APA, MLA, Harvard…. If one thing can be guaranteed to drive students crazy, it is the demand that they follow an internationally recognized documentation style.

To ward off the eternal ‘Do we really have to?’ questions, here’s a quick list of why the answer is ‘Yes!’.

Don’t leave referencing and citations until the thesis is written, do it as you go along. It’s definitely easier that way.

1. Internationally recognized (it’s true!): No one wants your individually well-thought out way of citing, referencing, formatting. It’s to your disadvantage if you do this. You want the person grading the thesis to concentrate on the content, don’t irritate them with fancy layout, revolutionary referencing, erratic spacing.

2. Easy to follow: The reader can locate your sources, spot the key authors, cross-reference between text and reference list.

3. Plagiarism: If you follow a set style, you can use free online tools (e.g. zotero, citavi, menderley) and be sure your sources in the text are in the reference list and vice versa. Of course, citation is only one part of plagiarism you need to check for, but this is an effective way of doing it. By the way, learn here how you can avoid academic plagiarism!

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4. Avoid confusion: If every university, every professor had their own preferences on format, referencing and layout, there would be a lot of discrepancies between theses.

Following a standardized style allows quick comparison of work and also means that worldwide there is not so much variety when transferring documents between institutions. If you move to another university for a further degree, publish your research, you are likely to need one of these styles. Get used to them now.

5. If you come from a non-English educational environment, you may not even be aware these documentation styles exist. Understandably, as English has become the dominant language in academic and business publications, it has become important to establish some standards.

One of these is the documentation style.


• Recognized documentation styles aid comprehension and comparison.
• Recognized documentation styles help prevent accidental plagiarism.
• The tools to format accordingly are free online – use them.

Hopefully you’re winning all those petty arguments by simply having the best sources.