The Student’s Guide To Citation Styles: Here’s When (And How) To Cite
Whenever conducting research to write a paper, it is important to document all sources. Citations give credibility and authority by showing proof of your research. References help readers understand how you came to your conclusions and they support your ideas.
Citing resources will also avoid plagiarism, by crediting to those who provided the research used to create a paper.
When to Cite a Source
Include a citation whenever you can. If you are not sure whether or not to cite a source, cite it. You should reference and cite whenever you:
- Quote directly from a source.
- Summarize or paraphrase another writer’s ideas, concepts or opinions.
- Anywhere you find data, facts and information used in your paper.
- Images, visuals, graphs and charts you use in your work.
When Not to Cite a Source
You do not have to cite your source if the information you use is common knowledge. For example, the first African American President of the U.S. is Barack Obama; however, if you aren’t sure if it is common knowledge or not, go ahead and cite it, just to be safe.
The Main Types of Sources
There are three main types of sources: primary, secondary and peer-reviewed.
Primary sources may be in their original form or digitized, or reprinted or reproduced in some form. They are first-hand accounts of an event or period in history, or original documents. Primary sources include:
- Texts – Novels, letters, diaries, government reports, newspaper articles and autobiographies. Images – Paintings, photographs and advertisements.
- Artifacts – Sculptures, buildings and clothing.
- Audio-Visual – Oral history like interviews, songs, films and photos.
Secondary sources are written about primary sources and are one or more steps away from the original source. They include discussions, comments and interpretations regarding the primary source or original material. Examples of secondary source materials are as follows:
- Articles from magazines, journals and newspapers.
- Textbooks, histories and encyclopedias.
- Book, play, concert and movie reviews, criticisms and commentaries.
- Articles from scholarly journals that assess or discuss the original research of others.
- Peer Reviewed
Usually published as an article in a medical or professional publication, such as a journal, a peer-reviewed source undergoes multiple critiques by top scholars in a particular field. Peer-reviewed articles offer authoritative information of the highest quality that scholarly disciplines can provide. Peer-reviewed and scholarly articles have these characteristics:
- List the journal of publication and author credentials.
- Are an abstract from a larger publication.
- Include a large amount of in-text citations, references, endnotes, footnotes and cited works, as well as a bibliography and appendix.
- Contain sections like methodology, conclusion and results.
- Have numerous in-text tables, charts and graphs.
- Use complex wording specific to the field.
How to Cite
Cite your sources both in-text and at the end of your paper. For in-text citation, the easiest method is to parenthetically give the author’s last name and the year of publication, e.g., (Clarke 2001), but the exact way you cite will depend on the specific type of style guide you follow.
When you cite data from another author’s work, explain all related aspects of the work clearly and concisely using your own words. Always provide a reference to the work directly following the information you have provided.
Most colleges and organizations use a variety of citation styles. The citation style often depends on the professor, so always check before beginning a paper. No matter what the style you use for citing your paper, the process is always the same:
- Consult the appropriate style guide for examples of how to produce in-text citations, reference lists and bibliographies.
- Some style guides are available via citation software that helps track sources for the use in creating bibliographies, in-text citations and reference lists.
- Use one standard style in a consistent manner throughout the entire paper.
Researchers and writers should understand some of the following styles:
The American Psychology Association – Use this style for education, psychology, sociology and other social sciences.
- Example of APA style for a book with one author:
Doe, J. (1999). Causes of the Civil War. Ohio: Smith Books.
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
- APA Formatting and Style Guide: Available online from The Owl at Purdue, this contains examples of reference list entries and in-text citations.
- Basics of APA Style Tutorial: Available online from the APA, this outlines citing and writing guidelines.
Modern Language Association – Use this style for arts, literature and the humanities.
- Example of MLA style for a book with one author:
Doe, John: “Causes of the Civil War.” Smith.
- MLA 2009 Formatting and Style Guide: Available online from The Owl at Purdue, with many examples for producing works cited entries and in-text footnotes.
- MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing: Available online from The Owl at Purdue, contains examples.
