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Necessities in Academics: An Educational Guide to Citation Styles

The primary difference between citation styles such as APA, Chicago, and MLA is the way in which each style handles references. Each style has its own concerns and priorities when it comes to highlighting the author or publication. Some citation styles prefer to focus on making the citations as brief as possible while others are concerned with keeping the paper readable, even in the presence of numerous references.

To learn the difference between plagiarism and properly citing works used for research, it's helpful to review examples of each. The better a student understands what plagiarism is, the less likely they will be to make "honest mistakes" or to hand in copied work. Teachers can stress the importance of proper citation by providing examples in class.
Generally, the major distinction between citation styles is whether the style uses parenthetical citations or documentary-note citations. A documentary note is either a footnote or an end note and is the common form of providing citations. When a reader sees a footnote or an end note, they can reference it at a later time, so that the documentation does not interrupt their reading.  Students can find more information on footnotes and end notes here.

Parenthetical citations do not need end notes or footnotes. Students who use a style that requires parenthetical citations will need to attach a "Works Cited" page at the end of their paper. While citations in parentheses are easier for students to write, they break up the flow of the paper. The following is an example of a parenthetical citation:
Professor Scott asserts that “environmental reform in Alaska in the 1970s accelerated rapidly as a pipeline expansion.”: (Scott 1999,23)      
If a student needs help deciding which citation style to use, their best course of action is to ask their teacher. The discipline of the paper, research goals, and preference of the teacher all determine which style is best to use. If the paper is intended for publication, that may also determine the best style.
Below is a list of links and descriptions of the different styles to help students learn more and understand each style.                            


The Chicago Manual of Style is the style commonly used in the preparation of manuscripts for publication. Chicago Style allows for two different methods of citation: author-date or parenthetical citations and notes and bibliography. The style is used in the humanities as well as in the social and physical sciences.

The Turabian writing style is a shortened form of the Chicago style. It was created specifically with students in mind. The primary difference between the two styles is the way the notes are numbered. Turabian uses a superscript number in the text and just before the relevant note. In Chicago style, a number in parentheses is used. The number is followed by a period and space in the note itself. For example:
1. Chicago
1 Turabian

  • One Stop Turabian - Easy to understand instructions on using the Turabian style to cite sources. Includes examples of different references to cite in a paper.
  • Guide to Turabian's A Manual for Writers - Explanation of how to format a paper using Turabian style, including information on page numbering, title page, and spacing.
  • Turabian Tip Sheet - Common citations used in the Turabian writing style.
  • Who Was Kate Turabian? - A biography of Kate Turabian, the person responsible for both the Chicago and Turabian styles. The biography touches on the difference between the styles.

MLA style, produced by the Modern Language Association, is one of the most common styles used in the humanities. A key feature of the style is its use of parenthetical citations, rather than notes. It is used both by students producing research papers and by academics writing manuscripts for publication.


American Chemical Society (ACS)
ACS style is used for chemistry papers. The style uses three methods of citation in the text. A writer can use a superscript number, a number in italics or the author's name and publication year.

  • ACS Style - An introduction to ACS. Includes information on formatting a list of references to be included at the end of the paper.
  • ACS Style Guide - A qui ck guide to the ACS style, including the methods of in-text citation.

Council of Science Editors (CSE) (formerly the Council of Biology Editors)
CSE is a style commonly used by students writing papers in the life sciences, such as biology. People writing papers using CSE can either use the name-year system to cite works in-text or the citation-sequence system, in which each citation has a number that corresponds to a list of references at the paper's end.

  • Name-Year Citations - Provides a list of ways to cite various references, such as books or websites using the name-year citation method.
  • How to Cite Using CSE - Comprehensive information on citing works in the CSE format. Includes information on how to create a reference page and how to properly reference the work in the text.
  • Introduction - The introduction to the CSE style guide.
  • CSE Guide - A short guide on when and how to use CSE.
  • CSE Manuscript Format - A how-to on formatting a paper using CSE.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

Engineering and computer science students use IEEE format for papers. The references appear in a numbered list at the end of the paper. In the text, each reference is cited by its number.

National Library of Medicine (NLM)
The NLM style is used in the field of medicine for citing sources in a paper. The style guide has specific formats for citing journal and periodical articles, books, and maps in a paper or publication.

The Vancouver style is another reference style used for medical or scientific papers. The style features numerical citations in the text and number reference list at the end.

  • Vancouver Style - Examples of citations and references in the Vancouver style.

Social Sciences

American Anthropological Association (AAA)
AAA style is based off Chicago style and is used in the field of anthropology. It uses the author-date citation format for in-text citations.

American Psychological Association (APA)
APA style uses author-date citations in the text of scientific papers. The style features specific rules on page numbering, margins, and the order of a paper.

  • The Basics of APA - A tutorial introducing students to the APA format.
  • APA Style Essentials - A list of the formatting rules for APA style and instructions on citations. Also has links to sample papers.

American Political Science Association (APSA)
APSA also typically follows the Chicago style's rules for in-text citations and formatting. The style is commonly used by students writing papers on political science.

Legal Style
Legal style is used to write papers in law school. The style has specific rules for citing court cases and other legal concerns.

See the following links for further information on citing sources in a paper.

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