Citation styles guide | Which citation style to use?

A citation style, sometimes called a reference style, is a set of rules on how to refer to your sources in academic writing. Often, style guidelines are published in an official handbook containing explanations, examples, and instructions.

Most common citation styles

There are many different citation styles. In the past, each discipline followed its own referencing rules, but today there’s a growing tendency among universities and colleges to choose one single style.

The most common citation styles in English include APA, Chicago, Harvard, and MLA. These styles, among others, are widely used throughout many different academic disciplines.

Most common citation styles

Market shares of citation styles used in the US

Differences between citation styles

There are two main features when it comes to citation styles.

The first is related to how the source is written in your paper’s reference list or “Works Cited” page. Are the titles written in italics? Does a period go at the end of each source on the list?

The second feature is the system for citing a source within the text itself. There are three different in-text citation systems for referring to a source:

  • Author-date system: In this system, you indicate the author and the year of publication directly in the text in the spot where you use the source. An exception here is MLA style, which uses an author-page number system.
  • Numerical system: In this system, you number each of your sources in the reference list and then you use the correct number whenever you want to cite a specific source within your text.
  • Notation system: You write the source (in abbreviated form) in a footnote or endnote.

Below is an overview of the most widely used citation styles:

Citation StyleDisciplineCitation System
APASocial sciencesAuthor-date
HarvardEconomicsAuthor-date
VancouverMedicineNumeric
Chicago AHumanitiesNotation
Chicago BHumanitiesAuthor-date
OSCOLALawNotation
MLAHumanities (esp. language studies)Author-page number
IEEEHard sciences (esp. IT)Numeric
TurabianHumanities (esp. language studies)Notation
TurabianSocial sciencesAuthor-date
AMAMedicineNumeric
ACSChemistryNumeric, Author-page number and Notation
NLMMedicineNumeric
AAASocial studiesNumeric
APSAPolitical scienceAuthor-date
ABNTTechnical StudiesNumeric, Author-date

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Which citation style to use

Choosing a citation style is important as universities and academic journals have specific requirements.

You can find the required citation style for your target journal or field of study in the corresponding submission guidelines, style guide or style manual.

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. UCLA requires citation styles per field.

If you use a program such as EndNote, Mendeley or Zotero to manage your references, then you can simply select your target journal from a list, and the correct citation style will loaded automatically.

APA

The APA citation style, currently in its 6th edition, is one of the most common citation styles in academic writing. The APA style was created by the American Psychological Association and was originally used in psychology and social sciences. Today many other disciplines are using it.

The APA citation style works with an author-date system, in which you cite the source in an abbreviated form within the text itself (in-text citation) and in the reference list you list all the references in full.

APA citation style example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world (Stewart & Simmons, 2010, p. 22).

In the literature list

Stewart, D. & Simmons, M. (2010). The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley, USA: New Riders Press.

APA Style GuideAPA Citation Generator

Harvard

Harvard style is often used in the field of economics. There is no official style guide, which means there are a few variations. A few organizations who have published a style guide are:

Just like APA style, Harvard style is based on an author-date system. It is in fact quite similar to APA style.

Harvard citation style example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world (Stewart & Simmons 2010, p. 22).

In the literature list

Stewart, D & Simmons, M (2010), The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide, New Riders Press, Berkeley.

Vancouver

Vancouver style was developed by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) and is mostly used in the world of medicine. Instead of using an author-date system, Vancouver style works with a numerical system. In the text, the source is indicated using a number while the source details are listed in full in the literature list.

Vancouver citation style example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world (1).

In the literature list

1. Stewart D, Simmons M. The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley: New Riders Press: 2010.

Chicago

Chicago style is published by The Chicago Manual of Style and is used in the humanities. There are two variations:

  • Chicago A: You indicate the complete source in a footnote or endnote and in a bibliography.
  • Chicago B: You write the source in abbreviated form, in author-date format, in the text itself and you list the source in full in the bibliography.

Chicago A example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world.1

In the footnote/endnote

1 Dave Stewart and Mark Simmons, The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide (Berkeley: New Riders Press, 2010).

In the literature list

Stewart, Dave and Mark Simmons. The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley: New Riders Press, 2010.

Chicago B example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world (Stewart and Simmons 2010, 22).

In the literature list

Stewart, Dave and Mark Simmons. 2010. The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley: New Riders Press.

Chicago Style GuideChicago citation examples

OSCOLA

OSCOLA is used in law schools. It is the predominant citation style for legal academic writing in English. OSCOLA uses a notation system, including a full source description in the footnote.

OSCOLA citation example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world.1

In the footnote

1 Dave Stewart and Mark Simmons, The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide (New Riders Press, 2010).

In the literature list

Stewart D and Simmons M, The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide (New Riders Press, 2010)

MLA

MLA style was developed by the Modern Language Association and is especially popular in language studies. MLA uses an author-page number system and has specific formatting requirements.

