Referencing Style for Academic Communications

Academic communications are highly regulated according to certain international standards. One of the controls in academic writing is the citation of sources. Citation is something that happens in one form or the other in your daily life although you may not realize it. 

For instance, in the course of your discussion, you once said, I heard in the AIT news today, that the Federal government has approved automatic scholarships for all students in tertiary institutions. Or the news on Channels says one pastor has stepped aside after being accused of rape. 

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This is it. You are citing your source casually by stating where you got your information. The citation gives credibility to what you say; protects you on what is said; and gives credit to the originator of the information.

In academic communications, it is mandatory to correctly, truthfully, and consistently include the details of the information you have referred to in your assignment, essays, research reports, research proposals, and theses. 

When you fail to do this, you are attributing yourself as the originator of the fact, idea, or information. When you read books, you gather information, ideas, or knowledge that you may reconstruct and produce your idea or thought but acknowledge the source of information in the form of citation. 

The citation details are arranged logically at the end of your work and are titled references. This list usually includes every bibliographic detail of each source you consulted, such as the author(s), date of publication of the item, title, place of publication, and publisher.

In academic writing, citation provides proof and support for your research process and helps you to avoid plagiarism. The negative consequences of plagiarism can be very devastating but can be prevented. This section of the course is designed to help you prevent the lethal effects of plagiarism.

It is vital to note the recommended style in your department or the discipline you might be writing for. Consistency is important in your chosen style. You must never combine different styles in one document.

1. Citation Styles

There are several predefined citation styles used in academic communications. The different styles set out how to prepare your citation. 

The most popular are the Modern Languages (MLA) Association format, American Psychological Association (APA) format, Chicago Manual of style, and the Harvard referencing style. Each discipline or department prefers one style over the other. Sometimes, a style is recommended throughout the university.

2. American Psychological Association Style

This is commonly used as a writing style and format for citing sources, especially in the behavioral and social sciences.  

The American Psychological Association (APA) citation style is contained in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition. It provides examples of the general format for research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the reference page. 

Although the APA style is prevalent in the behavioral and social sciences, it is also widely used by hundreds of other scientific journals in the medical and other public health professions, in many textbooks, and academia (Wikipedia).


3. Modern Languages Association Style

The modern Languages Association (MLA) style is common in the arts and humanities, particularly in the United States of America (USA). The MLA style is contained in the MLA Handbook (8th ed., 2016). 

The Association claims that the MLA style has been widely adopted for classroom instruction and used worldwide by scholars, journal publishers, and academic and commercial presses.

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Books (MLA Guide section 5.5.2): Format:

Author’s last name, Author’s first name. Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Date. Format. (date accessed if electronic).


Donald, Rex. Introduction to Economics. Lagos: Oxford University Press, 2019.

If there is an editor and no author, list by the editor’s name and add ed.

Example: Marshall, John, ed. Oral Literature and Politics in Africa. London: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

If there is more than one author, add a comma and the other names in the first name, last name order:

Example: Duke, A.B., and J. Tanko. The Madness of Kuyata: An Introduction to English Literature. Ibadan: Spectrum, 2002.

Articles from Journals (MLA Handbook Section 5.4):

Format: Author’s last name, Author’s first name. “Title of Article.” Title of Journal volume.

number (date): pages. Format. Database name if applicable. Date Month Year accessed if electronic.

Example: Greg, Woli. ―The Beauty of Poetry.‖ Literary Criticism 18.1 (1984):1-39.

4. Harvard Style

The Harvard style is very similar to APA. Where APA is primarily used in the USA, Harvard referencing style is commonly used in the UK and Australia and is recommended for use in the humanities. 

The Harvard referencing style has two types: in-text citations found in the main content of the essay and contain very little bibliographical information, and the reference list, which is included at the end of the essay or report and contains full bibliographic details of each source used in the work.


Citations for books with one author:

Surname, first initial. (Year). Title. Edition (if not the first edition of the book). City of publication: Publisher, e.g.

Soyinka, W. (1994). The man died. Ibadan: Vintage.

Soyinka, W. (1997). The open sore of a continent. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Citations for books with two or three authors:

Surname, first initial., Surname, first initial., and Surname, first initial. (Year). Title. City of publication: Publisher.

Adegbite, K., Ogbe, J., and Ubaji, S. (2008). Nigeria is in a sorry state. Abeokuta: Vikas.

Rilwan, A., Cosmos, M. and Uba, A. (2012). Exporting cocoa from Nigeria. Ilorin: Veras.

Citations for books with four or more authors:

If a book has four or more authors, only the first author’s name should be listed in a text followed by ‘et al.’, meaning ‘and others. However, all authors should be listed in the reference list in the order they are credited in the original work.

Surname, first initial., Surname, first initial., Surname, first initial., and Surname, first initial. (Year). Title. City of publication: Publisher.

Yusuf, A., Oke, S., Debola, H., and Sani, K. (2008). Communication skills. Zaria: Gowon Press.

Citations for a chapter in an edited book:

In a book of reading, you cite the chapter consulted and the page range (pp.) of the chapter and the edition.

Last name, first initial. (Year). Chapter title. In: Editor’s name/s (ed/s) Book Title. Edition. City of publication: Publisher. Page/s.

Cole, R. (2012). Politics and economy in small nations. In: Richard, R., ed., The Fall of Nations. 1st ed. Kaduna: Yaliam Press, pp. 43-62.

Citations for Print Journals

Last name, First initial. (Year). Article Title. Journal name, Volume (Issue), Page/s.

Lawal, G. (2004). Scholarly Communications in Tertiary Institutions. Journal of Communications, Volume 3 (2), pp. 2-8.

5. The Chicago Manual of Style

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) generally referred to as Chicago is a style published by the University of Chicago Press. 

It is in the 17th edition which prescribes writing and citation styles used in publishing. It is widely used in the United States because it focuses more on American English. Like other citation styles, CMOS also has two parts: in-text citation and reference list.

When you write your essays, pay attention to the style recommended by the lecturer or the department. Today, several citation generators generate citations in whatever recommended format.

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