Citation styles guide: choosing a style and citing correctly

A citation style is a set of rules on how to cite your sources in academic writing. Citation style guidelines are often published in an official handbook containing explanations, examples, and instructions. There are two main aspects that differ between styles:

  • In-text citations: How you cite sources when you refer to them in the text.
  • Reference list entries: How you order and format publication information for each source in the list at the end of your paper.

We have compiled a quick guide to all the main citation styles. If you are using MLA or APA, you can use our free citation generator to easily create your citations.

MLA Citation Generator APA Citation Generator

Most common citation styles

There are many different citation styles, and the preferred style often depends on your discipline.

  • MLA is commonly used in the humanities.
  • APA is commonly used in psychology and education.
  • Chicago A (notes and bibliography) is commonly used in history.
  • Chicago B (author-date) is commonly used in the sciences.

However, some universities require the use of a single citation style across all departments. The chart below gives an overview of how often different styles are used.

Most common citation styles

Differences between citation styles

Different citation styles have different rules for in-text citations, reference list entries, and (sometimes) the formatting of your paper. The differences can be very subtle, so it’s important to carefully check the rules of the style you are using.

Types of in-text citation

When you refer to a source (for example, by quoting or paraphrasing), you have to add a brief citation in the text. There are three main types of citation:

  • Parenthetical citation: You put the source reference in parentheses directly in your text. This usually includes the author’s last name along with the publication date and/or the page number.
  • Note citation: You put the source reference in a footnote or endnote.
  • Numeric citation: You number each of your sources in the reference list and use the correct number when you want to cite a source.

Below is an overview of the systems used in the most common citation styles.

Citation styleDisciplinesType of citation
MLAHumanitiesParenthetical (author-page number)
APAPsychology, education, social sciencesParenthetical (author-date)
Chicago AHistory, humanitiesNotes
Chicago BSciences, social sciences, humanitiesParenthetical (author-date)
TurabianHumanities, social sciences, sciencesNotes or author-date
HarvardEconomicsParenthetical (author-date)
VancouverMedicineNumeric
OSCOLALawNotes
IEEEEngineering, ITNumeric
AMAMedicineNumeric
ACSChemistryNumeric, Author-page number or Notes
NLMMedicineNumeric
AAAAnthropology, social studiesNumeric
APSAPolitical scienceParenthetical (author-date)

Reference list entries

At the end of your paper, you include a list of all the sources you cited. Each entry on the list corresponds to an in-text citation, and gives the reader full publication information to easily find the source.

Citation styles differ in the naming of this list: in APA it is the reference page, in MLA it is the works cited, and in Chicago A it is the bibliography.

There are also differences in the order of information and how you format each entry. The format often depends on the type of source (e.g. book, website, or journal article). The easiest way to create reference entries is to use a citation generator.

Formatting

Some citation styles also have rules about the formatting of your paper as a whole. This might include guidelines for what should go on the cover page; margins, spacing and font size; titles and headings; or even how to write numbers and abbreviations.

However, these rules are generally more flexible and less important than the citation rules. It’s a good idea to check if your citation style has formatting guidelines, but if not, aim for a clear, consistent and easily readable format.

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Which citation style should you use?

First, always check the requirements of your university department or the submission guidelines of the target journal.

Citation styles for journal submissions

Academic journals usually require you to use a specific citation style. 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. Some journals even have their own style guide.

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.

Citation styles for student papers

University departments often mandate a specific citation style, but sometimes you are allowed to choose which style you use. In this case, consider your discipline and choose a style that gives the most relevant information.

For example, if you are writing a humanities paper with a lot of quotations, MLA style is a good choice to cite page numbers without interrupting the flow of your argument. If you are writing a scientific paper where you cite a lot of studies, an author-date system like APA or Chicago B is best so that your reader can immediately see the recency of your sources.

If you’re still in doubt, check with your instructor. The most important thing, however, is to pick one style and apply it consistently throughout your paper.

MLA

MLA style (currently in its 8th edition) was developed by the Modern Language Association and is especially popular in language and literary studies. MLA uses parenthetical citations containing the author and page number.

