Citing your sources is an important practice when it comes to any type of publishing. In academic research, it is standardized by many bodies. And, publication venues like journals and conferences are quite strict about their formats. Thus, it is best for graduate students and aspiring researchers to know how to cite a research paper and other sources in their works. Citing your sources properly is also important for many reasons. One of the most important ones is that you can easily establish to your reviewers and readers the context around and relevancy of your work.
But, creating a reference section for your paper or dissertation can be a tedious task. As such, this article should serve as your guide on how to cite a research paper in popular formats: APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, and the IEEE style. A list of digital tools that can make citation easier and a quick tutorial will also be provided. This way, you can concentrate more on the content of your paper rather than what many consider a cumbersome task.
The main reason for citing references properly is to avoid intellectual dishonesty (Bast & Samuels, 2008). Presenting ideas of other scholars without proper recognition goes against scientific ethics (Gross, 2016). While this is not the highest of ethical requirements, it is simply basic decency. This is because we humans have a strong sense of ownership, not just of our physical properties but also of our intellectual works and achievements. We have a strong drive to know who or where exactly pieces of information came from and how ideas develop.
In research, this is very apparent in literature where scholars discuss and debate who first created a research methodology, an idea, or made a discovery (e.g., Newton versus Leibniz for calculus and Le Verrier versus Adams for Neptune).
Properly referencing a source is not only important that the right people get the proper recognition for their ideas. It is also crucial to the whole research publication and consumption process for the following reasons:
Overall, referencing helps research communities place a work in its proper context to better judge its potential impact on its field.
There are many different fields and disciplines in the research world. And, they have different styles and standards for what proper referencing is. Rules also vary from types of sources you cite, including but not limited to research papers, technical reports, books, patents, court cases, conference journals, conference papers, podcasts, YouTube videos, and social media posts. But, most styles have common elements required for writers to include.
Aside from the abovementioned, it’s important to note that there are two aspects to consider when dealing with the placement of citations: in-text and the reference list section. In-text citations are included in the body of your work. These are also repeated but in more detail in the reference list usually situated after your article. Different levels of styles have different ways to cite works. However, they usually include the critical information listed above.
Furthermore, the choice for citation styles or formats largely depends on your discipline, your institution, and other venues for publication (e.g., journals and conferences). So, it is best to check your target venue for submission for its preferred citation style. It is also good to note that some have specific style preferences, apart from the popular formats (e.g. APA, MLA, Chicago, and IEEE). Hence, it is best to check the author’s instructions page on their websites and articles that have already been published for reference.
Just like most things, citing a source should be done in a reasonable amount. You must avoid undercitation and overcitation. The former is when you miss out to cite a source while the latter is when you put unnecessary citations that can be too distracting (Appropriate Level of Citation, n.d.). By citing all utilized sources used and giving proper credit to actual authors, scholarly writers do not only prevent plagiarism but also show that they have conducted extensive research, are well-informed about the study subject, and their research is reliable (Truluck & Richardson, 2013).
In this section, we will discuss when you must cite a source and how to avoid overcitation.
The components in a citation or reference entry are devised to allow the reader identify or locate the specific source that is cited (Lanning, 2016). Whenever you use another individual’s work, you really must cite a source. Forgetting to or intentionally not doing so can lead to a serious dent on your reputation. Thus, remember to cite properly when you:
When writers fail to cite their sources, they commit undercitation, as the APA (n.d.) calls it. This leads to plagiarism. This is really frowned upon not just in the academic research community. It is also a no-no in every type of publication, from films to music. So, it is best to be really thorough in collecting and referencing your sources. But, you also have to be careful not to be too thorough. Too much care or fear of undercitation can lead to overdoing them.
Putting more citations than required is called overcitation. This is also frowned upon but to a somewhat lesser extent. The reasoning here is that when you place inappropriate amounts of citations, it can be quite distracting for readers. This is especially true when dealing with in-text citations. Readers and reviewers will find it difficult to follow the thoughts and arguments in your paper if they are constantly getting interrupted by unnecessary in-text citations. It can really become annoying.
