Writing a School Research Paper? A Guide to Citation Styles

A Guide to Citation Styles by JosiahandtheCiting sources is not only a professional courtesy and a sign of a mature author but also legally required in many instances to avoid legitimate questions of plagiarism. Different types of sources should be cited different and sometimes in different order depending specifically what sort of works cited page or bibliography one uses. In general, a works cited page indicates the work used, where the information from the source occurs in one’s own work, and the source’s author and publication information. This will help a reader to verify the source and possibly read further. Knowing how and when to properly cite sources can help to reduce legitimate mistakes in terms of failing to cite works as well as avoiding plagiarism.

The two types of documentation of works used are parenthetical and documentary-note. Documentary-note format uses footnotes, superscripted numbers, or letters at the end of cited works. Then the reader can examine these references at the end of a work. Alternatively, rather than using footnotes, one can use endnotes which are abbreviated references in parenthesis at the end of the cited work which correlate with a cited work at the end of one’s work; this is called parenthetical citation.

There are actually a number of different specific ways to cite works in a works cited or bibliography page. Most students are asked to follow a specific guideline, such as the MLA or the Chicago Handbook of Style. While in professional publication, citation style may be the decision of the writer or editor, in the case of students it is always best to be clear exactly which style the teacher or professor prefers. The following are various styles frequently used when citing the source one uses when writing an essay or other work involving the use of research material.

Humanities Styles


The Chicago style originates with the University of Chicago Press. The style is extremely comprehensive, and features advice for properly citing a variety of different types of media including foreign languages and numerous computer related sources.

The Chicago Manual of Style – An explanation and links to how to cite using this style.

Using the Chicago Style – How to use the Chicago Documentation Style, including addition information about this style.

Modern Language Association (MLA)

The MLA style is one of the most widely used in North America, especially Canada and the United States. While relatively new, being first published in 1985, it encompasses ways to cite several modern types of works. It also includes short-parenthetical references.

MLA Examples – A directory of examples of the proper use of MLA Style.

The MLA Style at Home – An MLA citation & style Guide.


The Turabian style is named for its author, Kate Turabian. This style was defined for, and is chiefly used in, writing history papers. The style basically condenses aspects of the Chicago style, while eliminating complex elements of the Chicago style which are rarely if ever used in writing papers in the field of history.

Turabian Style Documentation – A guide to using the what, when, why, and how of Turabian style

Turabian: A guide for Writers – How to use the Turabian style from the University of Richmond’s writing center.

Sciences Styles

American Chemical Society (ACS)

The ACS style is intended to help formatting essays on the subject of chemistry, and contains useful elements designed specifically to address the needs of such works. It is uncommon to require the specific elements of this style outside the field of chemistry. Among the unique elements to this style are several dealing with referencing the results of chemistry computer programs, and patents.

ACS Style Guidelines – The University of Wisconsin at Madison guide to using the ACS Style.

Council of Biology Editor (CBE)

The CBE style is one for use with works in the field of biology. CBE allows for two methods for citing works including name, year, and citation sequence. It is also an example of in-text citation.

Council of Biology Editors Style – A large index of examples for using this style.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

The IEEE is an international standards organization, dedicated to creating independent standards. Among the IEEE standards one may know are Sony I.Link cables, which adhere to the IEEE 1394 specification. Because the organization does a lot of work with studies and patents in the field of computing and electronics, it contains many style recommendations unique to citing references in these fields.

IEEE Style Guidelines – A detailed reference for using the IEEE Style.

Reference Guide: IEEE Style (PDF) – A good example of an IEEE works cited page.

National Library of Medicine (NLM)

The NLM style focuses on citing works in the field of medicine. Specifically, it has a variety of specific guidelines for use when citing journals, magazines, or studies. It is also generally the style required by journals or magazines in the field of medicine when attempting to publish the results of studies or summaries of several studies.
Citing Medicine – Tips for Using the NLM Style.

Vancouver (A Type of Biological Sciences Style)

The Vancouver style was created by the Vancouver group, an international group of editors for works in the field of medicine. Today it is required by many publications in the field of medicine when attempting to submit articles for consideration. It has numerous features specific to citing medical research and the results of experiments in the field.

Social Sciences Styles

American Anthropological Association (AAA)

The AAA Style is closely related to the Chicago style, and in fact when not defined defaults to the Chicago style. This style has a focus on anthropology and is meant for journal articles submitted to the association. It is often a style required in universities for non-anthropology works.

American Anthropological Association Style Guide – An outline of the AAA Style, and how it relates to other citation styles.

American Psychology Association (APA)

While intended for works in the field of psychology, it is not uncommon for professors in other fields to defer to its use as well. The APA, and MLA styles both are widely used as general guides, as is the Chicago style. While it is a great guide for general writing works, it does not address a lot of the media forms as in the MLA and Chicago styles.

APA Formatting and Style Guide – Resources for using APA Style in essays from the University of Purdue.

Maryland University’s APA Essentials – A variety of examples of how to use APA style.

American Political Science Association (APSA)

The APSA style is intended for works in political science, many of which reference an array of multimedia types, as well as specific broadcasts on radio or television. The style generally follows the Chicago style with minor differences such as organizing works cited alphabetically.

Citations in APSA Style – An overview of the APSA Style from Texas A&M University.

Legal Styles

Legal Style

Most styles are focused on citing different types of literary publications used in creating a new work. The legal style instead focuses on researching court decisions, either for use in legal publications, or in submitting evidence in court. The legal style contains a number of unique elements to citing court cases, the findings of court judges, as well as what aspects of specific cases were not decided.