Citing Sources

When you’re writing, sometimes you need the research and ideas of other people to help make your point. When you do this, it is important that you cite your source–telling your readers exactly where you learned your information from. Citing sources gives credit to the original authors, while also legitimizing your point.

Today we’re going to talk about three main ways to cite your sources in a paper: APA, MLA, and Chicago style. All three of these styles use the same basic information, but the order changes, in part because different academic fields want to emphasize different parts of the citation.

The real purpose of choosing one of these styles in your writing is to make sure you cite every source the same way throughout your paper. You don’t want the reader to be confused about how to find the information, and a style helps you stay consistent. Often, a teacher will tell you which style they want you to use, but if they don’t, pick the one that most fits your content.

The first two styles are known as “in-text” citation styles, which means that you give some information about the source directly after the quotation, but leave the rest to a list of References or Works Cited at the end of the paper.

APA is the American Psychological Association guidelines, and it’s a citing method used most often in papers about Education, Psychology, and the Sciences. In APA, you put the name and relevant source information of the author you’re citing directly into your text. Let’s look at an example:

According to Jones (1998), “Students often struggle to cite their sources correctly” (p. 32).

Okay, this might look confusing, but each part of this sentence actually has a purpose in telling us where the quote came from. We see the name of the author being quoted, “Jones”; the year that the piece he wrote was published, “1998”; and the page number upon which we can find the exact quote, “page 32.” You’ll notice that this APA style emphasizes the year the source was published first, rather than the page number, which lets the reader see at once how the research has evolved over time.

The second “in-text” style is MLA, defined by the Modern Language Association. MLA is most common in the humanities–papers about art, history, and language. Because humanities research highlights how one original source document influences another, MLA style emphasizes the author’s name and the page in the original text you’re using. Take a look at our same example from before, but in MLA style:

“Students often struggle to cite their sources correctly” (Jones 32).

See how the name of the author and the page number take prominence? This helps scholars easily track down the poem or piece of prose you’re using to further your point.

Now, let’s talk about Chicago Style. If you’re writing something related to business, history, or the fine arts, you might use this style of citation, which uses footnotes rather than purely in-text parentheticals. Using footnotes lets the reader focus on the evidence, and information is easily tracked down if the reader wants to do more of their own research.

There are two ways to cite a source using Chicago Style: the notes method and the author-date method. The notes method is very common when writing about the humanities. The author-date method is more common in the sciences. The notes method has a reference page and a series of footnotes at the end of every page telling the reader more about the subject. The author-date method has a bibliography, but instead of footnotes it uses parenthetical citations in the text listing the author and date of the publication.

You’ve heard me mention bibliographies, reference pages, and works cited pages throughout this video. Those are basically a document at the end of your paper that lists all your sources in alphabetical order with all the information someone would need to research more on their own and check your statistics.

APA, MLA, and Chicago Style all have their own handbooks and guides both in print and online, so once you’ve chosen your style, research carefully how to record your bibliography, in-text citation, and footnotes. Remember, like with everything, practice makes better.

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: October 6, 2021