Chapter 1: Research

1.2 Citation Styles

Your instructor typically assigns a citation style for your classroom. This is the format that you will use to cite your sources, both in the body of your writing and at the end of your assignment in the bibliography.

The two main citation styles are Modern Language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association (APA). MLA is often used in humanities and English, and APA is often used in, well, psychology and other sciences.

There are oodles of additional citation styles out there. If you have studied in a different country or are going into a specific field such as law, you will probably need to learn an additional citation style (or more!).

Why all the fuss? Two reasons. Number one, citation is crucial in academic writing. That’s because all academic work—like the scientific finding that smoking causes cancer, for example—relies on a foundation of knowledge. Nobody sets out to do work that has never been done on topics that have never before been studied. Rather, each bit of knowledge builds on the knowledge that came before. This is why Google Scholar has as its slogan “Stand on the shoulders of giants.” The giants are all the scholars who have done the work that you consult for yours.

Secondly, citation helps others locate your sources. If instructors want to check a source, the citation should give them all of the information they need to do so. You’ll notice that the citation in the body of your writing—sometimes called an in-text citation—is pretty sparse. That’s because providing only the author’s last name and page number (in MLA style) or last name and date (in APA) gives the reader all the information needed to go to the bibliography, where you’re going to provide a full entry.

The table below explains the format of an in-text citation.

Table 1.1 Sample in-text citations
Citation Style Sample In-Text Citation
APA In the previous paragraph, Brooks (2019) provides a rationale for citing fully by pointing out how listing your source can help someone else find it.
MLA The writer explains how “citation helps others” find the same work if needed (Brooks 9).

Students often wonder why it is necessary to get a citation exactly right, down to questions of punctuation, capitalization, and which lines to indent. The truth? It probably isn’t. However, what is important is training yourself in the ability to apply a model to your own sources and getting good enough that you can copy it exactly. Your instructors have probably seen thousands of pages of student citations: after a while, it is extremely easy for them to pick out the mistakes.

The table below gives a sample structure for APA and MLA entries.

Table 1.2 Sample entries for a chapter in an edited book
Citation Style Sample Entry

LastName, First Initial(s). (Date). Title of chapter. In Editor’s Name & OtherEditor’s Name (Eds.), Title of book (xx–xx). Location: Publisher.


LastName, FirstName. “Title of Chapter.” Title of Book, edited by Editor’s Name(s), Publisher, Year, pp. xx–xx.

Review Questions

  1. For the first source you found, above, write two bibliographies: one in APA style and one in MLA style. (Hint: Don’t forget your heading and the formatting of the page, including spacing and the hanging indent.)
  2. Trade your bibliographies with a classmate. See if each of you can find any errors in the other person’s entries by comparing it with a formatting and style guide like Purdue OWL.
  3. Explain to a classmate why citing your sources is so crucial in academic writing.


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Building Blocks of Academic Writing by Carellin Brooks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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