Crimes of the “cite” button

Many electronic resources offer a happy little “cite” link that suggests what the resource provider thinks a reference for an article or ebook should look like.  It is tempting to believe everything they say, copy and paste it into your reference list and move on to the next one.  They even give versions for “APA”, “Vancouver,” and so on.  What could be nicer?  What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot, as it happens.  While some of these pre-prepared citations are fine, we are continually amazed at just how different some references are from the current referencing style we use.  Referencing systems change the way they work from time to time, and many references being offered by databases still follow an older format that bears no resemblance to what the lecturers marking your work expect to see.

Citing it right

We strongly recommend that if you use the “cite” feature of the Discovery Service, an ebook platform, a reference manager app such as EndNoteMendeley or Zotero, or indeed anything else, that you check the content of the reference matches what is on the article, ebook, website, etc. you are referencing, and that the format of the reference matches that set out on the Referencing@Portsmouth web page for that type of resource.  If in doubt, we are running referencing drop-in clinics all this week (including next Thursday evening) and we are happy to help at the desk 9am – 9pm Monday-Friday.

Some common “cite” button bloopers to watch out for

  • The names of organisations being written back to front as if they were a personal name, for example the United Nations being written as “Nations, U.”.  This is a mistake only an unthinking computer could make – easy to spot and amend.
  • Wrong publication date.  Often the date given in the pre-formatted reference is not the publication date but the date the ebook was added to the current ebook platform.  If you look at the back of the title page of the ebook, you will find the real publication date (often the same as the copyright date).
  • Titles may be given in all capital letters with extra spacing after punctuation. This should be amended to reflect APA formatting.
  • If you are citing a chapter in an edited book (where all the chapters have different authors), the pre-formatted reference you are given will only mention the whole book because it does not know which chapter you have read.  Details of how to reference a chapter in an edited book are available here on Referencing@Portsmouth.
  • Edition, editor and translator details may be missing or wrong.  Add or correct them.
  • The doi number may be missing or given in the wrong format.  Most commonly, publishers give the doi number in the form “doi: 10.1080/10904018.2015.1058165”.  APA referencing requires doi numbers to be given in the format “”.  The reason for this is that if you copy the APA version into a web browser, it will take you straight to the resource.  You can copy and paste the bit at the beginning from Referencing@Portsmouth.
  • Web addresses (URLs) may have angled brackets either side of them, like this:<>. You should remove these brackets.
  • Information you don’t need may be included, such as additional publisher information, the date you accessed the ebook (which APA no longer requires), and so on.  You should remove anything not included in the standard format/examples for the resource type you are looking at Referencing@Portsmouth.

Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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