Healthcare Writing

Colleen Shannon, Freelance Medical Writer


How to use the Harvard referencing style

There are different ways to present your sources in medical writing, so they meet house style and accepted academic standards.

If you haven’t already seen it, please do have a look at my earlier post on using the Vancouver style for references, which kicked off this mini-series.

Now we are moving on to Harvard, which is another common choice. This is my own favourite because you don’t have to number the references within the article – always a headache when you come to second drafts and beyond. There is also something nice and traditional about it.

A citation for a journal article with more than two authors would look like this:

McAlpine, L. et al. 2014. UK postgraduate medicine examinations: opportunities for international candidates. Clinical Medicine. 14(5), pp. 500-505.

Within the text, you would cite the reference like this. (McAlpine et al, 2014)

Simple! You’ll need more details if you are working on a live manuscript. I think the University of Leeds has a great resource. You can also bookmark this page and come back to it the next time you are referencing up your own healthcare writing project.

How to use the Vancouver referencing style

If you're an experienced medical writer, you'll already know that documenting your sources is a crucial part of the job. There are different formats for presenting your citations. Sometimes, this is set out in house style guidelines. Other times, the choice is up to you.

The Vancouver style of referencing is favoured by many medical journals. The references are numbered throughout the text, and the citations are listed in this numbered order at the end of your piece.

As an example, a journal article would look like this:

McAlpine L, Selamaj E, Shannon C, Chis L, Dacre J, Elder A. UK postgraduate medicine examinations: opportunities for international candidates. Clin Med. 2014;14(5):500-5.

So in general that's:

First six authors (surname, first initial) followed by 'et al' if there are more authors. Title of paper. Title of journal with approved abbreviation. Year; volume (issue number): page numbers.

You can bookmark this page and come back to it any time you need a reminder. This is only a very general guide and you will need more details for your medical writing project. For further information, and rules on citing other types of source material, see the guidelines from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.