Overcitation usually happens when writers repeat the same citation in every sentence even though the topic and source has not changed at all. To avoid overdoing citations when paraphrasing, remember to place a citation for a key point in a paragraph only in the first sentence where it is relevant. Do not repeat the citation when the source of the material remains clear and the same.
Moreover, overcitation can also be very unethical especially when a writer cites a source as evidence even when the source does not really count as one. This unethical practice usually happens when a writer cites a study or dataset to support a claim but when reviewers and readers go through the source, they would find it not to be valid evidence for the writer’s claim. Sometimes, this can happen unintentionally, especially when a writer misunderstands what was cited or the implications of the information cited. But, there can be instances when there is malicious intent to boost the credits of a claim by beefing up cited works. This must be avoided at all costs.
Furthermore, it is highly discouraged for writers to cite themselves especially when their works are unrelated. It may be quite tempting to cite your work or your colleagues’ to boost your profiles or publications. But, this should be avoided to keep the integrity of the current work. Reviewers and other researchers are able to recognize self-promotion when they see it. Keep in the context of the work and keep unrelated stuff and self-promotion out of it.
In the next few sections, we’ll provide basic guides on how to cite various sources using four popular citation formats: (1) APA, (2) MLA, (3) Chicago/Turabian, and (4) IEEE.
APA stands for American Psychological Association. The APA style for citation is popular among behavioral and social science journals. However, it is not limited to such disciplines. The style originated in 1929, created by a group of psychologists, anthropologists, and business managers to improve reading comprehension (University of Pittsburgh, 2020). The citation style has undergone many changes throughout the years.
The latest version is the APA 7th edition published in October 2019. This section draws from the APA official Style and Grammar Guidelines (American Psychological Association, n.d.).
The in-text citation along with the formatting of the reference list or bibliography section are explained in this section.
In-text citations let users know which ideas are attributed to whom. The APA citation style has two major elements for in-text citation: the author and the date. Also, they come in two forms: parenthetical and narrative (APA, 2019).
For parenthetical citations, both author and date appear separated by a comma. A parenthetical citation may appear within or at the end of a sentence.
Should other texts appear within the parenthetical citation, one should use commas around the year.
If both text and citation are included in parentheses, use a semicolon to separate them. Never use parentheses within parentheses.
In narrative citations, the author’s last name appears in the running text while the date appears in parentheses after it. The author’s name can be placed in any part of the sentence that makes sense.
In cases where both the author and date element appear in the running text, do not use parentheses.
For a single author
For two authors
For three to five authors
For six or more authors
If the author information is not available, you can use the source title to replace the author element. When there is no date included in the source, cite the first few words of the article inside quotation marks using a headline-style capitalization with the year after the comma in your in-text citation in the form:
For the reference lists located at the end of the research paper, you need to cite four major elements:
Below are the APA style rules for each of them.
APA Individual Author Names Format
When citing individual author’s names, write the surname first. This is followed by a comma then the author’s initials.
If there is more than one author, place a comma to separate an author’s initials from subsequent author names. This is also applicable even when there are only two authors. Also, use an ampersand “&” before the final author’s name and put one space between initials.
Include both surnames and initials or up to and including 20 authors. Again, in this case, use an ampersand before the last author’s name.
If there are 21 authors or more, include the first 19 authors’ names, then insert an ellipsis before adding the final author’s name. Note that you should not use an ampersand in this case.
Moreover, it is important to write the author’s name as it appears in published works. This does not only include two-part surnames and hyphenated surnames but also the author’s preferred capitalization.
Group Author Names Format
Usually, group authors come in the form of task forces, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. When only the name of the group is used on the cover or title page of a publication, treat it as having a group author. This is even the case when individuals are credited elsewhere in the work itself like the acknowledgment section. However, if there are individual names in the cover or title page, treat the work as having multiple individual authors.
For the reference list entry, you should spell out the full name of the group then add a period after it.
You can use the abbreviation of the group in the text (e.g. APA for the American Psychological Association).
Use the most specific agency as the author when there are various layers of government agencies listed. Parent agencies not appearing in the group author name should be found in the source element as the publisher of the work.
For most publications, you only use the year. Put the year of publication inside parentheses followed by a period.
