I absolutely agree with John - so for the last few years, we've encouraged all year 1 course tutors to run a workshop session to give students a chance to discuss just those underlying issues, rather than just issuing formatting rules and dire threats.

The pack that supports this activity includes a booklet for students to take away, briefing notes for staff, and powerpoint slides with discussion points and activities for the session (all available at http://staffcentral.brighton.ac.uk/clt/resources/plagiarism.htm

The PVC's foreword to the student booklet says this (less concisely than John!):
".... All members of the academic community around the world, whatever our subject disciplines, are committed to the creation and discovery of knowledge and the free exchange of ideas. This ideal relies on a common understanding of the notion of academic honesty which, at its simplest, means never falsifying the results of research and always giving full credit for any other people’s contributions to our own achievements. Because it is so important to safeguard academic integrity, conventions have evolved which you will need to observe in all your academic work from now on..... "

We've had good feedback from course leaders - one emailed us last year praising the "engaging scenarios for workshop discussion – the fact that the issues are not all clear-cut is a particular strength. The pack also provides a way in to discussing a range of expectations with regard to academic practice, and it can be used in such a way so that students can get to know each other at the start of the course.”

Centre for Learning & Teaching
University of Brighton

-----Original Message-----
From: learning development in higher education network on behalf of John Hilsdon
Sent: Tue 04/08/2009 22:36
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Abundance of Academic Referencing Style

Hi Alec (and all)

I very much enjoyed your recent THE article, the responses here, and the comments on your blog. I think the (albeit seemingly utopian) dream of a 'unified' approach to referencing, agreed by some (as yet to be constituted?) benign international academic body is worth holding on to -  and the more the case for a unified approach - or at least for rationalisation - is put it forward, the more likely it is to become reality in one form or another, one day. Indeed there are signs that, as some folk report, this is at last beginning to happen in some places.

Like several others who have replied, for me this debate is worth 'banging on' about, principally because referencing and bibliographical listing remains such an unnecessarily confusing area for many students. You are right: there is no need for it to be so hard. It would be perfectly possible for have consistency and clarity for both traditional print-based and newer electronic sources of published material. I get angry at the level of anxiety, distress and sheer waste of time it represents for students ... and in the end the inconsistencies give (all of us) academics a bad name - why should young people/new students respect 'our' ways of doing things when they appear so arcane/inconsistent/contradictory ...

I'm also in agreement with those who caution that the key thing (for learning developers) is for us to avoid getting too bogged down in the detail and the specifics of our preferred referencing conventions, but to champion principles of  good practice. These are honesty and integrity in showing how one's ideas have been influenced by others; where one's data comes from; acknowledging prior research and thinking etc. They point us to the heart of academic endeavour - the commitment to scholarship - to attempts at getting nearer to, or telling more of, the truths and /or realities of our disciplines! Heady stuff - but worthwhile and a useful foil to the often mystifying and alienating practices that seem to be the default position ... represented by the oft-proffered advice to new students to just 'go away and read what has been published' as a way to learn about how to 'do' academic writing.

Best wishes to everyone


-----Original Message-----

From: learning development in higher education network [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Alec Gill

Sent: 04 August 2009 16:34

To: [log in to unmask]

Subject: Re: Abundance of Academic Referencing Style

Dear Rebecca,

Very many thanks for confirming the situation at Coventry.

I am not clear as to whether you would contact your friend(s) or I should. It might be easier if you do it. However, I am happy to get in touch if you can give me an email contact. Cheers for now.

Take Care


Alec Gill - Study Advice Service

The University of Hull


-----Original Message-----

From: Rebecca O'Rourke [mailto:[log in to unmask]]

Sent: 27 July 2009 18:43

To: Alec Gill; [log in to unmask]

Subject: RE: Abundance of Academic Referencing Style

Hi Alec,

I am friendly with the people who run the Centre for Academic Writing at Coventry University and my understanding is that the introduction of their unified system worked well and is still in place.  Might be worth contacting them to confirm this, Rebecca

-----Original Message-----

From: learning development in higher education network [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Alec Gill

Sent: 27 July 2009 18:28

To: [log in to unmask]

Subject: Re: Abundance of Academic Referencing Style

Dear Ben, Martin and LDHEN,

I do not have any specific details of when or how, but it was mentioned at the Bradford symposium on 'Referencing & Writing' (8 June) that Coventry once tried to introduce a unified system of referencing sources. Whether this worked or not I cannot say. Does anyone know about this earlier attempt at Coventry?

