There are (3) major citation styles used in academic writing:
Modern Language Association (MLA)
American Psychological Association (APA)
Chicago, which supports two styles: Notes and Bibliography. Author-Date.
Which Referencing Tools should I use?
The citation style you choose will largely be dictated by the discipline in which you’re writing, and for most assignments your instructor will assign a style to you. However, as you progress through your academic career, you may find more flexibility in choosing a style that works for you. It’s always best to check with your instructor and colleagues as to what style is appropriate. If you have flexibility, use the guide below to help you decide.
Online MLA Citation Resources
Official MLA Style Center
A Modern Language Association hosted website with information on MLA citation and related resources. The MLA Style Center does not contain the full text of the handbook, although it walks users through the process of creating an entry in the works cited list.
Purdue Online Writing Lab
Online writing lab with formatting tips and sample papers. The “Cite your source automatically” feature on Purdue Owl pages is part of another website, and not recommended.
Excelsior Writing Lab
Citation examples, videos, and formatting guides for MLA, APA, and Chicago styles.
Citing Government Information using MLA
Information on citing government print and electronic resources using MLA citation style. (Courtesy of the University of Nevada-Reno)
What is MLA Style?
MLA (Modern Language Association) style for documentation is widely used in the humanities, especially in writing on language and literature. MLA style features brief parenthetical citations in the text keyed to an alphabetical list of works cited that appears at the end of the work.
Each entry in the list of works cited is composed of facts common to most works—the MLA core elements. They are assembled in a specific order.
The concept of containers is crucial to MLA style. When the source being documented forms part of a larger whole, the larger whole can be thought of as a container that holds the source. For example, a short story may be contained in an anthology. The short story is the source, and the anthology is the container.
The Modern Language Association, the authority on research and writing, takes a fresh look at documenting sources in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. Works are published today in a dizzying range of formats. A book, for example, may be read in print, online, or as an e-book–or perhaps listened to in an audio version. On the Web, modes of publication are regularly invented, combined, and modified. Previous editions of the MLA Handbook provided separate instructions for each format, and additional instructions were required for new formats. In this ground-breaking new edition of its best-selling handbook, the MLA recommends instead one universal set of guidelines, which writers can apply to any type of source. Shorter and redesigned for easy use, the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook guides writers through the principles behind evaluating sources for their research. It then shows them how to cite sources in their writing and create useful entries for the works-cited list. More than just a new edition, this is a new MLA style.
Basic Rules of APA Format
Are you writing a paper for a psychology class? Then you will need to use APA format to organize your paper and list the references you used. If you’ve never used this format before, you may find that it is quite a bit different from some of the writing styles and guidelines you have used in the past.
While it might take a while to get used to, learning how to write an APA paper is a useful skill that will serve you well whether you are a psychology major or just taking your first social science class.
What Is APA Format?
APA format is the official style of the American Psychological Association (APA) and is commonly used to cite sources in psychology, education, and the social sciences. The APA style originated in a 1929 article published in Psychological Bulletin that laid out the basic guidelines. These guidelines were eventually expanded into the APA Publication Manual.1
So why is APA format so important in psychology and other social sciences? By using APA style, researchers and students writing about psychology are able to communicate information about their ideas and experiments in a consistent format. Sticking to a consistent style allows readers to know what to look for as they read journal articles and other forms of psychological writing.
If you have never taken a psychology or social science class before, then you are probably accustomed to using a different style guide such as MLA or Chicago style. New college students are often surprised to find that after spending years having another formatting style drilled into their heads, many university-level classes instead require APA style.
It can be a difficult transition, especially if you have to bounce back and forth between different styles for different classes. Getting a solid grasp of the basics and bookmarking a few key resources can make learning this new format a bit easier.
Major Sections of Your Paper
In most cases, your paper should include four main sections: the title page, abstract, main section, and references list.