MLA citation example (book)

MLA 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).

MLA Works Cited entry

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

MLA Citation GuideMLA Citation Generator

APA

APA style was created by the American Psychological Association and was originally used in psychology and social sciences. Today many other disciplines also use it. APA citation style uses an author-date system of parenthetical citation.

Note: The revised, 7th edition of the APA Publication Manual is released in October 2019. Check your universities guidelines to see which edition you should adhere to.

APA style citation example (book)

APA 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).

APA reference list entry

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

APA Style GuideAPA Citation Generator

Chicago

Chicago style is published by The Chicago Manual of Style. There are two variations:

  • Chicago A: You cite the source in a footnote or endnote.
  • Chicago B: You use a parenthetical author-date citation in the text.

Chicago A example (book)

Chicago 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

Chicago style footnote

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

Chicago bibliography entry

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

Chicago B example (book)

Chicago 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).

Chicago reference list entry

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

Chicago Style GuideChicago citation examples

Turabian

Turabian was developed based on Chicago style. It is specifically designed for students writing a research paper.

Just like Chicago style, Turabian has two citation options: a note system and an author-date system. The notation system is used in humanities (literature, history and the arts), while the author-date system is used in social sciences.

Turabian note citation example (book)

Turabian 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

Turabian footnote (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.

Turabian footnote (subsequent references to a source)

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

Turabian bibliography entry

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

Turabian author-date citation example (book)

Turabian 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).

Turabian reference list entry

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

Harvard

Harvard style is often used in the field of economics. There is no official style guide, which means there are a few variations. Some organizations have published their own style guides for Harvard style:

Like APA style, Harvard style is based on an author-date system.

Harvard citation style example (book)

Harvard 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).

Harvard reference list entry

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 medical disciplines.

Vancouver style works with a numeric system. In the text, the source is indicated by a number, and the full source details appear next to that number in the reference list.

Vancouver citation style example (book)

Vancouver 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).

Vancouver reference list entry

1. Stewart D, Simmons M. The business playground: where creativity and commerce collide. Berkeley: New Riders Press: 2010.

OSCOLA

OSCOLA is used in law schools. It is the predominant citation style for legal academic writing in English. OSCOLA uses a note system; you include full details of the source in the footnote.

OSCOLA citation example (book)

OSCOLA 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

OSCOLA style footnote

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

OSCOLA reference list entry

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

IEEE

IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is a citation style often used in technical studies, such as IT and electrical engineering. IEEE style has guidelines 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)

IEEE 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).

IEEE reference list entry

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

AMA

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

AMA citation example (book)

AMA 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)

AMA reference list entry

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

ACS

ACS (American Chemical Society) is used primarily in chemistry papers. 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 (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

ACS in-text citation (numeric)

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

ACS in-text citation (author-date)

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.

ACS reference list entry

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

NLM

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

NLM citation example (book)

NLM 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].

NLM reference list entry

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

AAA

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

AAA citation example (book)

AAA 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).

AAA reference list entry

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 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)

APSA 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).

APSA reference list entry

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

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4 comments

Aliyu
September 26, 2019 at 1:16 PM

Please, can some explain what is the name of this reference style? It is from
Journal of The Institution of Engineers (India): Series A

Journal article
S. Preuss, A. Demchuk Jr., M. Stuke, Appl. Phys. A 61, 33 (1995)
Article by DOI
M.K. Slifka, J.L. Whitton, J Mol Med. (2000) https://doi.org/10.1007/s001090000086
Book
H. Ibach, H. Lüth, Solid-State Physics, 2nd edn. (Springer, Dordrecht, 1996), pp. 45–56
Book chapter
D.M. Abrams, in Conductive Polymers, ed. By R.S. Seymour, A. Smith (Springer, New York, 1973), p. 307.

Reply

Leon Smits
Leon Smits (Scribbr-team)
September 30, 2019 at 11:14 AM

Dear Aliyu,
I believe this is a style designed by the particular journal you are writing for.
I unfortunately do not recognize this style, and could not find an answer online.
Good luck!
Cheers,
Leon

Reply

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 Streefkerk
Raimo Streefkerk (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

Reply

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