Citation Styles Guide: Choosing a Style and Citing Correctly

Citation Styles Guide
We usually extract information from other sources while writing essays or articles. It is not possible for the person to not refer to a source for writing something unless the person is a specialist in that field. On the other hand, it is not the right thing to use someone’s content without giving them credits. You should cite everything while writing. Citing is different for different cases. There are many citation styles that are followed on different occasions. This article has highlighted various style guides. Some styles are appropriate for academic papers while others are suitable for published work. The following is the brief explanation of each guide, their similarities, differences, and how to pick the right citation style for you.

MLA Style

MLA is a common citation style that is widely used for citing sources. Once you are familiar with the format of MLA style, you can use it for all the papers. It is relatively simpler to follow, so people often use it. The following are the elements that are involved while citing MLA style.

Author’s name

The last name of the author is later followed by the remaining name. End this element with a period.

Title of source article

Title of source article can be italicized or in quotation marks, this depends on the nature of the article.

Title of containers

This refers to a website which contains the article you used for extracting information. The name of this container is mentioned after the name of the article separated by comma.


Instead of the main writer, there can be other people who should be credited. These people can either be translators or editors.


There can be one to many publishers for a publication who conveys your audience your point. You must list all these publishers in MLA citation. They should be separated by a slash.

Publication date

If there are more than one publication date for a source, use the most appropriate or original one.

Accessed date if former is not available

There are a few cases when publication date is not available. For that, you cite using the accessed date. People sometimes mention both accessed and publication date which is not the right thing to do. Use access date only when the former is not available.

All these elements in the work cited list are separated using punctuations.

MLA format has in-text citations and work cited list. The citations in the work cited list follow the same format as explained above. The format of in-text citation is explained below.

In-text citation

In-text citations are placed inside the text, right after the extracted words of source. In-text citation is done to consult a specific work cited entry in the reference list. The in-text citation usually consists of the author’s last name and page number. If the page number is not available, you can simply mention the author’s last name. However, there are a few situations when you do not have the author’s name, then you pick the keywords from the title and place them in the text. In-text citations are always placed in parentheses at the end of sentences.

You can mention the author’s name in the beginning of the quotes or remarks too. In that case, you will not include parenthetical citations. You can use words like “Author’s name said so” or “Said, author’s name”. Both are correct ways to do the in-text citation.

General guidelines

  • Text should be double spaced.
  • Font should be legible, such as Times New Roman
  • Preferable font size is 12 pt.

APA Style

APA style is also a common citation format that is used in psychology, sociology, and education papers. APA style also has in-text citations and a reference list. The format of the reference list is explained below.

Reference list

The reference list comprises all the citations arranged in alphabetical order. This reference list comes at the end of your essay on a new page. The citations in the list consist of the following elements.

Author’s name

It is important to include the author’s name in the work cited list. Different writers have different credibility levels and audiences. People are more likely to believe the people they usually read.

Date of publication

You should also involve the date of publication of the source article.


It also involves the title of the article.

Source elements

These source elements can be a book, magazine, or online website. They should also be mentioned in the work cited list.

This reference list should contain full references of every source article and in-text citations.

In-text citations

The in-text citations for APA format contains the author’s last name and year of publication. Considering an example, Max, 1990. The author’s last name and year of publication are separated by comma. In parenthetical in-text citations, page number is not needed. However, the remaining page number is also mentioned after the year separated by a comma.

General guidelines

  • There should be margins of 1 inch on all sides.
  • You should also place a page header on the top of every page.
  • The page numbers are placed on the right to make space for the page

There is not only one font recommended for APA format. All the fonts that are permissible to be used are Arial, Georgia, and Calibri with the size 11 and Lucida Sans, and Computer Modern with the font size 10.


Chicago style format is not used by students and is commonly used by professionals to publish their work. This style has author-date sample in-text citation and notes bibliography.

Author-date sample

The author-date sample is like APA in-text citation. In this type of citation, parentheses are used. It contains the last name of the author later followed by year of publication. Each entry in the in-text citation also has a detailed entry in the Notes bibliography.

Notes bibliography

The quotes or remarks that you have extracted from other sources are tagged with numbers. Each number has a reference entry in the footnotes. This footnote entry also has a detailed reference entry in the last page of the document that is the work cited list.  Footnotes are superscripted and are always added at the end of sentence. Their numbering begins with 1 and then follows the sequence.