Your title page should contain a title, author name, and school affiliation. Then the page should display the course number and name, the instructor’s name, and the due date of your paper. The purpose of your title page is to let the reader quickly know what your paper is about and who it was written by.
An abstract is a brief summary of your paper that immediately follows your title page. According to APA format, your abstract should be no more than 100 to 200 words although this can vary depending upon the specific publication or instructor requirements.2
For something like an essay, the main body of your paper will include the actual essay itself. If you are writing a lab report, then your main body will be broken down into further sections. The four main components of a lab report include the introduction, method, results, and discussion sections.3
The reference section of your paper will include a list of all of the sources that you used in your paper. If you cited any piece of information anywhere in your paper, it needs to be properly referenced in this section.
One handy rule of thumb to remember is that any source cited in your paper needs to be included in your reference section. And any source listed in your reference section must also be mentioned somewhere in your paper.
How to Handle In-Text Citations
As you are writing your paper, it is important to include citations in your text identifying where you found the information you use. Such notations are called in-text citations, and APA format dictates that when citing in APA format in the text of your paper, use the author’s name followed by the date of publication.
Important Tips for Reference Pages
The exact format of each individual reference may vary somewhat depending on whether you are referencing an author or authors, a book or journal article, or an electronic source.
It pays to spend some time looking at the specific requirements for each type of reference before formatting your source list. Here are some useful tips for incorporating reference pages into your document.
Start a new page for your references.
Title the new page “References.”
Center the title text at the top of the page.
Put all entries in alphabetical order.
Align the first line of a reference flush with the left margin.
Indent each additional line (usually accomplished by using the TAB key).
Make sure the reference section is double-spaced.
Use italics for titles of books, journals, magazines, and newspapers.
Include all sources cited both in the text and on the reference page.
Any reference that appears in the text of your report or article must be cited on the reference page, and any item appearing on your reference page must be also included somewhere in the body of your text.
If you are struggling with APA format or are looking for a good way to collect and organize your references as you work on your research, consider using a free APA citation machine. These online tools can help generate an APA style reference, but always remember to double-check each one for accuracy.
Purchasing your own copy of the official Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is a great way to learn more about APA format and have a handy resource to check your own work against. Looking at examples of APA format can also be very helpful.
How to format a paper in Chicago style
The Chicago Manual of Style contains comprehensive guidelines about such issues as text formatting, citations, and quotation. Turabian is a version of Chicago style aimed at students and researchers, with specific guidelines for formatting papers and essays. The information in this article applies to both Chicago and Turabian style.
To apply Chicago format:
Use a standard font like 12 pt. Times New Roman.
Double-space the text.
Use 1 inch margins or larger.
Indent new paragraphs by ½ inch.
Place page numbers in the top right or bottom center.
Note that any specific formatting advice from your instructor or faculty overrules these guidelines. Template documents set up in Chicago style are available to download below. Just select the one with the citation style you’re following.
Chicago doesn’t require a specific font or font size, but recommends using something simple and readable (e.g. 12 pt. Times New Roman). Use margins of at least 1 inch on all sides of the page.
The main text should be double-spaced, and each new paragraph should begin with a ½ inch indent. Text should be left-aligned and not “justified” (meaning that the right margin should look ragged).
Page numbers can be placed either in the top right or the bottom center of the page – one or the other, not both.
A title page isn’t required in Chicago style – often it’s sufficient to just include your title at the top of the first page – but if you’re asked to include one, Turabian provides guidelines for how to present it.
All text on the title page should be center-aligned and double-spaced, and written in the same font as the rest of your text. The title should appear about ⅓ of the way down the page, in headline capitalization and in bold.
If you have a subtitle, the main title ends with a colon and the subtitle appears on the following line, also in bold and the same size as the main title.
About ⅔ of the way down the page, add any information your instructor requests you to include – your name, student code, the course name and code, the date, etc. Each new piece of information appears on a new line.
The title page should not have a page number, but should be included in the page count – in other words, the page numbering starts on page 2.