Citing 101: How to Choose Citation Formats and Why

Citing 101: How to Choose Citation Formats and Why

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Writing a research paper is hard. Original ideas and insightful analysis aside, proper citation is necessary to credit original authors for their hard work, provide proof for your research, and enable readers to investigate your sources. Your citation should conform to a standard. Depending on the style, the information presented can include the author's name, date of publication, edition, publishing company location, journal title, or DOI (Digital Object Identifier).

Choosing a Citation Style

There are more than 9,000 citation styles in use today. What style you use is broadly dictated by the discipline or journal for which you are writing. Before committing to any style, consult your research advisor or course instructor to confirm any preferences. Here we have compiled a brief style guide to provide you with some context.

Humanities: MLA Style

MLA is a popular citation style developed by the Modern Language Association (MLA), for use primarily in humanities disciplines including communications, language, literature, philosophy, religion, and theatre. The newest version, MLA ninth, was published in April 2021 and includes clearer guidance for the inclusion of modern works with hundreds of new samples to follow. Here are nine fundamental pieces of information (and corresponding punctuation) that you should note for MLA citations:

Author. Title of source. Title of container, Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location.

Begin your "Works Cited" list on a new page immediately following the end of your research paper. Different rules govern the format of the citation depending on whether your source comes from a magazine, website, book, video, etc., and not all sources have complete information regarding authorship. Therefore, use your best judgement when determining which format to follow. See Purdue’s website for a reliable guideline on citing in MLA.

General MLA citation format:

Author. Title. Title of container (do not list container for standalone books, e.g. novels), Other contributors (translators or editors), Version (edition), Number (vol. and/or no.), Publisher, Publication Date, Location (pages, paragraphs URL or DOI). 2nd container’s title, Other contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication date, Location, Date of Access (if applicable).

As mentioned, the format of the citation varies depending on the source. Here are examples of two common MLA citation formats and how they differ:

Citing a book:

Author’s Last name, First name. Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication.

Citing a website:

Author’s Last name, First name. “Title of the Article or Individual Page. ” Title of the Website. Name of the Publisher, Date of Publication or Access in Day Month Year format. Web. URL or DOI. Date accessed.

Social Sciences: APA Style

The APA (American Psychological Association) Style was introduced in 1929. The most recent version, APA 7, was released in October 2019. APA is typically used for technical and scientific writing in the fields of business, criminology, economics, education, international studies, journalism, linguistics, and psychology.

Social science disciplines place a premium on the date of publishing to track currency and relevance. APA Style uses short in-text citations that refer to an alphabetical list of references at the end of the work. In the "References" list, the date appears immediately after the author's name. Here are examples of two common APA citation formats and how they differ:

Citing a book:

Author, A. A. (Year of publication). Title of work: Capital letter also for subtitle. Location: Publisher.

Citing a website:

Author, A. A. & Author B. B. (Date of publication). Title of page [Format description when necessary]. Retrieved from https://www.websiteaddress.com/full/url/

Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)

Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) was published by the Chicago University Press in 1906 and remains the preferred style of many publishers especially for writing in the fields of anthropology, art history, art management, computer science, history, and philosophy.

There are two different citation documentation styles established by Chicago: the Notes-Bibliography system (NB) and the Author-Date (AD) system. The differences are highlighted in the examples below.

Humanities: Chicago Notes & Bibliography

Notes-Bibliography is popular for use in humanities fields including arts, literature, and history. In this system, in-text citations are noted with superscript numbers and corresponding numbered footnotes; and listed in the bibliography, later.

Note

1. John D’Agata, ed., The Making of the American Essay (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2016), 177–78.

Shortened note

2. D’Agata, American Essay, 182.

Bibliography entry

D’Agata, John, ed. The Making of the American Essay. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2016.

Sciences/Social Sciences: Chicago Author-Date

Popular for the physical, natural, and social science papers, the author-date system includes parenthetical references in-text. Like APA, in-text citations include author last name and year, and the paper concludes with a list of references listed alphabetically.

For more information regarding Chicago Style formatting, Purdue Owl’s resource on Chicago 17 is a detailed and reliable reference.

In-text citations

(Grazer and Fishman 2015, 12)

(Smith 2016, 315–60)

Reference list entries (in alphabetical order)

Grazer, Brian, and Charles Fishman. 2015. A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Smith, Zadie. 2016. Swing Time. New York: Penguin Press.

The Turabian style, named after Kate Turabian of University of Chicago, is a reduced form of Chicago Style but applies the same core principles as Chicago 17th. For more detailed information regarding Turabian formatting, please see her guide on A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses.

Automatic Citations in your Reference Manager

Many tools and article databases will provide you with out-of-the-box citation information in various citation styles. Double-check the credibility of your sources before utilizing them in your work. Instead of relying on manual — and sometimes faulty — citations, you can use reference managers like Petal to automate citation management so you focus on your research.

Citation management software, citation managers, reference management software, or reference managers are all names for a type of tool that enables you to organize, analyze, and share your research references. Here is a comparison of the most popular reference managers. These tools can also be used with a word processor to automatically insert in-text citations and construct bibliographies in various styles, including APA, Chicago, MLA, and many others.

Online citation managers make keeping track of all of your references a breeze. Specifically, Petal allows you to:

  • bulk import PDFs directly into your project
  • annotate in the built-in PDF viewer
  • browse, sort, and filter annotations across an entire project in one place
  • specify rules to automatically tag documents to keep your library organized as it grows
  • bookmark pages for later reading
  • maintain a single source of truth through cloud syncing across devices and users

Petal simplifies metadata management by allowing you to keep all of your references in one place and reducing tedious manual data entry. Writing a research paper has never been easier! Sign up to Petal for free today.