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).