Basic Differences Between Harvard, APA and MLA Referencing Styles Used in Academics


There are a lot of students in UAE, striving for good grades and looking to improve them. An overwhelming majority of the students pursuing higher education in UAE are expats. Are you one of them? If so, you should know about the referencing styles most commonly used in academic writing.

As far as the academic related writing of any kind, is concerned, whether it is an essay or a research paper, proper referencing i.e. bibliography and citations are really important. Failing to reference the right sources from where you are quoting, can land you in a lot of trouble and might even result in disqualification or rejection of your paper.

Therefore, it is pertinent to know the art of referencing when writing a paper.

Although, the goal of using referencing styles is, mostly to have a single, unified format when writing a paper, there exist differences between the, some of whom are too minor to be visible. Therefore, it can be confusing to identify between the various referencing styles.

However, before writing the essay, you should know the differences so you can follow the rules of each referencing style. You should also know which referencing style is best used in your area of study or preferred by your particular department/institution. Your instructors may have already specified one of these or might prefer an entirely different one.

Here is an insight into these referencing styles and what differentiates them from one another:

1- MLA System:

Upon quoting more than two sources pertaining to a single author, the reference in brackets must contain a smaller version of the title to point out the book to which they belong to.

A bibliography formed in accordance with the MLA guidelines, lists the different items in an alphabetic order with the author’s last name. Each of the records must have the complete name of whoever the author is along with the book’s title, city where it has been published, the publisher and the year of publication.

MLA stands to be the most used referencing style, which is why it’s particularly important for you to know about it, with respect to its relevance to most of the subjects being taught and courses taken by the students.

MLA style will work differently depending upon the kind of source i.e. whether it is a journal, a book, website etc.

2- APA System:

While APA style has been derived from the Harvard style, minor differences exist between both of them. The APA style is based on the author and the date, which in other words means that in APA style, importance is placed on the date and the author of the work to uniquely distinguish or identify it.

3- Harvard System:

It is mostly prescribed for, the students of behavioral, natural or social science related subjects. It is also known as, the ‘author-date style’. In this style, the in-text citation is inserted in the body of the text or footnotes. The Harvard system requires the references within the body of the essay in the format of, the author’s surname and publication date. A unique requirement of the Harvard entails that, an abstract of the whole essay must be included in the beginning following the introduction. Such a requirement is not enforced by the other referencing styles.

In-Text Citations:

The concept of in text citations should be well understood when writing a paper. These are used when you are faced with the need to quote or paraphrase directly from somewhere. These citations can be found throughout the body of the text. However, in text citation can greatly differ in MLA, APA and Harvard styles.

Proper Referencing for the text cited and from where the ideas and thoughts have been taken, stands to be one of the most important one of the standard practices expected from the writers of articles or research papers.

Referencing enables a reader to differentiate between your ideas and those which you have borrowed from other sources. It is also crucial for your integrity. A failure to properly cite the sources can result in plagiarism, which can be the cause of your research paper being rejected or overturned – a truly undesirable consequence for any student.

No matter what reference style you use, care must ensure that you are following the one recommended by your instructor rather than mixing and matching different styles because that can be a wrong approach.

In order to be able to avoid plagiarism and cite in a proper manner, you can also go for the online referencing tools available. OR if all else fails, services that offer assignment writing online can be taken for a fee. There are many such services available for UAE students.

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