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Citing Sources: Choosing a style

Guide of why and how to cite properly, including tools for creating citations in various formats (MLA, APA, Chicago etc).

Each academic discipline uses a different citation style because each has a different priority for information.  Because of these different priorities, the information within a citation will be in a different order, and sometimes in a different format (i.e. foot or end note v. a parenthetical in-text citation) depending on the formatting style.

If you need a style other than APA, Chicago, or MLA, visit this page on Citation Styles, or try our Ask a Librarian service. 

Owl Purdue Citation Styles

For more information on comparing APA, MLA, and Chicago take a look at this handy Citation Style Chart from OWL Purdue.

OWL Purdue Icon

Hanging indent

Citations should be formatted as a "hanging indent", which means that all lines are indented except the first. It looks like this:

Author(s). “Title of Article.” Name of Periodical, vol. ##, no. ##, date published, pp. ##-##. Database Name, DOI.

Below are links to instructions on how to create a hanging indent in Microsoft Word and Google Docs

Choosing a Style

What are the differences?

Style: APA Chicago MLA
Who usually uses it: Social Sciences, Nursing & Health, miscellaneous other departments. History, Art, Philosophy, and anyone who is going to use a lot of different types of outside information. English and other languages (it stands for Modern Language Association)
What they pride themselves on: Thoroughness, avoiding bias (one way they do this is by avoiding first names). Flexibility (you can cite almost any kind of source in Chicago) Simplicity (they try not to make you include any more information than is necessary
What is important: Date and authority Ease of reading and authority Authority
What you need to know for in-text & other formatting: Always include a date with the author(s); Running heads can be a little tricky (especially in Google Docs); the list at the end is called References Notes are not very different from bibliography entries (once you have made one, creating the other is simple); the list at the end is called  Bibliography The list at the end is called Works Cited
I'm ready to choose: APA Citation Style Chicago Citation Style MLA Citation Style

In-text citations are meant to lead your reader to the source in the list at the end. What stays the same for all styles?

  • The list of sources should be alphabetized and have a hanging indent. The title of the list (References, Bibliography, or Works Cited) goes at the top, centered.  It is not bold, italics, underlined, or given any other special formatting. 
  • You cite only the sources you actually used in the paper, unless otherwise instructed in the assignment.
  • All styles (including those not listed here- yes, there are more) expect that you have found good quality, scholarly sources.  Your assignment is only as good as its sources. 
  • You are expected to cite where an idea came from, even if you reword it.  This is called paraphrasing, and it is considered plagiarism to paraphrase without a citation.  In other words: if the idea did not originate in your brain (or if it is not considered common knowledge), cite it!
  • Each style includes many of the same parts, just in a different order.  All should have: Author(s); title; date of publication; publisher or source (like a journal); page or section numbers where applicable. 


Tips from the Librarians:

  • Write your list of sources first.  Even if it is not perfect, it is much easier to write your paper if you know what you want to incorporate and where it came from.
  • It can seems intimidating, but paraphrasing is almost always preferred over a direct quotation.  A quote shows that you read something.  A paraphrase shows that you understood it.
  • When in doubt- ask!  Ask your instructor, ask a librarian, ask a tutor. 



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