go backGo Back
sub-category Academic Writing Skills

Preparing references and citations

Preparing references and citations

It is important that articles, books or ‘grey literature’ that provide sources for your own research and its write-up are cited within your paper. Every citation needs to have a complementary reference.

Journals sometimes have individual stylistic requirements for the formatting of references, and many researchers find it challenging to apply these.

However, there are many resources to help authors, and software tools which make the process of collecting and formatting your references simpler. It should also be noted that journals will generally provide information on the reference style and examples of this in their Notes for Contributors and other resources. Some even provide templates in Word (and LaTeX, if appropriate) to help.

Here are some considerations when preparing references, and links to useful resources and tools to help prepare the reference section:

  • —  The reference list should reflect where you found your background information.
  • —  All citations within the text should have a matching reference in the list.
  • —  There are two main types of referencing systems used.

·         —  Harvard is the ‘author, date’ method.

·         —  The in-text citation is given in the format ‘(Smith et al. 1993)’, and the reference list is in alphabetical order.

·         —  Vancouver is the ‘number ‘method. This is particularly common in medical journals.

·         —  The in-text citation is given as a number – and the reference in the list is given the same number.

·         —  The references are numbered consecutively from top to bottom in the paper, and the reference list is ordered in the same way.

  • EndNote® (www.endnote.com), EndNote Web, and its complementary Reference Manager® (www.referencemanager.com) are very commonly used citation management tools. Check with your institution if they are available. Zotero (www.zotero.org) is another tool, and is free to use. These tools help you compile, sort and format your references.
  • Note that some journals give direction on specific requirements you need to check if you do use Endnote. For example, the Nature guidelines state: ‘Do not use linked fields (produced by EndNote and similar programs). Please use the one-click button provided by EndNote to remove EndNote codes before saving your file.’
  • It is important to check your references by linking out to validate the link – this is to ensure that the references are not only valid and link correctly, but also to screen for retracted articles.
  • Avoiding excessive self-citation, and also too many references to the same sources or groups (journals may have guidelines about this also).
  • In general, avoid too many references to unpublished work or personal communications, or to research not available in English.
  • Be careful to spell author names correctly.
  • Check the correct usage of ‘et al.’ (for example, the number of author names included before et al. is utilized).
  • Check to see if the journal places limits to the number of references.


The following resources may also be useful:

http://nihlibrary.campusguides.com/c.php?g=38330&p=244512 – produced by the NIH Library in the US.

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/ gives a good guide to preparing references to APA style (which is another commonly used industry style). Purdue’s OWL Writing Lab also provides additional support for writing up research.


Any questions? Please contact us at asktheeditors@cwauthors.com or helpdesk@cwauthors.com.


Share with your colleagues

cwg logo

Scientific Editing Services