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Citation Tutorial


Format Citations & Bibliography

This guide will help you learn how to find and use style guides, locate, use and organize citation information, and understand purposes of citation.

Which Style Should I Use?

Always check with your professor about the preferred style. The most common are:

illustrations of Galapagos finches from the voyages of Darwin

MLA (Modern Language Assocation)

literature, languages, other humanities

APA (American Psychological Association)

psychology, social sciences, business

Chicago, aka "Turabian" (Chicago Manual of Style)

history, religion and theology, engineering, and some sciences

Different conventions have developed within different fields, in isolation from each other. It is so rare that a scholar in one field (say, zoology) reads scholarly articles in an unrelated field (say, moral philosophy) that citation conventions tend to grow more dissimilar, like finches on the Galapagos Islands.

What we have provided below is a brief guide to the hallmarks of formatting within each of the major styles, and explanations about why some of those formatting decisions actually matter. For detailed instructions on formatting, follow the links to style guides.

A citation has two parts, and all citation guides will explain how to format both:

1. The citation itself. This can take the form of a superscript footnote number 1, a number in brackets [1], a name and date in parentheses (Smith 2008) or a name and page number in parentheses (Smith 47) or perhaps a name in text, like Smith, and a page number in parentheses (47), depending on the citation style. As you get used to reading for citations, your eyes will seek out superscript, brackets, parentheses, and numbers. An APA parenthetical citation might look something like this:

Willis & Schor (2012), however, provide evidence that consumer behaviors correlate with political action.

2. The full bibliographic entry. In most citation styles, this appears at the end of the article or chapter, or perhaps even at the end of the book. An APA bibliographic entry for an article looks something like this:

Willis, M. M., & Schor, J. B. (2012). Does changing a light bulb lead to changing the world? Political action and the conscious consumer. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, (1), 160-190. doi:


Guides to MLA Style


How Humanities Scholars Use Sources:

Refer to other scholars to extend and deepen analysis of primary source texts

Image of Gargan Hall at BC with floating candles resembling Hogwarts

Why MLA Style Works for the Humanities

Identifying the author and precise page (or line number, for verse or sacred texts) where quoted material is located is more important than currency of research.

Hermione's development as a character and librarian occurs as Madam Pince, the Hogwarts librarian, becomes even more of a stereotypical librarian and ultimately disappears. Madam Pince begins the series as a "worn-out stereotype" (Dresang 236) and ultimately disappears.

(Freier 7)

Because being "up to date" isn't a big concern in the humanities (go ahead and cite Aristotle), publication year is absent from in-text and parenthetical citations and less prominent in bibliographies.

Dresang, Eliza T. "Hermione Granger and the Heritage of Gender." The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon. Ed. Lana A. Whited. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2002. 211-42.​

(Freier 8-9)

Bibliographic entries identify the precise version of a text, because there are often variants.

The Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Ed. Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford UP, 1965. Print. Rev. Standard Vers.

Author names are often located outside parenthetical citations. When a source's author is the subject or object of a sentence, it's much easier to show how that author participates in the scholarly conversation. This is also a way to give a "shout out" to an accomplished colleague.

Some readers of the novels interpret this lack of access positively: Philip Nel believes that the lack of technology in wizarding life adds to the charm of the novels (14-15) and Lisa Hopkins delights in the benefits of serendipitous discovery: "one of the most strongly marked advantages of books as represented in the Harry Potter series is that they often prove to reveal information that the reader did not even know he or she was looking for" (28).

(Freier 6)


Guides to APA style


How Social Scientists Use Sources

Use references to other researchers' work to provide context and justification for a particular research study

Book cover of The Overspent American, by Juliet Schor, with a satirical picture of the classic painting American Gothic, with the elderly couple holding cellphones, golf clubs, and other products.

Why APA Style Works for Social Sciences

Establishing authority and currency of cited research is important, so the researchers' names and the year are prominent in both in-text citations and bibliographic entries.