For others that require day, month, and/or season along with the year, place the month and date or season after the year. Separate them with a comma.
If the work you are citing has been accepted for publication yet is still to be published, use “in press” instead of the year. However, for in-progress works, unpublished papers, and informally published documents, never use “submitted for publication” or “in progress.” Instead, give the year the work was produced instead. Also, if you are citing a work that is an advanced online publication, use the year of the advanced online publication.
For dates with an approximate date of publication use “ca.” for “circa” before the year.
If you want to cite publications that are designed to change over time, you would need to provide the retrieval date for the document. Use this following format:
If there is no date available, again, use “n.d.” The entry can take the form of:
There are two main kinds of titles. Firstly, titles can be the name of the standalone work like books and research papers. In this case, the title of the work should appear in the title element of the reference. Secondly, they can be a part of a bigger work, such as edited chapters, podcast episodes, and even songs. In this case, the title of the article or chapter or part of the work should appear in the title element. The title of the bigger work should appear in the source element.
For standalone works, italicize the title. Also, use sentence case.
When citing parts of a bigger work like an edited chapter or journal articles, capitalize the title using sentence case. Do not, however, italicize the title or place it between quotation marks.
If there are different editions, volumes, or report numbers, include these after the title enclosed in parentheses. Do not use a period to separate the title and the parenthetical. If both volume information and edition are included, use a comma as a separator and put the edition number first.
When the numbered volume has its own title, both of them should be included as part of the main title instead of the parenthetical information. Also, the title element should be finished with a period whenever the title does not end with a question mark or exclamation point. In cases where titles do, use the appropriate punctuation marks.
When citing works outside the peer-reviewed academic literature, give a description of the work in square brackets after the title but before the period. You should capitalize the first letter but do not italicize the description. Do this for YouTube videos, audiobooks, manuscripts in preparation, theses, and others. Moreover, bracketed descriptions can also be used for social media references.
Different sources require different formatting conventions. There are usually six types of source references commonly cited: journal articles, conference papers, authored book or whole edited book, edited book chapter, webpage on a website with authors different from the site name, and webpage on a website where authors name is the same with the site.
For journal articles, there are five components: periodical title, volume, issue, page range, and DOI or URL. So, for the article with the title “The Basic Problem of the Theory of Levels of Reality” by Roberto Poli published in 2001, you write the reference as:
Above, “Axiomathes” is the name of the journal, “12” is the volume number, “3” is the issue number, and “261-283” is the page range.
When citing a paper or session in a conference that is not formally published in the proceedings, the format is:
When citing an authored book or whole edited book, provide the name of the publisher and the DOI or URL. The format is:
And, when citing a book chapter for edited books, you cite each chapter separately. When citing more than one chapter, you cite each chapter as a different source. The format is:
For webpages that have different authors’ names from the site name, provide the website name and the URL for the source element. For webpages whose authors’ names are the same as the site, only provide the URL.
In APA style references, DOIs and URLs are used. DOI is short for digital object identifiers. These are alphanumeric strings identifying unique content while providing a persistent link to their locations. You can find these in database records and reference lists.
DOIs come in the form of: “https://doi.org/xxxxx” where “xxxxx” is the DOI number. On the other hand, URL is short for uniform resource locators. These are basically the links you find on the address bar of your browser. So, when do you include DOIs and URLs? Here are the APA guidelines.
In the APA style, you do not include other alphanumeric identifiers, such as the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) and the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Also, when using DOIs and URLs, present them as hyperlinks. This means they begin with “http:” or “https:”. And, it is acceptable to display the link in blue font and underlined like in the default setting in your word-processing software or you can use plain text.
In this section, an example of a reference list containing different types of sources that you could use as a quick guide.
Chapter of an Edited Book
MLA is short for the Modern Language Association based in the U.S. The MLA style is used worldwide and is popularly used in the humanities. The latest version is the 8th edition published in 2016. And, just like APA, it has in-text citation and reference list rules. However, when you use the MLA format, you use the title “Works-Cited List” for your reference list. In this section, the rules for both in-text citation and the works-cited list will be discussed.