MLA citation example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world (Stewart and Simmons 22).

In the literature list

Stewart, Dave and Mark Simmons. The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley: New Rider Press, 2010. Print.

IEEE

IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is a citation style that is often used in technical studies, like IT and electrical engineering. IEEE style follows examples for specific types of sources. For source types that are not covered in IEEE, Chicago style is used. IEEE uses a numeric system.

IEEE citation example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world (1).

In the literature list

1. D. Stewart and M. Simmons, The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley, USA: New Riders Press, 2010.

Turabian

Turabian is a citation style with a lot of similarities to Chicago style. It is specially designed for students who are writing a research paper.

Just like Chicago style, Turabian features a notation system and an author-date system. The notation system is used in humanities (literature, history and the arts) and the author-date system is used in social sciences.

Turabian style  – notation system example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world.1

In the footnote/endnote, first reference to a source

1 Dave Stewart and Mark Simmons, The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide (Berkeley: New Riders Press, 2010), p.22.

In the footnote/endnote, subsequent references

1 Stewart and Simmons, The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide, p. 22.

In the reference list

Stewart, Dave and Mark Simmons. The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley: New Riders Press, 2010.

Turabian style  – author-date system example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world (Stewart and Simmons 2010, 22).

In the reference list

Stewart, Dave and Mark Simmons. 2010. The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley: New Riders Press.

AMA

AMA style is often used in medical sciences and is based on a numeric system. The numbering in the text is set in superscript, with the page number included in parentheses.

AMA citation example (book)

In text-citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world.1(p3)

In the reference list

Stewart D, Simmons M. The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley, USA: New Riders Press; 2010.

ACS

ACS (American Chemical Society) is a citation style that is used primarily in research papers on chemistry. ACS style has three variations for in-text citation. The choice of style depends on the journal. In the overview on page 288 you can find out which variation is used by which journal.

ACS citation example (book)

ACS: In text-citation using a footnote

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world.1

In-text citation using a numeric system

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world (1).

In-text citation using an author-date system

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world. (Stewart and Simmons, 2010).

In the reference list, the sources are listed in alphabetical order when the author-date system is used and by number when a numeric system is used.

In the reference list

Stewart, D.; Simmons, M. The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide; New Riders Press: Berkeley, 2010.

NLM

NLM (National Library of Medicine) is a citation style that is used primarily in the medical world. NLM uses a numeric system.

NLM citation example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world [1].

In the reference list

1. Stewart D, Simmons M. The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley: New Riders Press; 2010.

AAA

AAA (American Anthropological Association) is a citation style that is based on Chicago style and is primarily used in social studies. AAA style uses an author-date system.

AAA citation example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world (Stewart and Simmons 2010, 22).

In the reference list

Stewart, Dave, and Mark Simmons
2010 The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley: New Riders Press.

APSA

APSA (American Political Science Review) is a citation style that is primarily used in political science, with specific rules for documents from the United States government. APSA uses an author-date system.

APSA citation example (book)

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world (Stewart and Simmons 2014).

In the reference list

Stewart, Dave, and Mark Simmons. 2010. The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley: New Riders Press.

ABNT

Associação Brasileira de Normas Técnicas is a citation style created by the ABNT, and is primarily used to standardize the formatting of academic papers. This citation style is the main citation style in Brazil and a well know style in Portuguese speaking countries.

The norm NB10520 explains that a student who uses ABNT should decide between applying a numeric system or an author-date system of citing. The list of references should be in alphabetical order when the student decides to use the author-date system, or in numerical order, when the numeric system is being used.

Example of ABNT style author-date system source citing for a book

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world (Stewart; Simmons, 2014, p. 22).

In the reference list

1Stewart, Dave; Simmons, Mark. The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley: New Riders Press, 2014.*

Example of ABNT style numeric system source citing for a book

In-text citation

The book uses success stories from the authors’ own lived experiences to make the case for a creative revolution in the business world (1).

In the reference list

(1) Stewart, Dave; Simmons, Mark. The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide. Berkeley: New Riders Press, 2014.

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2 comments

Siraj Ahmed
December 14, 2018 at 12:57 AM

Acemoglu, D. and Ozdaglar, A., “Graph theory and social networks”, Lecturer Notes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Economics, Boston, MA, US, 13–18 (2009).

how is the reference style?

Reply

Raimo
Raimo (Scribbr-team)
December 14, 2018 at 10:16 AM

Hi Siraj,

Unfortunately, I do not recognize this citation style. Could it be that it's not formatted correctly?

Cheers,
Raimo

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