General guidelines

  • The text in the paper should be double spaced. Only the quotes, citations, and questions can be of any spacing.
  • Page numbers in Chicago format are placed on the top right or bottom center of each page.
  • These page numbers begin with the Arabic number “1”.
  • You can also add subheadings if your paper is too long.
  • Paper margins should not be less than 1 inch.
  • You can use any font size that is legible.
  • Font size should be around 12 pt.
  • Any quote involving more than 100 words should be blocked. Moreover, poetry with more than two lines should also be blocked.
  • Extracts should be placed in new lines.


Read more: How to Format a Paper in Chicago Style

AMA Style

AMA citation format uses numbers to cite sources. This is the reason for the reference list to be arranged in numerical order. The explanation of in-text citations are as follows.

In-text citation

The number is placed in the superscript of the extracted content. These numbers begin with 1 and then follow a proper sequence. An important thing to remember is to use the same number for the same source. Suppose you are extracting something from the same source you used before, you will use the same number for it. You will use the number 1 for the same source even if it is after the 7th source. Thus, the sequence of numbers just holds for new sources.

Reference list

The reference list in AMA format contains the Author’s name. Title of Part. Title of source. Publication date. Online details. You must separate every element with a period.

  • You should involve the first name of the author followed by the initials of the last name. They are separated by a comma.
  • If there are many authors, you can simply list three of them and then use the words “et al”.
  • The title of the part that is article, book, or chapter is never in italics, they are always in sentence case.
  • On the other hand, the title of a book or journal is in italics.
  • Publication details keep changing for the type of source that needs citation.
  • For the online details, DOI is used. In cases when DOI is not available, you can use URL.
  • In cases when a URL is used, you also have to use the accessed date.

General guidelines

  • One-inch margins are used in AMA format.
  • Main text is always double spaced.
  • Font is Times New Roman with the size 12.
  • Page numbers are placed on the top right corner.
  • Page headers are placed on the top left corner.
  • If you are asked to make a title page, it should involve the following elements.

         Title of document

         Your name

         Your instructor’s name

         Course name

         Due date 


Harvard style of referencing also has a reference list and in-text citation. The detailed analysis of harvard citation style is as follows.

Reference list

Reference list a long list of references of the sources you have used for extracting information for your document. This list contains all the necessary information like the author’s name, publication details, and the title of source. This reference list comes at the end of the document on a new page. The citations are always arranged alphabetically by author’s name. If there is no author, then you can arrange it using the title of the source. The title of the source is arranged depending on the first letter of the first word excluding articles. If you are using the work of the same writer for two different occasions in the same document, you will arrange them by the order of dates. You should leave a line blank after the text, creating double spaces. Reference lists are basically a full version of in-text citations that were in the document.

In-text references

In-text references are used right after using a quote or a paraphrase that is extracted from some other source. In-text references are basically the shorter versions of referencing. They direct to a more detailed citation in the reference list. In-text citations of Harvard referencing style consist of author’s last name, year of publication, and page number. Consider an example.

Max (2012, p. 130)

General Guidelines

  • There should be 1 inch margin from all sides.
  • Recommended font style is Times New
  • Recommended font size is 12.
  • There should be double spacing in lines.
  • Alignment of text should be on the left.
  • Title is placed in the center of the first page.
  • The paper includes elements like subheadings, page numbers, title page, and an outline.
  • When the author is not mentioned, in-text citations always use the title of source. The title is always italicized in Harvard referencing.
  • First word of the title is capitalized.
  • The titles are placed in single quotation marks.

Suppose your article has a title “the wonders of technology”, you will cite it as follows.

According to The wonders of technology (2012) and then the text you want to quote.

MHRA Style

MHRA referencing style is important for students and scholars. This style has now been widely used for citing work in various documents. It has a great importance in modern humanities.

This style uses footnotes to refer to the actual source. The major advantage of these footnotes is that it provides the reader with complete information, and they do not have to consult the reference list.

This style needs a separate bibliography for primary and secondary sources.

Primary sources

Newspaper articles, speeches, images, diaries, and letters are considered as primary sources or the original materials. These primary sources are arranged in alphabetical order in the bibliography and are separated from secondary sources. The footnotes and referencing in bibliography are the same except for the page numbers in the footnotes.

Secondary sources

These sources comment on the primary sources or we can say that they build upon the primary sources. They should also be arranged alphabetically and separated from the primary ones.

General guidelines

  • The recommended font style and size are Times new roman and 12pt respectively.
  • Citations should be arranged alphabetically.
  • If there is work from the same author or no author for an article, arrange the citations using the titles.
  • Do not use the period after the citations.
  • The name of the author is inverted, and surname is placed first. If there are many authors, you need to do this only for the first author.


