A quick guide to Vancouver referencing

Vancouver is a system of referencing commonly used in biomedicine, among other scientific disciplines. In Vancouver style, you place a reference number in the text wherever a source is cited:

Davies et al. state that the data is ‘unreliable’ (1, p. 15).

This number corresponds to an entry in your reference list – a numbered list of all the sources cited in your text, giving complete information on each:

1. Davies B, Jameson P. Advanced economics. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2013.

This quick guide presents the most common rules for Vancouver style referencing. Note that some universities and journals have their own guidelines for the formatting of Vancouver references.

Vancouver in-text citations

In Vancouver style, citations are marked in your text with numbers. These numbers appear either in parentheses or in superscript – choose one option and stick to it consistently:

Parentheses numbering Superscript numbering
Levitt (2) argues that … Levitt2 argues that …

The numbers usually appear after the name of the author or after a direct quote. They may also appear at the end of the sentence:

This phenomenon is increasingly relevant to the discipline (3).

Naming authors

You will often need to mention the author when referring to a work or introducing a quote. Only use the author’s last name in your text. If a source has multiple authors, name only the first author followed by ‘et al.’:

Davies et al. (1) argue that …

It’s not always necessary to mention the author’s name in your text – but always include the reference number when you refer to a source:

Another study (13) explores the concept of …

Numbering references

Sources are numbered based on the order in which they are cited in the text: the first source you cite is 1, the second 2, and so on.

If the same source is cited again, use the same number to refer to it throughout your paper. This means that the numbers might not appear in consecutive order in your text:

Collins et al. (1) argue that this technique is highly effective. However, another study (2) conducted into the technique has raised doubts about the replicability of these results. Collins et al.’s conclusion that the technique is ready for ‘large-scale application’ (1, p. 15) in medical practice should therefore not be accepted without further investigation.

Citing multiple sources

You can also cite multiple sources in the same place:

Several studies (8, 12) indicate a similar effect.

To cite several sources that appear consecutively in your numbered list, you can use an en dash to mark the range.

There is a large body of research (1, 4–7) exploring this phenomenon.

In this case, the citation refers the reader to sources 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

Citing page numbers

You must specify a page number or range when you directly quote a text, and it can be helpful to do so when you are paraphrasing a particular passage.

Place the page number after the reference number inside the same parentheses, preceded by ‘p.’:

Bute refers to his project as ‘a madcap journey through America’s disciplinary institutions’ (4, p. 499).

If you’re using superscript numbers, the page number also appears in superscript, in parentheses after the reference number:

… ‘a madcap journey through America’s disciplinary institutions’.4 (p. 499)

Creating a Vancouver reference list

Your reference list is where you provide the information your readers will need in order to look up the sources cited in your text. It consists of a numbered list of all your sources, providing key information including the author, title and publication date of each source.

The list appears in numerical order at the end of your paper. Each entry ends with a full stop, unless the last element is a DOI or URL.

Vancouver reference list example

Vancouver reference list example

Author names

Each entry starts with the author’s last name and initials.

When a source has more than one author, their names are separated by commas. If a source has more than six authors, list the first six followed by ‘et al.’

1 author Shields G.
2–6 authors Johnson FH, Singh J.
7+ authors James F, Pieters J, Deptford G, Harrison R, Bregman E, Empson A, et al.

Source titles

Only the first word of the title and subtitle, along with any proper nouns, are capitalised:

The Cambridge companion to the philosophy of biology.

Titles in Vancouver referencing are consistently written in plain text. Do not use italics or quotation marks.

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Vancouver reference examples

The information you provide differs according to the type of source you’re citing, since different details are relevant in different cases. Formats and examples for the most commonly cited source types are given below.