Willis, M.M. and Schor, J.B. (2012) Does changing a light bulb lead to changing the world? Political action and the conscious consumer. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 644(1): 160–190.

Author/researcher names are also important markers of authority and schools of thought.

In a similar way, Willis and Schor (2012) speak of ‘conscious consumption’ and Bennett (2012, p. 30) observes the ‘… profusion of self-actualizing, digitally mediated DIY politics’.

Last names + first initials avoid gender bias.

Willis, M.M. and Schor, J.B. (2012) Does changing a light bulb lead to changing the world? Political action and the conscious consumer. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 644(1): 160–190.

(Van Deth, 2014)


Guides to Chicago Style

Chicago Style's Flexibility Means it Works for Many Fields

Chicago Style (aka "Turabian"*) is unusual in that it is used by fields in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Multiple methods in source-use have led to two distinct styles within Chicago:

1. Author-Date This style is adapted to research more similar to social sciences, in which the author's name and the currency of research are both important and need to be displayed in text. Parenthetical citations are similar to APA.

2. Notes-Bibliography This style is adapted to research in the humanities in which frequent parenthetical interruptions would interfere with a reader's smooth comprehension of the text. Historians often use this style, offering readers a chance to skip past frequent citations, and only consult footnotes if there is a question.

For students, who have a limited understanding of the system of scholarly communication, the research assignment can become a confusing and procedural exercise, often descending into a desperate search for citations.[1] For faculty, who make assumptions about the undergraduate’s disciplinary understanding and knowledge, the final papers often demonstrate a disappointing lack of quality sources.[2] For librarians, who teach a tool-oriented search strategy that is very different from a scholar’s, the lack of skill transferability to other contexts is frustrating.[3]



1. Gloria Leckie, “Desperately Seeking Citations: Uncovering Faculty Assumptions about the Undergraduate Research Process,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 22, no. 3 (1996): 201-208.

2.Cullen Chandler and Alison Gregory, “Sleeping with the Enemy: Wikipedia in the College Classroom,” The History Teacher 43, no. 2 (2010): 247-257.

3. Barbara Fister, “The Research Processes of Undergraduate Students,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 18, no. 3 (1992): 163-169.

*Though people often use "Chicago" and "Turabian" interchangeably, there are differences between the two. "Chicago" was developed for publications by the University of Chicago Press. "Turabian" was developed at the University of Chicago by Kate L. Turabian for dissertations at the university. The 16th Edition of The Chicago Manual of Style has begun to fuse the two, and the University of Chicago has actually purchased the rights to the "Turabian" name and system, so differences may soon disappear.

Scientific Citation Styles

In the sciences, researchers often use the citation style of the leading journal in their area instead of following a standard style guide published by their professional organization.  Check the syllabus or consult with your instructor regarding the preferred style for the assignment.  A librarian can help you find the guidelines for each style.

For science assignments that require a professional organization's style guide:

Legal Citation

Legal citation is tricky, and best learned in law school. The most frequently used style manual for citing to legal documents is The Bluebook: a uniform system of citation.  APA, MLA and Chicago Manual of Style all refer to the Bluebook for citing to certain documents such as cases. More Legal Citation Help

Why is Formatting Citations & Bibliographies so Nitpicky & Troublesome?

image of balance scale, balancing brevity and precisionCitation is a tricky balance between brevity and precision. Each citation must refer to a single entry in the bibliography, which in turn must refer to a single source. But each citation must also be as brief as possible, so it doesn't interfere with smooth reading. To achieve both brevity and precision, styles employ abbreviations, punctuation, and typography to indicate types of information. Note the space saved by using an APA style citation, compared to how a novice writer might cite:

  • In Juliet Schor's book, Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth, published in 2013, she claims...
  • Schor (2013) claims...

All of that information gets pushed to the back of the article, to the bibliography. As you get used to the conventions, you will start to refer to articles by an author's last name, not by a title. That's what scholars do. Note: Ultimately, precision wins. When in doubt, be thorough.