The MLA in-text citations have two elements: the author’s surname and the page or page-range where the reference is found. MLA style in-text citations also come in two forms: parenthetical and narrative. Also, they are usually inserted immediately after a quote or parenthetical or in a natural pause. In-text references are used to reference works that you quote or paraphrase from. The latest version is the MLA 8th edition (Mendeley, 2019).
If there are more two to three authors, they should be cited in the following format.
For more than three authors, you only include the surname of the first author followed by “et al.” such as:
If there are no authors, you should italicize the whole title for books. For articles, you enclose the title in quotations. Also, you can use a shortened title within quotation marks instead of the author’s name.
For authors with multiple cited works, include a shortened version of the title within the citation.
In cases where authors have the same surnames, you should include an initial to differentiate.
If there are no page numbers, then include the number pattern included in the book like chapters or paragraphs. If there are no numbered sections, then only the name should be included.
When citing a quote or a parenthetical, use “qtd.” before the author’s name.
Also, when citing audio-visual sources, use a timestamp instead of a page number. The format should be in “hh:mm:ss”.
The MLA style uses a “Works-Cited List” instead of a reference list on a new page after the document. This list contains all the sources referenced in the document containing different elements, depending on the source type. Moreover, it is also ordered alphabetically by the name of the first author or title (when the author is unknown). Also, when alphabetizing, you should ignore the articles “a,” “an,” and “the.”
Furthermore, if there are multiple works by a single author, you should order these by date. If the works were published in the same year, order them alphabetically by the title. Also, the first reference must contain the full name of the author. Subsequent references should have author name replaced by “- – -.”
Format-wise, entries must be double spaced and the second and subsequent lines of the source are indented by half an inch from the margin. Also, different types of sources cited require different formats for citation.
MLA Style Citation for Books, Chapters (or Essays) in a Book, and E-Books
The basic structure for citing books is:
When there are two authors, the first author’s name should be written surname first while the second author’s name should be written in its normal order. There should be an “and” between both names.
For three or more authors, provide the first author’s name surname first then followed by “et al.”
When you want to cite a chapter or an essay in a book, follow this basic format.
For e-books, the basic format is as follows:
MLA Style Citation for Journals, Newspaper/Magazines, and Online Publications
Citing journals, newspapers, magazines, and online articles have the same basic format in MLA:
Here are a few examples:
To cite a webpage, use this basic format:
MLA Citation for Non-Print Materials: Images, Music, Film, and TV Series
When citing the image, follow the following format:
For music, citations come in the form of:
Films/movies can be cited using two different formats. You put the movie title first when you focused more on the film rather than the director. Otherwise, when you focus more on the director, provide the director’s name first.
To cite TV or a web series, you should include the episode and season number.
Chicago and Turabian are interchangeable. The latter is a much simpler style aimed at students whose works are not intended for publishing. However, both are considered to be the official Chicago style (Hansen, 2011). The Chicago style has two citation style conventions: the notes and bibliography style and the author-date style. Both of these appear in The Chicago Manual of Style. The latest version is the 8th edition (University of Chicago Press, 2017a).
The notes and bibliography style is popular in the humanities, literature, and the arts. It uses a footnotes or endnotes system. Each note has a corresponding superscript number in the text. On the other hand, the author-date style cites sources briefly in the text by the author’s last name and the year of publication of the work. Each citation in both conventions has matches in a separate reference list at the end of the document.[table “chicagostyle” could not be loaded /]
We will discuss the two conventions below including some examples.
For this convention, you use a raised number or superscript. These are usually placed at the end of sentences (University of Chicago Press, 2017b). This is used to let readers know that a sentence contains information from a different source. Each superscript corresponds to an item on the footnotes (notes located at the bottom of a page) or endnotes (notes located at the end of a paper, chapter, or book).
The full footnote citation for a book takes the form of:
If you cite a work multiple times, you can use a shortened version such as:
For the bibliography section, entries should be in alphabetical order. They come in the form of:
The citation formats for different sources are identical in both the notes and bibliography style and the author-date style. The only difference is the in-text citation. The latter provides in-text mentions of the last name of the author and publication date instead of a corresponding superscript.
