Citation and Citation Styles

quotation marks in a conversation bubble

Sources that influenced your thinking and research are to be cited in academic writing.

Citing sources is an academic convention for keeping track of which sources influenced your own thinking and research. (See Ethical Use of Sources for many good reasons why you should cite others’ work.)

Most citations require two parts:

  • the full bibliographic citation on the Bibliography page or References page of your final product, and
  • an indication within your text (usually author and publication date) that tells your reader where you have used something that needs a citation.

With your in-text citation, your reader will be able to tell which full bibliographic citation you are referring to by paying attention to the author’s name and publication date.

Let’s look at an example.

Example: Citations in Academic Writing

Here’s a citation in the text of an academic paper:

Studies have shown that compared to passive learning, which occurs when students observing a lecture, students will learn more and will retain that learning longer if more active methods of teaching and learning are used (Bonwell and Eison 1991; Fink 2003).

The information in parentheses above is a citation that coordinates with a list of full citations at the end of the paper.

At the end of the paper, these bibliographic entries appear in a reference list:

Bonwell, C. G., and Eison, J. A.1991. “Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom.” ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Rep. No. 1, George Washington Univ., Washington, D.C.

Fink, L. D. 2003. Creating significant learning experiences, Wiley, New York.

You can see the full article [OSU login required] from which this example was taken online.

Citation Styles

There are dozens of citation styles (called style guides). While each style requires much of the same publication information to be included in a citation, the styles differ from each other in formatting details such as capitalization, punctuation, and order of publication information.

Style guides set the specific rules for how to create both in-text citations and their full bibliographic citations.

Example: Differences in Citation Styles

The image below shows bibliographic citations in four common styles. Notice that they contain author name, article title, journal title, publication year, and information about volume, issue, and pages. Notice also the small differences in punctuation, order of the elements, and formatting that do make a difference.

A comparison of APA, MLA, Chicago, and AMA styles to show all use the same elements, which differences in order and punctuation.

Differences between citation practices occur mainly in formatting.

Different citation styles reflect the values of the discipline for which they were written. For example:

  • APA: Social sciences value timeliness, and so the in text citation in APA style includes the year of publication.
  • MLA: The liberal arts and humanities are focused on language, and so MLA uses footnotes to make reading and following the text easier.