Can references be without authors, dates and titles?

This is the third and final lesson about Locating Source Details. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Review the concept of sources, source details and reference elements in academic contexts

– Discuss what to do when authors, titles or publication years are missing from the source

– Include activities to help readers check progress and understanding of the taught concepts

Lesson 3

In this third and final lesson on locating source details we next discuss the referencing scenario that causes students to panic the most, which is when a source is missing a number of details such as its authors, its year of publication or its source title. Having already discussed source types in Lesson 1, and how to find source details in books, dissertations, journals, newspaper articles and web pages in Lesson 2, students should now continue reading to find out how to deal with the tricky reality of missing reference elements in the Harvard Style.

How do I reference a source without authors?

While the process of including authors when referencing can be somewhat challenging (particularly in determining which is the family name or given name), if a researcher is quite sure that no individual authors or organisations have been provided as the creators of that source, then there are two simple rules to follow for citations and references:

Citation Rule: Use the italicised title of the source in place of the author.

Reference Rule: Move the title from its normal position to the author position.

What about if there’s no publication date?

If you’re confident that no year of publication exists for the source you wish to reference, then the rule here is to simply write the phrase ‘no date’ where the date would normally be. This rule is the same for both citations and references:

Very rarely there are also sources without either publication dates or authors. In this scenario, the title is moved to the author position and ‘no date’ is written in place of the year of publication, as in the following:

And if there’s no source title?

Finally, what should researchers do if there’s no source title? In truth, this situation isn’t possible for most source types such as books or journal articles. When it may occur, however, is when using web pages, in which case the source title can simply be omitted. The only change an academic would have to make to the order of reference elements in such a reference is if no source title and no authors existed for that source, in which case the web-page URL would be moved to the author position for both citations and references:

If students find a web page that has no authors, no title and no publication date, they can of course also use ‘no date’ instead of the year of publication. However, students should also very carefully consider whether a source without the majority of its reference elements is in fact an appropriate or trustworthy source to add to a reference list.

Good work on finishing this short course on locating source details. Consider completing our Lesson 3 activities to check progress and understanding before you move on to one of our other short courses.

3 of 3 Lessons Completed


Once you’ve completed all three lessons in this short course about Locating Source Details, you might then wish to download our Lesson Worksheets to check your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

Lesson 1 explores the topic: What are source details in academic referencing? Our Lesson 1 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Lesson 2 explores the topic: Where can citation and reference details be found? Our Lesson 2 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Lesson 3 explores the topic: Can references be without authors, dates and titles? Our Lesson 3 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

To save yourself 2 Marks, click on the button below to gain unlimited access to all of our Referencing Challenges Lesson Worksheets. This All-in-1 Pack includes every lesson, activity and answer key related this topic in one handy and professional PDF.


There are currently no PowerPoint activities, additional teacher resources or audio and video recordings created for this topic. Please come back again next semester.


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