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WHSL New Students' Guide: Citation Styles

A guide to the use of the Witwatersrand Health Sciences Library for new students

Submitted Written Work

Every piece of written work you submit must contain properly cited references, and the list of sources you have consulted must be correctly listed in either style.

This includes portfolios and clinical assessments, as well as Power Point presentations.


Why Do I Need to Use Citations in All my Written Work?

Ethical honesty is taken very seriously by the Faculty of Health Sciences. If you do not acknowledge the source of your information, you might be accused of plagiarism. This can lead to student disciplinary action, such as suspension, or expulsion.

What is Meant by a Citation Style?

A citation is a reference to a published or unpublished source. A citation style is a standarized description of an item, such as a book or journal, that conforms to a particular format. Usually the formats are created by professional organizations, such as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) or publishers, such as the University of Chicago.

At the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits, two styles are acceptable. These styles are known as

  • The Vancouver Style
    • The Vancouver citation style takes its name from a meeting in Vancouver, Canada in 1978, which led to the establishment of the ICMJE
    • This style was developed further by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) in the USA
    • This style is sometimes also known as the Uniform style or Uniform requirements, because several medical journal editors adopted this format for their journals
    • References in this style are numbered consecutively in the text, and are identified by Arabic numerals either in brackets (1) or in superscript (with or without brackets), eg. superscript ¹ 
    • The list of references at the end of the text, where the full work is cited, is in numerical order
  • The Harvard Style
    • The Harvard citation syle is attributed to a professor from Harvard University, who used this citation style in a journal article
    • The Harvard style is also known as the Chicago style, and is used by the University of Chicago Press in its publications
    • The Harvard style is sometimes referred to as the author-date style, because this is the way in which references are written in the text of an article
    • References in this style are cited by author name in the text, usually followed by the date, enclosed in brackets eg. (Prentice, 2001). Sometimes, particularly if the cited work is from a book, the page number/s are given as well eg. (Prentice, 2001, p.438) or (Prentice, 2001:438)
    • The list of references at the end of the text, where the full work is cited, is in alphabetical order

Which Style Should I Use?

As a student in the Faculty of Health Sciences, you are bound by the rules in use for the School which offers your degree. The School of Clinical Medicine (MBBCh) uses Vancouver style. The School of Therapeutic Sciences (BSc Pharmacy, Nursing, OT and Physiotherapy) uses Harvard style. The BHSc is not offered by a School, but by the Faculty itself, and it has been determined that the Harvard style will be used by these students.

If you are ever going to publish in a clinical medical journal, you should get used to using the Vancouver format. However, every time you add a new reference to your text, all your reference numbers in the text, as well as in the list of references at the end of the text, must change. It is helpful to use a different colour for your references while you are writing your paper, and then change the colour of the references back to black once you are satisfied you no longer need to edit your references.

If you are not particularly computer literate, and find editing a document online difficult, it is easier to use the Harvard style. All you have to be aware of with this style is the correct alphabetical order of your references.

However, whichever style you decide to use, you must be consistent. You may not decide to use the Harvard style in your text, and then list your references at the end of the text using the Vancouver style.