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What Type Of Citation To Use – Complete Guide

Published by at January 29th, 2024 , Revised On February 5, 2024

Citing sources is a fundamental aspect of academic and professional writing. Proper citations not only give credit to the original authors but also lend credibility and authenticity to your work. However, the world of citation styles can be overwhelming, with numerous options available.

What Is A Citation Style?

A citation style is a set of rules and conventions for documenting and referencing sources in academic writing. It provides a standardised way for writers to give credit to the sources they use in their work, allowing readers to locate and verify the information. The primary purpose of citation styles is to give proper credit to the original authors and to enable readers to trace the sources cited.

Citation styles dictate how to format various elements of a citation, including the author’s name, publication date, title, and publication information. They also provide guidelines for citing different types of sources, such as books, journal articles, websites, and more.

Importance Of Citations

Citations play a pivotal role in academic and professional writing, serving various crucial functions that contribute to the overall integrity and credibility of scholarly work. Here are some key aspects highlighting the importance of citations:

Giving Credit To Authors

Citations provide a way to acknowledge and give credit to the original authors or creators of ideas, theories, concepts, and research findings. This ethical practice prevents plagiarism and ensures that intellectual contributions are appropriately recognised.

Supporting Claims And Arguments

Citations lend support and credibility to your claims and arguments by referencing established theories, empirical studies, or expert opinions. They help build a foundation for your ideas and demonstrate that your work is grounded in existing knowledge.

Validating Research

Citations act as a validation mechanism for the research presented. By referencing reputable sources, researchers show that their work is part of a broader scholarly conversation and that it aligns with accepted methods and standards within a particular field.

Facilitating Reproducibility

Detailed citations allow others to locate and verify the sources used in your work. This promotes transparency and facilitates the reproducibility of research, enabling fellow scholars to replicate experiments, tests, or analyses and validate the findings.

Enhancing Credibility And Trust

Properly citing sources enhances the credibility and trustworthiness of your work. Readers are more likely to trust your conclusions and interpretations when they can trace the information back to reputable and authoritative sources.

Demonstrating Depth Of Research

A well-cited document demonstrates a thorough and comprehensive exploration of the subject. It shows that the writer has engaged with a variety of sources, considered different perspectives, and conducted in-depth research.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism, the act of presenting someone else’s work as your own, is a serious academic offence. Citations act as a safeguard against unintentional plagiarism by clearly attributing ideas, words, or data to their original sources.

Following Academic Integrity

Adhering to a specific citation style and accurately citing sources manifests academic integrity. It reflects a commitment to ethical writing practices and contributes to the maintenance of scholarly standards within academic and professional communities.

Meeting Publishing Requirements

Many academic journals, publishers, and institutions have specific citation guidelines and requirements. Adhering to these guidelines is essential for successfully submitting and publishing research papers, articles, and other scholarly works.

Common Citation Styles

There are several widely used citation styles, each with its own set of rules and formats. Some of the most common citation styles include:

APA (American Psychological Association)

  • APA is commonly used in the social sciences, such as psychology, sociology, and education.
  • In-text citations typically include the author’s last name and the publication year.

MLA (Modern Language Association)

  • Widely used in the humanities, including literature, philosophy, and the arts.
  • In-text citations usually include the author’s last name and the page number.

Chicago/ Turabian

  • Chicago Manual of Style is used in various disciplines, including history and some social sciences.
  • Turabian is a simpler version often used by college students.
  • Uses footnotes or endnotes for in-text citations.


IEEE (Institute Of Electrical And Electronics Engineers)

  • IEEE is mostly used in technical fields, especially computer science and engineering.
  • Uses numerical citations in square brackets.

AMA (American Medical Association)

  • Used in the field of medicine and related disciplines.
  • In-text citations are typically in numerical format.

CSE (Council of Science Editors)

  • Standard in the natural sciences, particularly biology.
  • Uses a numerical citation style.


  • Used in biomedical and health sciences.
  • Uses numerical citations in square brackets.

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Parenthetical Citation Styles

Parenthetical citation is a common method of citing sources within the text of a document. In parenthetical citations, the necessary information is enclosed within parentheses and typically includes the author’s last name and the publication year. This brief reference allows readers to locate the full citation information in the bibliography or works cited page. 

Different citation styles have variations in how parenthetical citations are formatted. Here are examples of three popular citation styles:

APA (American Psychological Association)

Format: (Author’s Last Name, Year)

Example: (Kapur, 2019)

MLA (Modern Language Association)

Format: (Author’s Last Name page number)

Example: (Kapur 45)

Chicago/ Turabian

Format: (Author’s Last Name Year, Page)

Example: (Kapur 2019, 45)

Note Citation Styles

When citing notes in academic writing, the specific format can depend on the citation style you are using. Here are examples of how notes might be cited in three common citation styles: APA, MLA, and Chicago/Turabian:

APA (American Psychological Association)

In APA style, footnotes are not commonly used. Instead, if you need to include additional information or comments, it is often done within parentheses in the text. If you have endnotes, they will be listed on a separate page.

