• 3-minute read
  • 13th April 2016

Harvard Referencing – What You Need to Know

Harvard referencing is one of the most common forms of citation used by UK universities, so familiarity with the basics of the Harvard system is essential for any student. In this post, we provide a crash course in exactly that.

What Is Harvard Referencing?

‘Harvard referencing’ is another term for parenthetical referencing, meaning Harvard citations are given in the main body of your text rather than in footnotes. This makes it easier for your reader to see what you have referenced and the influences on your work.


As proofreaders, we’re generally against the unsubtle use of ALL CAPS for emphasis, but on this occasion it’s justified. The problem is that people refer to ‘Harvard referencing’ as if it was a formal system, yet there is no such thing.

‘Harvard referencing’ is really a broad term used to describe parenthetical referencing in general and many universities have their own in-house version of the ‘system’.

As such, you should always check your institution’s style guide for details on how to reference sources, since online instructions for using ‘Harvard’ citations may differ from one university to the next.

What Should I Reference?

People sometimes worry their work doesn’t contain ‘enough’ citations, but the key to good referencing is knowing when a citation is needed. For Harvard-style referencing, this includes when:

  • Quoting a source directly
  • Paraphrasing someone else’s argument
  • Using a diagram or illustration from another source
  • Using data or results from someone else’s research
  • Summarising someone else’s beliefs or thoughts

However, no citation is required when referring to something that is common knowledge (e.g. ‘Paris is in France’ or ‘fire is hot’) or when something is your own work (e.g. survey results or an illustration).

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Fire is hot (Prometheus, 800 BC).
Fire is hot (Prometheus, 800 BC).

Basic Citation Style

Harvard citations provide information about the source being referenced, typically the author surname and year of publication, separated by a comma. For instance, The WI Book of Bread and Buns would be cited like this:

Many people consider making bread complicated (Norwak, 1984).

If the author is named in the text, there’s no need to repeat it in the citation. Moreover, if you’re quoting a source, you should provide page numbers:

According to Norwak (1984, p. 4), it is ‘important to understand the ingredients involved’.

Your Reference List

Harvard referencing requires all cited sources to be included in a reference list. This is where you give full publication information for the works you have cited.

The details required here depend on the source type, but they usually include the title, place of publication and publisher, the author’s name, and a year of publication. Moreover, all Harvard reference lists should:

  • List all and only sources cited in your essay (additional reading can be included separately)
  • Order sources alphabetically by author surname
  • List multiple works by the same author with the earliest first
  • Provide names for all listed authors (no matter how many there are)

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