Quotes and references

MLA, APA, Harvard or MHRA?

Referencing styles

There are four widely-used referencing styles or conventions. They are called the MLA (Modern Languages Association) system, the APA (American Psychological Association) system, the Harvard system, and the MHRA (Modern Humanities Research Association) system.

If you are producing essays for a particular institution or even a particular department make sure you know what system it is using. Your tutors may specify one of the four listed above or they may use another one entirely. Some departments will produce sheets explaining which system they want you to use.

You can also find detailed guides to these systems in your institution’s library or on the internet. The Modern Humanities Research Association also publish the MHRA Style Book which is available from bookshops like Blackwells for around a fiver.

The following sections give the important aspects of the four conventions. For more detail, you will need to look in some of the places I’ve suggested.

The MLA system is a parenthetical system: i.e. bracketed references in the body of your essay are linked to full length citations in the bibliography at the end of your essay. The bracket in the body of the essay contains only the author’s surname and the page number or numbers you are referring to. For example: There are a number of different referencing styles or conventions but there are four that are used most widely. (Kennedy, 17).

If your essay quotes from two or more works by the same author then the bracketed reference should include a shortened version of the title to indicate which book is being referred to. (Kennedy, New Relations, 26)

A bibliography compiled according to MLA conventions lists items alphabetically by the author’s last name. Each entry should include, in the following order: the author’s name in full, the title of the book, the place of publication, the publisher, and the date. For example: Kennedy, David. New Relations: The Refashioning of British Poetry 1980-1994. Bridgend: Seren, 1996. Pay attention to how the entry is punctuated as that is part of the system too.

The APA system is also a parenthetical system but the bracketed references in the body of your essay are: the author’s surname, the date of publication and the page or page numbers you are referring to. For example: There are a number of different referencing styles or conventions but there are four that are used most widely (Kennedy, 2003, p. 17). The reference always goes at the end of the sentence before the full stop.

A bibliography compiled according to APA conventions lists items alphabetically by the author’s last name. Each entry should include, in the following order: the author’s surname, their first initial, the date of publication in brackets, the title of the book, the place of publication and the publisher. For example: Kennedy, D. (1996) New Relations: The Refashioning of British Poetry 1980-1994. Bridgend: Seren. Again, pay attention to how the entry is punctuated as that is part of the system too.

The Harvard system is another parenthetical system and the bracketed references in the body of your essay are: the author’s surname and the date of publication. The list of works at the end of the essay is headed ‘References’. The works listed in it appear in alphabetical order by the author’s surname and follow the same format as the APA system.

The MHRA system does not use bracketed references in the body of an essay. Instead, superscript numbers like this 1 are linked to a sequence of notes which appear either at the foot of the page or in a section at the end of your essay. The note contains the full reference for the book or article you are referring to. Here’s what an MHRA note reference looks like:

1 David Kennedy, New Relations: The Refashioning of British Poetry 1980-1994. (Bridgend: Seren, 1996), p.26.