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If you are like the rest of us, then your absolute least-favorite part of an academic writing assignment is dealing with the citations. While we understand how important it is to make sure that your citations lead the reader to the right source of the information, the nit-picky attitudes that cause you to lose points over a missed comma or a word that should have been capitalized are enough to drive a person crazy!
That said, citing other people’s work is very important. First, you want to make sure and give credit to those whose work you have used to create your own paper or build your own research. This not only helps you avoid any allegations of plagiarism, but helps you establish academic integrity. Second, if you write a compelling research paper, it will hopefully inspire people to want to learn more about your topic. Creating easily found references in your work is one way to help people in their own research journeys! While there may be easier ways to give credit and help readers identify the original works you are citing, the established style methods carefully prescribe how you should format your references.
While we cannot get your instructors or the folks who create APA, MLA, or Chicago style to just chill-out, we can help take away the citation stress from your writing project. Our APA, MLA, and Chicago citation generators let you fill in the information for a source and then show you exactly how to format it in your work.
APA refers to the American Psychological Association. APA style refers to all of the rules that APA has created for publication in APA manuals and can be found in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Though the APA developed this style, it is not used only in APA publications; many other “soft sciences” have adopted the same style for their publications, and it is enjoying increasing popularity in many of the “hard sciences,” as well. In addition, it is one of the top style formats used in academic writing.
The current edition of the APA manual is the 7th edition. Generally, when instructors ask you to write in a particular style, they are asking for the most recent version of that style. However, pay attention because some instructors will request earlier styles, as will some publications if you are preparing your work for submission for possible publication. The popularity of online sources, which most style manuals, including the APA manual, did not fully address for many years, has actually resulted in somewhat significant changes, particularly for online sources. Therefore, knowing the edition that you should be using is critical to getting your citations perfect.
In APA, there are two basic types of citations. The first is the reference list. The reference list is a page at the end of the paper, which contains an alphabetical list of all works referenced in your paper. The reference list may also be called a works cited page, though References is the correct title in AP format. References include the authors’ names, the date of publication, the title of the work, the publisher, the URL if found online, and any other additional information that might be necessary to locate the source. The second is the in-text citation. APA uses in-text citations immediately after both direct quotes or paraphrased information. In-text citations include the authors’ names, the date of publication, and the page number where the material was found. If your paper has an in-text citation, there must be a corresponding citation in your reference list.
APA uses a number of different ways to include in-text citations. You can include all of the information at the end of quotes or paraphrased material, or you can use the authors name and publication year as a signal, then place the page number at the end of the quotation.
“The man in the hole was still alive, maybe barely so” (Olsen, 2011, p.65).
To build suspense, Gregg Olsen writes, “the man in the hole was still alive, maybe barely so” (p.65).
In the reference list, it is important to include all of the information that a reader might need in order to locate the work you are citing. There is a basic format to follow, but additional information may be added or withdrawn, depending on the source of the work. In addition, there are some differences between “hard copies” of works and works that have been accessed online.
For hard copies of works, the basic reference list citation format is:
Author’s Last name, First Initial. Middle Initial. (Date of publication). Title of source. Publisher.
Olsen, G. (2011). A wicked snow. Kensington Publishing.
For online citations, the information will be mostly the same, except that in place of a publisher you include the URL where you located the source.
Falco, M. (2020, May 26). Common questions about the new coronavirus outbreak.
To reference an author, you want to include the author’s last name, first initial, and middle initial (if provided):
Last, F. M.
Sometimes, you may have two authors on your list with the same last name; if that occurs, you include their first names in brackets.
Last, F. [First].
Last, F. [Frank].
When there is an editor and you are referencing the entire book, then you would use editor(s) instead of the author in the author position, but designate that they are editors by using “Ed.” Or “Eds.” In parenthesis after their name:
Last, F. M. (Ed.).
Sometimes a single work will have multiple authors or editors. For two authors, include both authors in the same format, connecting them with an ampersand “&” at the end. For three or more authors, only the first author listed is referenced, followed by “et al.” to represent the other authors:
Last, F. & Olsen, G.
Last, F. et al.
Date of publication can actually be more difficult to identify than you might imagine, especially if you are using web-based resources. If there is no publication date, you will use (n.d.) instead of a date to show that there is not a date available. Otherwise, the general structure for dates is the year, followed by the month and day: 1963, July 14. For many works, the publication information provided is less extensive. For example, books will only have a year of publication and many periodicals may have a month and year of publication, but no date. You are only expected to use as much information as is readily available.
Another important thing to know about APA is how it handles titles. Only the first letter of the first word in the title and the subtitle are capitalized, unless they are proper nouns. Titles are in italics and are ended with a period: A wicked snow. If the title is of an article or a book chapter, the same rules apply, but they are not italicized. However, this can get a little confusing when the titles in question are for magazines, newspapers, and journals because then APA directs that all of the important words be given capital letters, which is usually translated as all non-articles getting capitals.
In earlier additions of the APA, it was important to include the city and sometimes the state of publication. This could be difficult, because many publishers show simultaneous cities for printing. Fortunately, APA has done away with this requirement and only asks for the publisher. The only exception to that rule is when the city or state of publication is relevant to the reference, which usually refers to things like lectures given at a conference. You can use a shortened version of the publisher and do not need to include the “business terms” after a publisher’s name, such as incorporated, corporation, etc.
In addition to having a publication date, most periodicals (newspapers, magazines, journals, etc.) have volumes and/or issues. This information is important to help the reader locate your cited material. The volume is placed after the title, and the issue (if there is one) is placed in parentheses after the volume. It should be italicized, like the title.
Though APA style is much less complicated than it once was, it can still be difficult to master, especially if you are using a source that does not provide all of the information you think you need for a citation. For any sources where you need assistance, or simply to double-check your own referencing, use our APA citation generator.
