Space, Blogger, etc. The mountain has to come to Mohamed - or something like that? I stated that 'VLE = Very Limited Experience' because academics are obsessed with control. The classroom / lecture model has to go. Given this approach, the students will be keen to part-take on the online course and not feel any pressure upon them.

I will end here and post this blog. If any more thoughts come to me it is easy to add them. That is a beautiful aspect of blogging...