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Research Skills Tutorial

Formatting Citations

While you conduct your research, you should collect all of the identifying pieces of information about your sources. To properly format that information in your paper, you will follow the organization guidelines laid out by the particular citation style you have been assigned to use.

Citations may look different depending on what style is used, but they contain similar information. The standard elements include:

  • Author name(s)
  • Title (of book or article and journal)
  • Date of publication
  • Page numbers

The difference is primarily order, capitalization, and punctuation. Learning how to use one citation style will make it easy to learn others.

The organization and formatting guidelines for each style are compiled in resources called style guides.

Commonly Used Citation Styles

The citation styles (also known as documentation styles or bibliographic styles) commonly used by college students are MLA, APA, and Chicago.
Each citation style is associated with different disciplines (or areas of study):

  • MLA (Modern Languages Association) style is associated with the humanities: languages, literature, philosophy, religion and the arts.
  • APA (American Psychological Association) style is associated with the social sciences: psychology and behavioral science, education, sociology, anthropology, business, economics, political science and criminal justice.
  • Chicago is associated primarily with history, but is sometimes used in other humanities and social sciences fields. Turabian is a variation of Chicago style intended for student writers.

There are thousands of citation styles associated with different journals, publishing companies, and library databases, but you would only need to be concerned with these if your instructor required it, or you plan to publish your research with one of those journals.

Which details must be included within these in-text and end-of-paper citations, and how each is formatted, depends on the citation style we have been asked to use. For example, in both APA style and MLA style, the in-text citation typically goes inside a set of parentheses. In Chicago style, in-text citations are typically indicated with superscript numerals that refer to footnotes (bottom of page) or endnotes (end of chapter).

In all three of these styles, the end-of-paper citations are listed on the last (usually separate) page of the paper. In both APA style and Chicago style, that page is titled "References." In MLA style, that page is titled, "Works Cited." 

Each citation style has different rules about how in-text and end-of paper citations for various source types (books, articles, web pages, videos) and situations (online, print, no author, multiple authors) must be constructed (what is included, and in what order) and formatted (punctuation, italics, capitalization).

Choosing a Citation Style

You can usually choose a citation style based on the discipline you are studying. If you are studying in an interdisciplinary field such as music or art therapy, you may have more than one option.

The decision ultimately lies with your instructor, so be sure to ask which style your instructor requires before you begin your research.

Once you know, which citation style you will be using, check out the guide linked below with further information on each style.

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