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How to Cite Sources in Your Research Paper: Choosing A Style (Quick View)

A guide on how to cite your sources and avoid plagiarism

Quick View

Choosing a Style

What are the differences?

Style: APA Chicago MLA
Who usually uses it: Social Sciences, Nursing & Health, miscellaneous other departments (it stands for American Psychological Association) 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

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 seem 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. 


Owl Purdue

For more information on comparing APA, MLA, and Chicago take a look at this handy Citation Style Chart from Purdue's  Online Writing Lab (OWL.)

OWL Purdue Icon