- AMA or NLM
American Medical Association or the National Library of Medicine for health, medicine and biological sciences.
- Example of AMA for a book with one author:
Doe JD. Causes of the Civil War. Columbus, OH: Smith Books; 1999.
- Example of NLM for a book with one author:
Doe, JD. Causes of the Civil War. Columbus (OH): Smith Books; 1999.
- AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors
- Citing Medicine: The NLM Style Guide for authors, editors and publishers; available online from the National Library of Medicine.
- A Comparison of AMA and NLM styles
- Chicago or Turabian
Students and researchers commonly use the Chicago Manual of Style guide, or Turabian, for most real-world subjects in magazines, books, newspapers and many other non-scholarly publications.
- Example of Chicago style for a book with one author:
Doe, John. 1999. Causes of the Civil War. Columbus, Ohio:
- Scientific Style (CSE)
There are a variety of scientific style guides depending on the particular field, whether it be biology, chemistry, engineering.
- Example of Scientific Style for a book with one author:
John D. Doe. Causes of the Civil War. Columbus (OH): Smith Press: 1999.
- ACS: American Chemical Society
- ACS Style Guidelines: Available online from UW-Madison Libraries, providing examples for citing references in the text and the bibliography of a research paper.
- IEEE: Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers
- IEEE Editorial Style Manual: An online PDF that provides editorial guidelines for IEEE letters, journals and transactions, with citation examples.
- The Writer’s Handbook – CSE Citation
More Citation Examples
The following resources provide more examples for formatting citations:
- Citing References Wiki – Maintained by LexisNexis, this guide includes examples from APA, MLA, Chicago and Turabian.
- Research and Documentation Online– Compiled by Diana Hacker, this guide includes APA, CMS, CSE and MLA styles
Programs for Creating Citations
The following resources provide programs to help researchers create citations:
When using a citation program, always check for errors before inserting them into your reference or works cited page.
The Annotated Bibliography or Reference Section
The reference page is also called the annotated bibliography, and it should go at the end of the research paper. The purpose of annotated bibliographies is to link each source to one another in an orderly fashion.
Here are six key factors for writing an annotation:
- Clearly state the qualifications and authority of the author early in the annotation. Example:
John J. Doe, an American history professor at Ohio State University, based his research on recently discovered documentation.
- Explain the main purpose and scope of the text in a few brief sentences.This is not like an abstract, which is a synopsis of the entire piece; rather, it is the main theme or concept. Example:
Dr. Doe demonstrates how a few key Americans played a main role in the incidents that led to the Civil War. They provided artillery, money, manpower and leadership, which prompted the beginning of the war.
- Note the relation of the paper to other works in the field. Example:
Dr. Doe’s conclusions are completely different from the conclusions in Dr. Smith’s, “The Start of the Civil War".
- Clarify the author’s main opinion or conclusion in relation to the overall theme. Example:
However, Doe’s conclusion is somewhat compromised by an anti-war bias, which three reviewers mentioned.
- Indicate your target audience and the level of reading difficulty. Example:
Although Dr. Doe wrote this for history scholars, the concluding chapters will be comprehendible to any learned layperson.
- End with a summary comment. Example:
This detailed document includes updated information of interest to both educated adults and scholarly readers.
Doe, John D. Causes of the Civil War. New York: Smith, 1999. Doe, an American professor at Ohio State University, based his research on recently discovered documentation. He demonstrates how a few key Americans played a main role in the incidents that led to the Civil War. They provided artillery, money and leadership, which prompted the beginning of the war. Dr. Doe’s conclusions are completely different from the conclusions in Dr. Smith’s, The Start of the Civil War. However, Doe’s opinion is somewhat compromised by an anti-war bias, which three reviewers mentioned. Although Dr. Doe wrote this for history scholars, the concluding chapters will be comprehendible to any learned layperson.
For more guidelines on creating an annotated bibliography, see the Purdue OWL: Annotated Bibliographies site, which includes additional sample annotations.
Adding citations may seem difficult at first; however, the more you practice, the easier it will become for you. By using a style guide and checking examples, citing all your sources is simple and complete.