MLA (Modern Language Association)

MLA generally uses parenthetical citations within the text for in-text citations, but if you’re using endnotes, you can follow these guidelines:

  • In the text: (Author’s Last Name page number)
  • In the endnotes section: Author’s First Name Last Name, “Title of Note,” Note Number.

Chicago/ Turabian

Chicago style allows for both footnotes and endnotes. If you’re using footnotes, you would use the following format:

  • In the text: ^1
  • In the footnote: Author’s First Name Last Name, “Title of Note,” Page Number.

Numerical Citation Styles

Numerical citation styles use numbers to reference sources in the text, and each number corresponds to a full citation in the bibliography or reference list. Three common numerical citation styles are APA, Vancouver, and IEEE. Here is how they generally work:

APA (American Psychological Association)

In APA style, the in-text citation includes the author’s last name and the publication year in parentheses. However, if you are using a numerical citation system for a series of sources, you would list them in numerical order, separated by semicolons.

Example: (Kapur, 2019; Mahad, 2020; Doe, 2021)

Vancouver Style

The Vancouver citation style is a numerical system where sources are numbered consecutively in the order they are cited in the text. The numbers are used for in-text citations and also correspond to the numbered entries in the reference list.

Example: …as shown by previous studies (1,3,5).

IEEE (Institute Of Electrical And Electronics Engineers)

In IEEE style, sources are cited using square brackets and assigned numbers. These numbers correspond to the order of the sources in the reference list.

Example: [1] or [5]-[7]

Components Of Citations

Regardless of the citation style chosen, citations generally include the following components:


The names of the authors responsible for the work being cited.


The title of the source, whether it’s a book, article, or other types of publication.

Publication Date:

The date when the source was published. This is crucial for determining the currency and relevance of the information.


For books, the name of the publisher is often included.

Page Numbers:

For direct quotes or specific references, page numbers are provided to pinpoint the location of the information.

Which Citation Style Should I Use

Choosing the right type of citation style depends on several factors, including the academic discipline, the type of publication, and the specific requirements of your instructor or publisher. Here are some guidelines to help you choose the appropriate citation style:

Tip 1: Check Assignment Or Publication Guidelines

Often, instructors or publishers provide specific guidelines regarding the citation style they prefer. Always check assignment instructions, style guides, or any specific requirements provided by your instructor or publisher.

Tip 2: Consider Academic Discipline

Different disciplines may prefer different citation styles. For example, APA is commonly used in the social sciences, MLA in the humanities, and IEEE in engineering and computer science. Be aware of the conventions within your field of study.

Tip 3: Consult Style Guides

Refer to official style guides for different citation styles. Examples include the “Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association” for APA, the “MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers” for MLA, and the “Chicago Manual of Style” for Chicago/Turabian. These guides provide detailed instructions on how to format citations.

Tip 4: Check Journal Or Publisher Requirements

If you are submitting a paper for publication, check the guidelines provided by the journal or publisher. They often specify a preferred citation style that authors should follow.

Tip 5: Consider Your Audience

Think about who will be reading your work. Some citation styles are more common in certain regions or countries. For example, APA is often used in the United States, while Harvard referencing is commonly used in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Tip 6: Use The Style You’re Comfortable With

If you are given the flexibility to choose a citation style and you are familiar with one, consider sticking with it. It’s important to be consistent throughout your document.

Tip 7: Ask For Clarification

If you are unsure which citation style to use, do not hesitate to ask your instructor or supervisor for clarification. They can provide guidance based on the specific requirements of the assignment or research paper.

Frequently Asked Questions

Citation styles that use footnotes include Chicago/Turabian. In these styles, information about a source is provided in the form of footnotes at the bottom of each page, rather than in-text citations.

The most common citation styles used in academic writing are APA (American Psychological Association) in the social sciences, MLA (Modern Language Association) in the humanities, and Chicago in various disciplines, including history and some social sciences.

Wikipedia typically uses a hyperlinked citation style, providing clickable links to external sources within the text. It may vary, but this approach allows readers to access the referenced material directly for verification.

In scientific writing, the Council of Science Editors (CSE) citation style is commonly used. CSE employs a numerical citation system, referencing sources with superscript numbers in the text and providing corresponding numbered entries in the bibliography or reference list.

Citation styles that use numbers include the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) style, which employs numerical citations in square brackets within the text, correlating with a numbered list of references at the end of the document.

The Harvard citation style includes two main types: in-text citations and a reference list. In-text citations typically include the author’s last name and the publication year, while the reference list provides complete details for each source cited in the document.

The two main types of citations are in-text citations and bibliographic or reference citations. In-text citations are inserted within the text to acknowledge sources, while bibliographic citations provide detailed information about the sources in a dedicated bibliography or works cited page.

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