Take Care


Alec Gill - Study Advice Service

The University of Hull


-----Original Message-----

From: learning development in higher education network [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Martin Hampton

Sent: 22 July 2009 16:50

To: [log in to unmask]

Subject: Re: Abundance of Academic Referencing Style

Ben asks whether any institution has managed to "adopt an existent, single-authority system". I would not wish to make a claim quite as strong as that for us here at Portsmouth, but we do seem to have made some progress in calming down clamour about referencing styles and in achieving greater consistency. The key step seems to have been our Library team's creation of a pretty comprehensive, one-stop, online referencing guidance resource ('referencing@portsmouth'), all drawn from the APA style guide (plus some internally-devised extras for 'tricky'

sources not covered by the APA manual).

referencing@portsmouth uses APA simply because it was easily the most widely-used system in the Uni, and because it is so easy to access (both directly by students, but also, importantly, for tutors needing to advise their students) and easy to use, it has rather quietly become 'the' internal authority on the technical aspects of referencing. (We here at the Academic Skills Unit remain the principle source of guidance on the principles of attribution.)

We still have some departments and subject areas (notably Law, History and Pharmacy/Pharmacology) where students are required to use other referencing systems, but these are widely known, so at least we have a reasonably clear 'line'.

For those who've seen Field of Dreams - it may be a case of 'If you build it, they will come'! That seems to have been our experience, at any rate. Now all we have to do is to ensure that every single marker knows the APA rules so well that their feedback on students' referencing is always accurate. Hmm. One thing at time, perhaps!

Martin Hampton


Uni of Portsmouth

>>> "Carver, Ben" <[log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>> 22/07/2009 12:08 >>>

Apologies in advance for prodding a hornet's nest that had recently died down...

At University College Falmouth, we've done what I suspect many other institutions have: produced a set of resources that consolidate the many 'Harvard' or Author Date systems into a consistent system that covers as many of the types of sources that our students of Art, Design and Performance are likely to need to reference (Media courses use MHRA).

This was an attempt to solve the problems by different tutors and supervisors advocating different conventions and bring the thousands of variations of the Harvard system back together.

I'm no longer sure if this task is achievable.  I think that proliferation will continue to be a problem and people will persist with personal preferences because the Author Date system has been such an open space for so long and can't simply be closed.  If, as we tell student so often, referencing must be consistent, why don't we adopt a consistent system with a single authority behind it, such as MLA or MHRA?  As a small/medium sized institution with a lot of cross-pollination through thesis-supervision crossing subject areas, there are reasons why a single system would be desirable and feasible.

So I'm suggesting that Alec's is the wrong approach.  Individuals'

improvements to the system are what caused this problem in the first place! Have any institutions / faculties out there tried to extricate themselves from Harvard and adopt an existent, single-authority system?

If so I would be interested in hearing how that went.

As an aside, I am aware of the ease with which referencing software can output to different styles for different publications.  But I don't think this removes the benefit of a single system for the institution.

Also, I don't think that putting first year UGs onto software such as EndNote, RefWorks or their simplified cousins such as Write 'n Cite is the best way to introduce students to referencing - but that's probably a separate discussion!

Best wishes to all,


From: learning development in higher education network [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Alec Gill

Sent: 23 June 2009 14:29

To: [log in to unmask]

Subject: Abundance of Academic Referencing Style


This Thursday's (25th June) issue of the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine contains an article by me (pp.24-25) highlighting the absurdity and abundance of academic referencing styles. THE have entitled it "There are 3,000 ways to cite source material - why not make it one?" As an academic tutor with the Study Advice Service at the University of Hull, my sympathy is with the poor students. They often have to put up with inconsistencies in the departmental guidelines on 'how to reference' and endure some academics who have a 'fetish' for specific ways of listing references. I argue for a revised 'Harvard' system that could be described as the "Author-Year-Type" style. The long (original) version is set out at my blog: http://academicreflexions.blogspot.com/.

This is nearly 2,000 words long and the Times asked me to shorten it to a 750-word piece under their Opinion section - you know what it is like

- so I did! Anyway, I have been emailing and getting good advice from Colin Neville at the University of Bradford (he is the expert on Referencing issues), and he recommended that I give LDHEN members a preview of the idea - so here it is - I have never done this kind of thing before. If you feel like leaving a Comment on my blog, please feel free to do so. Equally, there might be an opportunity to leave Comments on the THE online website. As Colin has remarked "I hope that your article sparks off a discussion in HE about this long-neglected issue".

This article could be the opening shot of a long-running campaign for change - for the benefit of our students. Cheers for now and thanks for your time.

Take Care,


[log in to unmask]<[log in to unmask]">mailto:[log in to unmask][log in to unmask]>>

01482.466344 - Office

Study Advice Service

The University of Hull (UK)

Academic Tutor + MultiMedia Developer


http://www.hull.ac.uk/php/cesag>> - my research work 01482.225009 - Home

John Hilsdon
Head of Learning Development
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University of Plymouth
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