Harvard does not exist.
The referencing style, I mean, not the University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The University exists. Harvard, as a referencing style, does not.
Most referencing styles, certainly the most widely-used styles, do exist, in that there is one authorised version, sometimes with an authorised version-lite, an adapted version for use in schools and academia. There is a manual to which we can refer,
The Modern Language Association, for instance, publishes the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (in its 3rd edition as of 2008) for professional writers and for scholars and the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition, 2009) for universities, colleges and schools.
The American Psychological Association publishes the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition, 2010), designed primarily for writers submitting papers to APA journals, but adopted by schools and universities and other publishers too.
The University of Chicago Press first produced its own style manual in 1891 to ensure consistency of style in its publications; the Chicago Manual of Style is now in its 16th Edition (2010). Its offshoot for scholars at school and university, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations : Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, originally compiled by Kate Turabian, is in its 8th edition (2013).
So it is with many other styles. The publisher, university, association or other body responsible for the style guide usually publishes a definitive manual, and gives the manual its name. Style guides often cover matters other than bibliographic referencing and citation; they often include advice on formatting and margins and fonts and spelling and abbreviations and so on: the house style.
As far as citation and referencing are concerned, the published guides often allow a degree of flexibility, depending on the needs of local institutions. Thus it is that the International Baccalaureate can require that IB students using the Internet include web addresses and dates of access in their bibliographical references, even though APA does not require the date of access, and MLA requires neither URL nor date of access.
Then again, the IB does not require accuracy of formatting of references. Since the IB does not prescribe any referencing style and allows students free choice as to which style they use, determining “accuracy” is impossible. EndNote suggests that there are “more than 6,000 bibliographic styles” many of which have very minor differences. Schools may add their own and different requirements. It is not possible for an IB examiner to determine which style a student is using and thus cannot determine accuracy. What IB examiners seek is honesty, and completeness and consistency in referencing.
Back to Harvard
Non-insistence on correct formatting is good, especially with Harvard. As noted earlier, there is no authoritative Harvard referencing style. Monash University says as much on its web page Harvard referencing guide: “Unlike many referencing styles, there is no source document for a Harvard Guide.” Not all self-published guides make that clear.
Anyone who uses Harvard would be well-advised to make sure that s/he always uses the same version of the same guide. Differences between guides abound, and use of different guides can lead to inconsistent formatting – and to confusion.
Here are a few example references for a book with two or three authors. Spot the differences!
McCarthy, P. and Hatcher, C. (1996) Speaking persuasively: Making the most of your presentations, Sydney: Allen and Unwin.
(University of Exeter, p. 7)
Edwell, R., Ambrose, A., and Baker, C. (2002) European Politics Since
1997. London: Routledge
(Coventry University, p. 18)
Adams, R.J., Weiss, T.D. and Coatie, J.J., 2010. The World Health Organisation, its history and impact. London: Perseus.
(Anglia Ruskin University, p. 19)
Peck, J. and Coyle, M. (2005). The student’s guide to writing. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
(University of York, p. 8)
Only Coventry, of these four examples, uses hanging indents in the Reference list.
Coventry uses a comma before the “and” and the last named of three authors, but Anglia Ruskin does not.
Exeter uses a comma after the title, before the place of publication, the others use periods (full-stops).
Anglia Ruskin and York have a period after the date; the other two do not.
Anglia Ruskin has no parentheses around the date; the other examples bracket the date.
Differences are even more noticeable when comparing references for web pages and websites, angle brackets, round brackets, no brackets; the use of “accessed,” “retrieved,” “downloaded from,” “[online]”, none of these; the form and formatting of the date.
Something I had not realised before I started writing this post: while British universities (usually) put the place of publication before the name of the publisher, Canadian and Australian universities seem to put the publisher before the place of publication. What’s more, many Canadian and Australian guides to Harvard use commas (or nothing?) where British universities use full-stops and colons, for example:
Gerster, R & Bassett, J 1991, Seizures of youth: the sixties and
Australia, Hyland House, Melbourne.
(University of New South Wales, p. 3)
Note the commas.
Note the ampersand.
Note publisher before place.
Best advice : if you do use Harvard, be sure to stick to the one guide.[In Part 2 of this post, I look at one of the consequences of the lack of a published Harvard Guide / Manual / Handbook. It’s not pretty.]