In-text citations provide the author’s last name, the year of publication, and the page or page range. Only use a comma to separate the publication year and the page. Do not use a comma in between the author’s last name and publication date (University of Chicago Press, 2017c).
Citing a book in the reference list has the same format as citing a book on the other convention’s bibliography entry discussed in the previous subsection. For citing a chapter or some part of an edited book, cite specific pages in the text and include the page range for the chapter or part in the reference list.
When there are multiple authors provide the last name first for the first author and list the subsequent authors using their first names first. Also, separate the names using commas and at the end of the authors element place a period.
When citing an edited book as a whole, provide the editor(s) name first.
If you are citing a translated book, follow this format:
When citing an e-book, the in-text citation takes the same form as others. However, for the reference list entry, you should include a URL or the name of the database. For other types of e-books, provide a format like Kindle, among others.
When citing a book review, indicate that it is a review and of what material after the title.
If you are citing a thesis or dissertation, the basic format you should follow is:
For journal articles, you should include the page range of the whole article you are citing. Also, you should cite specific page numbers in the text. If you are using online articles, use a URL or the database name in the reference list entry. However, a DOI is preferred over a URL.
When there are four or more authors, list up to ten in the reference list. For the citation in the text, only provide the surname of the first author followed by “et al.”. If there are more than ten authors, just list the first seven in the reference list and add “et al.”.
The rules for citing news or magazine articles are the same. It is the same with blog sites and news sites as well. Under the reference list, it is highly recommended that you repeat the year in sources that you also cite with a month and day. Moreover, you should cite the page numbers, if any, in the text. But, leave these out in the reference list entries. And, if you are citing an online article, provide the name of the database or the URL.
When citing website content, do include the access date especially if the webpage is designed to get upated or changed. Also, use “n.d.” for no date if the site does not list a date of publication, revision, or posting. Here are some examples:
For audiovisual content, the citation format is quite similar to the others here. However, one should provide contributors, content type, and timestamp or clip length. Here is an example:
When citing social media content, providing the quoted text is already enough in your document. For more formal citation, you should consider providing a link and a reference list entry. When you do, in place of a title, quote the post with up to the first 160 characters.
Moreover, comments are cited in reference to the original post. And, you should include the date and time of the comment in the in-text citation in the form:
The IEEE citation style is mainly used for reports in electronics, engineering, computer science, telecommunications, and information technology. IEEE is the official style of the eponymous Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. There are three main parts of an IEEE-style reference. They are:
Just like other popular citation styles, the format and inclusion of punctuations, page numbers, dates, and other information vary according to the types of references cited. Also, the IEEE style has both in-text and reference list citations.
In the IEEE style, each citation is noted in the text using simple sequential numbers enclosed in square brackets: “[number]”. Also, they should be in the same line as the text and appear before any punctuation with a space before the bracket. Each bracketed number corresponds to a specific work and citations are numbered in the order of their appearances. In cases where the same source is cited, the same number is used in other citation instances. Moreover, no distinction is made between print and electronic sources. Distinguishing information is included in the references list (IEEE, n.d.).
Different source types get cited differently in the IEEE style. But, the basic principle applies just like other citation styles. Citations basically answer the who, what, when, and where questions. In this section, we will provide a general format for major document types and some citation examples.
For published works, the titles are italicized and capitalized. On the other hand, you do not italicize the titles of unpublished works. And, you only capitalize the first word for the titles. Also, authors’ names are written with initials first then their surnames. For two authors, each name is separated with the word “and.” For three or more authors, you only use the word “and” before the last author’s name. Also, you end the author element with a comma.
Internet Documents and Software
For online documents and digital software, one needs to include the format using “[format]”. For online sources, provide the URL using this format “Available: URL.” Also, provide the access date with “[Accessed Month Day, Year]” Also, there are different ways of citing different source types.
There are many other document types and examples that we cannot cover here. It is best to check the official IEEE style guide for more.
The table below can serve as a quick guide to help you cite your sources properly.
|Courses||Oxford University||Cambridge University|
|Arts & Humanities||3rd||2nd|
|Clinical, pre-clinical & health||1st||3rd|
|Engineering & Technology||5th||3rd|
|Business & Economics||3rd||4th|