Format x. Author(s). Title. Edition. Place of publication: Publisher; Year.
Example 1. Wilkinson IB, Raine T, Wiles K, Goodhart A, Hall C, O’Neill H. Oxford handbook of clinical medicine. 10th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2017.
  • Editions are given (in abbreviated form) only when referring to an edition other than the first.
Format x. Author(s). Title of chapter. In: Editor(s), editors. Title of book. Place of publication: Publisher; Year. Page range.
Example 2. Darden L. Mechanisms and models. In: Hull DL, Ruse M, editors. The Cambridge companion to the philosophy of biology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2008. p. 139–159.
  • The first name given is that of the author, while the editor’s name appears later, followed by ‘editors’.
  • The page range indicates the location of the chapter in the book, and is preceded by ‘p.’
Format x. Author(s). Article title. Journal Name (abbreviated). Year Month Day; Volume(Issue):page range. Available from: URL DOI
Example 3. Bute M. A backstage sociologist: Autoethnography and a populist vision. Am Soc. 2016 Mar 23; 47(4):499–515. Available from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12108-016-9307-z doi:10.1007/s12108-016-9307-z
  • Use the abbreviated form of the journal’s name, which should be provided in the citation information for the article.
  • Include a URL and DOI when citing an online journal. End with the page range if you cite a print journal.
  • Note the lack of spacing between the volume, issue and page range.
  • The names of months are abbreviated.
  • Page numbers for journals are not preceded by ‘p.’.
Format x. Author(s). Title [Internet]. Year [cited Date]. Available from: URL
Example 4. Cancer Research UK. Current research into breast cancer [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 Feb 14]. Available from: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/our-research/our-research-by-cancer-type/our-research-into-breast-cancer/current-breast-cancer-research
  • Web pages often won’t have a clearly identified author; in this case, you can usually name a corporate author.
  • The date used is the year when the website was last updated. The date in square brackets is when you accessed the site.

Missing information in Vancouver references

Some sources will be missing some of the information needed for a complete reference. See below for how to handle missing elements.

No author

As shown in the website example above, when no individual author is named, you can usually name the organisation that produced the source as the author.

If there is no clear corporate author – for example, a wiki that is created and updated collaboratively by users – you can begin your reference with the title instead:

5. Breast cancer [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2020 Feb 14]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breast_cancer

No date

Sources such as websites may lack a clear publication date. In these cases you can omit the year in your reference and just include the date of your citation:

6. Scribbr. How to structure a dissertation [Internet]. [cited 2020 Feb 14]. Available from: https://www.scribbr.co.uk/category/thesis-dissertation/

No page numbers

You may want to show the location of a direct quote from a source without page numbers, such as a website. When the source is short, you can often just omit this, but where you feel it’s necessary you can use an alternate locator like a heading or paragraph number:

NASA calls the telescope ‘the most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo’s telescope’ (5, para. 5).

Frequently asked questions about Vancouver referencing

What’s the difference between Harvard and Vancouver referencing styles?

Harvard referencing uses an author–date system. Sources are cited by the author’s last name and the publication year in brackets. Each Harvard in-text citation corresponds to an entry in the alphabetised reference list at the end of the paper.

Vancouver referencing uses a numerical system. Sources are cited by a number in parentheses or superscript. Each number corresponds to a full reference at the end of the paper.

Harvard style Vancouver style
In-text citation Each referencing style has different rules (Pears and Shields, 2019). Each referencing style has different rules (1).
Reference list Pears, R. and Shields, G. (2019). Cite them right: The essential referencing guide. 11th edn. London: MacMillan. 1. Pears R, Shields G. Cite them right: The essential referencing guide. 11th ed. London: MacMillan; 2019.
When should I use an in-text citation in Vancouver style?

A citation should appear wherever you use information or ideas from a source, whether by quoting or paraphrasing its content.

In Vancouver style, you have some flexibility about where the citation number appears in the sentence – usually directly after mentioning the author’s name is best, but simply placing it at the end of the sentence is an acceptable alternative, as long as it’s clear what it relates to.

How do I reference a source with multiple authors in Vancouver style?

In Vancouver style, when you refer to a source with multiple authors in your text, you should only name the first author followed by ‘et al.’. This applies even when there are only two authors.

In your reference list, include up to six authors. For sources with seven or more authors, list the first six followed by ‘et al.’.

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

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