MLA refers to the Modern Language Association. MLA provides guidelines for how to write about the humanities, which includes literature, language, and the liberal arts.
There are multiple editions of the MLA handbook and the current edition is the 8th edition. Generally, when an instructor asks you to use a particular format, they are asking for the most recent edition of that format. However, be aware that they may actually be requesting that you follow the formatting guidelines of an earlier format and plan accordingly. This generally occurs when a format has been recently changed; sometimes these changes may even occur during an academic year. MLA 8 was released in 2016, so it has been in use for four years. It changed the formatting significantly from prior MLA editions, by standardizing the formats for all sources and adding the concept of containers and inclusion of URLs to help handle online sources.
MLA uses a works cited to include the works cited in your research paper. Many people may also refer to the works cited as a reference list or a bibliography. While both terms are somewhat accurate, they may also be misleading. In both reference lists and bibliographies, the writer might include any works that they consulted while completing a project, even if it is not directly referenced in the paper. In an MLA works cited list, the list is going to be limited to the works that the writer actually references in a paper. For most academic work, you will be asked to create a works cited page. However, you might also be asked to create a bibliography or an annotated bibliography of all of the works you consulted while researching your paper. Be sure you are creating the correct one for your work.
In MLA, there are two types of citations. They are often called a full citation, which is the citation you would put in a works cited or bibliography page, and the in-text citation. The full citation includes the following information: author’s last name, author’s first name, the title of the source, the title of the container, any other contributors (editors, etc.), the version, the numbers, the publisher, the publication date, and the publication location. The in-text citation includes the author’s last name and page number.
One of the most appealing things about using MLA for formatting is that in-text citations are very easy with the MLA format. They include the author’s last name and the page number (if available), where the information was found. They are used when directly quoting an author or when paraphrasing original information found in the author’s work. The information can either follow at the end of cited material, or the author’s name can be used to signal or introduce the cited information. There are no commas, periods, or abbreviations to indicate the page, just the last name followed by a number.
“The man in the hole was still alive, maybe barely so” (Olsen 65).
To build suspense, Gregg Olsen writes, “the man in the hole was still alive, maybe barely so” (65).
MLA has gone to a single-format for all types of sources, with the instructions to omit a piece of information if it is unavailable for your particular source. That basic format is:
Author’s last name, First name. “Title of Source.” Title of Container, other contributors, version, numbers, publisher, publication date, location.
The author’s name is the first thing in the citation. For a single author the format is Last name, First name. Example:
For two authors, they should be listed in the order shown on the source, with the first author in Last name, First name order, but the second author in First name, Last name order. They are connected by the word “and.” An example would be:
Smith, John and Jane Doe.
For three or more authors, only the first listed author is named, and in reverse order, then followed by a comma and the phrase “et al.” An example would be:
Smith, John, et al.
When an author’s name is unknown it usually left off of a citation. The exception is when you do not know the author’s real name (or you know the real name, but the author is not on the source material), and the author has used a screen name or user name.
In addition, sometimes the citation is not going to start with an author’s name. For example, most movies have authors in that they have screenwriters. However, most papers about movies are not focusing on the screenwriter. It is appropriate to use the relevant artist who handled the creation of the media in your works cited page. This might mean using the director or actor if you are speaking about films or the illustrator if you are referencing a comic book. Think about which person involved in the creation is most relevant to your post. However, if you are starting with someone who is not the author, you want to make sure and point out their role. Examples would be:
Spielberg, Steven, director. Jurassic Park.
Goldblum, Jeff, performer. Jurassic Park.
Kennedy, Kathleen, producer. Jurassic Park.
The “new” think about MLA 8th edition is the idea of containers. Containers mean where you found the work. A container can be straightforward, such as when you are citing the entirety of a book you found in a hard copy, but they can also be complex. Examples of smaller containers include book chapters, songs, articles, etc. Any of these smaller containers goes inside of quotation marks. It comes before the larger container. If there are multiple smaller items, start with the smallest until you get to the largest. Sometimes you will need additional information about each of the containers. When dealing with multiple container scenarios, the basic format will be:
Author’s Last name, First name. “Title of Source.” Title of Container, Contributors, version, numbers, Publisher, publication date, location. Title of Second Container, Contributors, version, number, Publisher, publication date, location.
Keep in mind that not all information will apply to all sources; simply skip the information that is not present.
While MLA has taken some significant steps to simplify its approach to sources, it can still be challenging to determine what information is required and where it goes for different sources. Use our MLA citation generator to help you ensure that your citations comply with MLA’s style guidelines.
Chicago citation style is the third-most popular citation style for academic writing. However, when to use Chicago style is not defined as clearly as when to use either MLA or APA style. That is because it overlaps with both styles, and the desire to use it seems to be either due to individual preference by an instructor of institutional preference.
The Chicago Citation Style has been used by the Chicago University Press since 1906 and incorporates American English guidelines. It has two common styles, the author-date in-text citation format and the notes and bibliography format. The choice of format may be given to a student, or a writer may choose which style is appropriate depending on whether or not they want to use footnotes or endnotes in their paper. Chicago Style is also called Turabian because Kate Turabian created a good guide to handling Chicago Style. The current Chicago citation style manual is in its 17th edition, which corresponds to the 9th edition of Kate Turabian’s style guide.
While both MLA and APA have simplified their citation styles to keep up with an online world, Chicago can still be considered complicated. The fact that the citation styles also differ depending on whether you are going with a notes-and-bibliography approach or the author-date in-text citation approach further complications Chicago citations. Because of these issues, we are not providing an overview to Chicago citation in this link, but simply encouraging people to use our Chicago citation generator to ensure that they are correctly citing their sources.