Harvard on my mind – 2

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In Part 1 of this post, I looked at referencing style guides in general, and Harvard in particular. Unlike most referencing styles, Harvard does not have an authoritative published handbook or manual. As a result, many versions of Harvard exist and the opportunities for confusion are rife. In Part 2, we look at confusion writ large.

This investigation started when studying responses to a survey (on citation and referencing) conducted in a school in Scotland. Many teachers and many students commented that they were often confused, having to deal with too many referencing styles. That was odd. Although this school follows the curriculums and syllabi of three different examinations boards, IB, IGCSE, and SQA, the school promotes and uses just one referencing style.  Harvard.

And then the plot thickened.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)

Not all examinations boards publish detailed curriculum documentation or guidance on the open Internet.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority does.  Much SQA documentation is available.  It might be typical of other examinations boards, it might be totally untypical. But it is accessible – which is why it comes under the spotlight here.

With regard to referencing, not all SQA subjects state (in their published guidelines) which referencing style they prefer for coursework, but again, many do.

Some SQA subjects suggest that any appropriate style, used consistently is acceptable. In passing, that is IB practice too:  consistent use of a published style guide is strongly recommended, but there is no prescription or requirement to use any one named style in any subject.

On the other hand, at least one SQA subject gives the impression that only one style, this style, as used here, is acceptable, and anything not to that style and patterned on the examples given, is incorrect and will therefore be marked down. Read on…

Some SQA subjects actually name their recommended style “Harvard,” along with examples of Harvard in use. Others do not name the style, but the examples they give are author-date, and thus Harvard-like.

The concern is,  the examples given for each subject are just as different amongst themselves as any of those illustrated in Part 1 of this post.

Dickinson, G. and Murphy, K.J. 2005 Ecosystems. 2nd edition. Routledge, London
(SQA Geography: Examples of referencing)

Wright, R (2005) Environmental Science: toward a sustainable future, Pearson Prentice Hall, New Jersey, p.446
(SQA Advanced Higher Biology Candidate Investigation Guidance, p. 4)

Aldridge, S (1998) Magic Molecules: how drugs work, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p134.
(SQA Advanced Higher Chemistry Investigation Guidance 2014-15, p. 9)

Frings, G.S. (1987) Fashion: from concept to consumer London: Prentice Hall.
(Advanced Higher Home Economics Candidates Guide, p. 5.)

Once again, note the placement and use of commas, periods, parentheses, place of publication and more.

There is even less consistency in the examples for referencing web pages and websites:

http://www.snh.org.uk/scripts-snh/ab-pa04.asp; consulted 7/10/5 http://www.sepa.org.uk/pdf/publications/nws/nationalwastestrategy.pdf; consulted 7/10/05
(SQA Geography: Examples of referencing)

The Mammal Society (2006) Position statement: badgers and bovine tuberculosis.
URL: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/mammal/badgers_tb.shtml
Visited: August, 2007
(SQA Advanced Higher Biology Candidate Investigation Guidance, p. 4)

URL:http://www.pdrhealth.com/drug_info/nmdrugprofiles/nutsupdrugs/mal_0292.shtml, visited November 2014.
http://www.pdrhealth.com/drug_info/nmdrugprofiles/nutsupdrugs/mal_0292.shtml, visited November 2014.
(SQA Advanced Higher Chemistry Investigation Guidance 2014-15, p. 10)

Scottish Government 2007. The Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007. [online]
Available from :
[Accessed 14th October 2009]
(SQA Advanced Higher Health and Food Technology: Referencing, p.2)

If you have been reading carefully, you will have noticed the page numbers in the references for the examples for books in Biology and Chemistry.  These, I believe, refer to the page numbers from which quotations (might) have been taken.In most referencing systems – including most varieties of Harvard – these would be included as part of the citation in the text; they would not be in the alphabetical list of References at the end.

The Biology guide includes no examples of in-text citation and use of quotation, so the use of page number in this example is unknown.

Not so the guidance for AH Chemistry. The guidance given regarding referencing in Advanced Higher Chemistry Investigation Guidance 2014-15 is a disaster – not least because Chemistry is the subject which states “the only acceptable method of citing and listing references is [as] shown below…

It’s in bold font, so it must be true, this is serious stuff, they really mean it.  The suggestion has to be that anything that deviates from the style as shown is incorrect and will be marked down.

