Effective Technical Writing in the Information Age

Author-Year System: References Pages


Following in-text citation of sources, of course, you are obliged to provide bibliographic information about your sources on a references page. Composing a references page is, for many writers, a painful process, particularly if they handled their references sloppily at the research stage. You simplify your task greatly by recording complete bibliographic information of your cited sources as you research, thus building your references page as you go. Some students wisely use notecards to keep track of their references, while others have a less formal system. As I cite sources in-text, I simply keep adding the complete bibliographic information to my references page right in my Word file for the paper; thus my references page is finished as soon as the last paragraph is.

As with in-text citation, reference page styles vary from one publication to another, but the fundamentals can still be expressed by the two simple categories of the author-year system and the number system. You could, of course, choose any respected magazine or journal in your field as a model for your references page and use it consistently, and this is often the easiest and most logical path to take.


Read up on the specifics of various citation styles, in particular MLA and APA, at the following pages:

"Research and Citation Resources" article from Purdue's Online Writing Lab (OWL)

"Citation Style for Research Papers" article from Long Island University

Mechanics of the Author-Year System References Page

Using the author-year system, on your references page you typically provide the following information in the following order:

  • The names and initials of all authors, beginning with the last name of the first author listed, followed by a comma.
  • Year of publication, followed by a colon.
  • Title of the document or article being cited, with the key words capitalized. Quotation marks could be used around article titles.
  • Title of book, magazine, or journal, underlined or italicized, with journal titles abbreviated, followed by a period.
  • Publication information—for a book or privately published document, provide the publisher’s name and location, then the total number of pages, separated by commas; for a journal or magazine, provide the volume number in boldface, then a comma, then the page numbers of the article being cited.
  • The entire URL (if the source is a website), usually enclosed in brackets, followed by a period. Then provide either the last date the page was updated or the date that you accessed it, followed by a period. When citing a web document, typical bibliographic details, such as the page’s author, will often be unavailable. Therefore, skip the steps above as needed, but always provide the URL.

At times, some of the above information will be unavailable or sketchy, especially in relation to company brochures, maps, non-professional publications, and web sources. It is acceptable to omit unavailable information, of course, but when less information is available you might provide a short narrative description of a particular source.