10 Things All Writers Should Know About Citations And Formatting

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A citation style is a set of rules on how to cite sources in academic writing. A citation is required to avoid plagiarism whenever you refer to someone else’s work.

Citation style guidelines are often published in an official handbook containing explanations, examples, and instructions. The most common citation styles are the following:

  • MLA style in the humanities (e.g. literature or languages).
  • APA style in the social sciences (e.g. psychology or education).
  • Chicago notes and bibliography in history.
  • Chicago author-date in the sciences.

However, there are many other widely used styles. This guide will cover all the main citation styles used by universities and journals.

If you follow MLA or APA style, you can use the free citation generator to create your citations easily.

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What Is A Citation And Citation Style?

A citation gives credit to individuals for their creative and intellectual works that you utilized to support your research. It can also be used to locate particular sources and combat plagiarism.

Typically, a citation can include the author’s name, date, location of the publishing company, journal title, or DOI (Digital Object Identifier).

A citation style dictates the information necessary for a citation and how the information is ordered, as well as punctuation and another formatting. Know more at wr1ter.com.

Why Do We Cite?

  1. Citation is how we give credit to those individuals or organizations whose information we borrow. When we use an individual’s or organization’s ideas, words, artwork, or anything else, we are to give credit to the source of that information.
  2. Citation also provides interested readers with the specifics needed to retrieve the same source and do more research on their own. The in-text citation shows readers where certain ideas or words in your paper came from, and this shortened version of the citation cross-references the full citation at the end of the paper. Readers have all of the information they need to retrieve a source from the full citation.
  3. Citation also prevents plagiarism, depriving writers of the opportunity to join ongoing conversations about a topic, compromises a writer’s integrity and reputation, and usually results in serious consequences, both within the university and in the world of work.
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How To Choose A Citation Style?

There are many different ways of citing resources from your research. The citation style sometimes depends on the academic discipline involved. For example:

  • APA (American Psychological Association) is used in Education, Psychology, and Sciences
  • The Humanities use MLA (Modern Language Association) style
  • Chicago/Turabian style is generally used by Business, History, and the Fine Arts

Differences Between Citation Styles

Different citation styles have different rules for in-text citations, reference list entries, and (sometimes) the formatting of your paper. The differences can be very subtle, so it’s important to check the rules of your style carefully.

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Types Of In-Text Citation

When you refer to a source (for example, by quoting or paraphrasing), you must add a brief citation in the text. There are three main types of citation:

  • Parenthetical citation: You put the source reference in parentheses directly in your text. This usually includes the author’s last name, publication date, and page number.
  • Note citation: You put the source reference in a footnote or endnote.
  • Numeric citation: You number each of your sources in the reference list and use the correct number when you want to cite a source.

Reference List Entries

At the end of your paper, you include a list of all the sources you cited. Each entry on the list corresponds to an in-text citation and gives the reader full publication information to find the source easily.

Citation styles differ in the naming of this list:

  • In APA, it is the reference page.
  • In MLA, it is the works cited.
  • In Chicago A, it is the bibliography.

There are also differences in the order of information and how you format each entry. The format often depends on the source type (e.g. book, website, or journal article). The easiest way to create reference entries is to use a citation generator.

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Some citation styles also have rules about formatting your paper as a whole. This might include guidelines for what should go on the cover page; margins, spacing and font size; titles and headings; or even how to write numbers and abbreviations.

However, these rules are generally more flexible and less important than the citation rules. It’s a good idea to check if your citation style has formatting guidelines, but if not, aim for a clear, consistent and easily readable format.

Which Citation Style Should You Use?

First, always check the requirements of your university department or the submission guidelines of the target journal.

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Citation Styles For Journal Submissions

Academic journals usually require you to use a specific citation style. For example, the European Journal of Criminology uses the Harvard citation style, whereas the Journal of Management and the Journal of Marketing use the APA style. Some journals even have their own style guide.

Citation Styles For Student Papers

University departments often mandate a specific citation style, but sometimes you are allowed to choose which style you use. In this case, consider your discipline and choose a style that gives the most relevant information.

For example, if you are writing a humanities paper with many quotations, MLA style is a good choice to cite page numbers without interrupting the flow of your argument. If you are writing a scientific paper where you cite a lot of studies, an author-date system like APA or Chicago B is best so that your reader can immediately see the recency of your sources.

If you’re still in doubt, check with your instructor. However, the most important thing is to pick one style and apply it consistently throughout your paper.

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Need Help Managing Your Research Or Long Citation Lists?

There are a number of free/open-source citation management tools available to assist you in keeping track of citations, bibliography formatting, and more. These tools might also be referred to as reference managers, bibliographic management software, or citation managers. The majority share similar features:

  • Importing and exporting citations
  • Collecting
  • Organizing and sharing
  • Attaching the article/file corresponding to the citation
  • Generating bibliographies in multiple formats and styles

Looking For Quick, On-The-Fly Citations?

Most databases and electronic resources have built-in citation generators to help you format and create quick citations. In addition to the more powerful and in-depth citation managers, there are also a number of free one-time use citation generators that can quickly create a citation in a specific format.