Trouble is, this advice goes counter to all referencing conventions. If followed to the letter, this advice could lead students into committing plagiarism.

Apart from the placement of the page number in the reference instead of the in-text citation (“only the surname(s) of the author(s) and the year of publication in brackets, and nothing else“), the quotation marks in the in-text citation example are at best, ambiguous, at worst, terribly misleading, very very wrong.

This should be cited in the text as:
(Aldridge, 1998)
For example, “Most drugs work by interfering with the way in which either an enzyme or a receptor functions (Aldridge, 1998).”, i.e. only the surname(s) of the author(s) and the year of publication in brackets, and nothing else.

Do those quotation marks indicate SQA’s quotation taken from the student’s essay, or did the student have these quotation marks? If you read the actual essay, what would you see?

Most drugs work by interfering with the way in which either an enzyme or a receptor functions (Aldridge, 1998).

with no quotation marks, or

“Most drugs work by interfering with the way in which either an enzyme or a receptor functions (Aldridge, 1998).”

with the citation included as part of the quotation?

It’s important, because what we see in Aldridge’s book (courtesy Amazon’s Look Inside! feature) is

In other words, “(Aldridge, 1998)” is not part of  the original text, it should not be inside the quotation marks in the student essay. What we should see in the essay is:

“Most drugs work by interfering with the way in which either an enzyme or a receptor functions” (Aldridge, 1998).

 If the student did not use quotation marks at all then this is plagiarism. What is SQA Chemistry asking students to do, “the only acceptable method of citing“?

According to SQA Chemistry guidance, not even the page number should go in the in-text citation. This appears to belong in the reference. It doesn’t seem to matter which page number – the example given in the Guidance is page 134, even if the quotation is from page 6 of the actual book (and is not repeated on page 134). In all, what we really should see is:

“Most drugs work by interfering with the way in which either an enzyme or a receptor functions” (Aldridge, 1998, p. 6).

This problem with quotation marks is not just in this example, it is repeated in the examples of in-text citation for a quotation from a journal and from a web page.

The guide is just as precise, demanding, misleading and wrong in the entire example for use of a web page:

The Chemistry examiner accepts two forms of reference, as illustrated, but only one form of citation:

 … (pdrhealth.com)”, is correct but (www.pdrhealth.com) and (http://www.pdrhealth.com) would not be acceptable. Dates must not be cited in the text.

Nor, presumably, a named author, nor the page title?

To demand formatting which is totally different to convention and to suggest any other form is wrong is, at the least, confusing and confounding. It suggests that students must learn a new style, SQA-Chemistry style, for this subject. If the student uses a more standard form of Harvard, the student is wrong.  “Not acceptable“? Does this mean wrong formatting is plagiarism?  Plagiarism is not acceptable. Mistakes or inconsistencies in formatting are not desirable, maybe, but “not acceptable“?

It’s a concern. Secondary school students taking SQA Advanced Higher examinations are often studying 2 or 3 different subjects. Each with its own variations on Harvard?  Many schools find it hard enough getting students to use one style, consistently.

SQA, and especially the author of the guidance for AH Chemistry should be congratulated in one regard. Many guides, many examples on school and college sites, concentrate on referencing.  Definitions of plagiarism and instructions for the use of other people’s work are often ambiguous; very often they give the impression that a list of sources used at the end is all that is needed. It isn’t. Honesty lies in the citation in the text.

The AH Chemistry guide stands out because it gives guidance on in-text citation, and that is refreshing.

If only the guidance given was “correct,” if only the more usual academic conventions had been observed…  If only there was awareness and acceptance of other styles…

The SQA examinations are undergoing revision.  I do hope that guidance notes too are being revised, that the observations here will soon be history. It would be good to see consistent and “accurate” use of the same style/s for all SQA subjects.

For the sake of the students – and their teachers?

Addendum (14 April 2015: I made a mistake in this post, put right in part 3…)


3 thoughts on “Harvard on my mind – 2

  1. Pingback: Harvard on my mind – 1 | Honesty, honestly…

  2. Pingback: Somewhere, over the spectrum … | Honesty, honestly…

  3. But chemistry does not quote in the way you might in eg English…. the reference is there to back up what you say ..so it is a little different.
    but yes there are many discrepancies in the SQA information. They should put out a definitive statement for those who are just trying their best to get things right.

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