4 steps for speeding up formatting reference lists: a guide for journal editors

[Free resource to help available here]

Are you an academic researcher and journal or book editor tasked with ensuring the reference lists are formatted correctly in each contribution? While some academic researchers have perfectionist tendencies and will deliver a well-formatted list, others are very sloppy about references. Even the perfectionists may not have a deep familiarity with your journal style, as their contribution will be one of many, made to different journals that use different styles.

If you have to tidy up their reference lists, there are a few steps you can take to improve the speed and accuracy of reference checking. In this blog post I discuss a four-step process you can take to make life easier for yourself.

Step one: Pick a recognised style

It is incredibly helpful to pick an “official” style such as APA, Chicago, MLA etc. for your journal. This enables you to save time as there are some labour-saving tools you can use to format reference lists presented in that style. It also means you have a comprehensive guide available that you can refer back to when you have unusual kinds of references to format.

If you have a small amount of funds to spend, I recommend buying a copy of the relevant style guide (I prefer a paper copy, but they are available through online subscriptions too).

Step two: Use Edifix to help you

Edifix is a program that helps you format references by putting all the elements in the right place. For each reference it recognises in its database, it will format it in line with APA style, Chicago style, or any other of the main referencing styles. This is a big help as it usually parses at least 50% of the references, which you can then use as a guide for formatting the rest. You can pay for a monthly subscription that costs about 35 euros and then cancel it after that month, e.g. if you just need it for one month per year. It will save you a lot of time!

However, Edifix does not make every parsed reference perfect. In my experience, you should still double check that features such as capitalisation and use of italics are correct.

Step three: Manual checking – discrete passes

Following this, you usually have to work on the references manually. Some people like to focus on each reference individually, but I prefer to make several initial passes that focus on single aspects, and then a final pass that covers each reference individually.

I suggest you make separate passes for:

  • Capitalisation – You should check article, book, journal names etc. These are usually sentence case (This is a sentence), or initial caps (This Is a Sentence). [Tip: You can press Shift + F3 to toggle between lower case and capitals in MS Word, which saves time.]
  • Italics – Once again, you should check article, book, journal names etc.
  • Names – You should check the punctuation: full points or commas? Spaces after initials or not? Do they give the full first name or just an initial etc.
  • Years – Is the publication year in brackets or not? Where is it located?
  • Quotation marks – Which elements are enclosed in quotation marks? You could use Find & Replace to highlight all quotation marks to make them easier to spot)
  • Edited volumes – Chapters in edited books need checking especially carefully. Do they use “edited by…” or Ed., Eds., eds., ed.? The same applies for translated volumes. [Tip: Use Find & Replace to highlight all instances of these abbreviations or words (ed., eds., edited by… etc.) – but watch out for entries where the words have been mistakenly omitted.]

This table may help you, or alternatively you could print out the main kinds of references in a large font and post them above your desk.

Step four: manual checking – individually

Finally, I recommend checking the order of elements, punctuation, and diacritics (e.g. š, ž, ć, ć) on a final pass through in which you look at each reference individually. Also check for spelling errors that a spellchecker will not find (e.g. diary–dairy).

The individual checking is best done last as each earlier pass will deepen your familiarisation with the style. When doing this final, more detailed pass, you may find it quicker to do the regular source formats first (books, journal articles, edited collections, internet sites) and highlight any unusual kinds of sources to check at the end.

Hope this helps speed things up – let me know how you get on!

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