OSCOLA referencing style is used for citing the laws, rules, or legislations. In OSCOLA referencing style, there are numbers in the superscript of the extracted content. These numbers direct to the footnotes at the end of page.

In longer documents, abbreviations, tables, and primary sources are added in the start, while bibliography and secondary sources are added in the end.

The years are placed in the square brackets if it is important to identify the year of law report. If the year is not necessary, you can use the round brackets. Citations are usually the title and the year and if it is only for a section then you can simply write s1 with it.

Primary sources

These sources give an additional insight to the source used. It can be bills, legislations, cases, or laws. While citing the primary sources, you should also mention the page number to provide more detailed information. However, there are some situations when citing becomes so difficult, usually when there are books with no authors or books with three and more authors.


The articles that are published in the hard form can be cited as follows.

Author, | ‘title’ | [year] | journal name | page of article


Author, | ‘title’ | [year] |volume | journal name | page of article

The articles that are published electronically can be cited as follows.

Author, | ‘title’ | [year] OR (year) | volume/issue | journal name or abbreviation | <web address> | date accessed

It is very rare that you will need this OSCOLA format as all articles are published in print too.

A note on brackets

There are some articles that have a year as their volume number. If an article is published in 2012 then it is very much possible that the volume number of that article will be 2012. While citing such articles, use square brackets. However, round brackets are used for articles that have separate volume number and not year of publication as their volume number.

Secondary sources

Secondary sources should be cited separately than primary sources. These secondary sources involve parliamentary reports, commission reports, commands, law reports, newspaper articles, interviews, and personal communications.


Vancouver is also known as a numbered referencing style. It is commonly used in medicine and science. Citations are indicated by number in Vancouver style. At the end of the document, a detailed reference list arranged based on numbers is provided. It has correspondence to the in-text citations.

General guidelines

  • The reference list appears at the end of the document.
  • This reference list is arranged by numbers that are tagged in the document.
  • The sequence of numbers is the same in the document and reference list.
  • This should be on a new page at the end.
  • Arabic numbers 1, 2, 3 are used.
  • There is a relative entry in the reference list to the in-text citation in the document.
  • You can also abbreviate the title of journals.
  • You should use a consistent referencing style throughout the document.
  • Times new roman or arial with 12pt are preferable fonts.


Vancouver style documents usually have so many appendices. These appendices can be your own or maybe someone else’s. The citations of appendices are explained below.

Referencing your own appendices

  • You do not need to cite your own appendices. However, words like refer to appendix A or see appendix B would be enough.
  • If you have created an appendix on your own but have included some text of the source, number that text and create a citation for it in the reference list.

Referencing appendices that are not yours

  • If you have not written the appendix on your own, number it following the same sequence as followed by other citations and explain it in the reference

IEEE Style

In IEEE citation style, the numbers are placed in square brackets after the extracted content. These numbers link to the citations in the reference list at the end.

In-text citation

In-text citation begins with number 1 in a square bracket like [1] and then follows the number sequence throughout the document. However, if you are citing the same source again, you can use the same number. The numbers are placed right after the sentence ends. There should be a space after the sentence and then the number.

Sentence. [2]

Reference list

A reference list that is numbered is placed at the end of the document. The reference list has all the citations in detail to every entry in the text. The numbering begins with [1] and then continues from lowest to highest numbers. The reference list in IEEE does not follow the alphabetical order.

General guidelines

  • Font style is Times New Roman with 10pt.
  • You should also cite the work you have paraphrases which means defining someone’s work in your own words.
  • Page numbers are generally given after the citation number.
  • Page numbers are not mentioned after paraphrasing. However, you can provide the page number of the source if you want to.
  • If you locate page numbers, it becomes easier for readers to locate that information in books, journals, or newspaper articles etc.
Read the complete article on how to cite a paper using IEEE style guide.

Which Citation Style Should You Use?

Picking the best citation style for your document is not tough. You should just be aware of the discipline you are writing in. If your instructor has not already assigned you a style, pick any that fits best. You get more flexibility with the citation styles as you progress. It is always a good idea to consult the instructor. However, if you want to decide the citation style for your paper, following is a complete guide for you.

  • APA is important for citing work in education, sciences, and psychology.
  • MLA is appropriate for citing work of humanities.
  • If you want to cite work of history, arts, or business then Chicago style is best for you.
  • Journals, papers, and articles involving information technology, computer science, and engineering need IEEE style.
  • AMA is appropriate for citing work in the medical research field. This was created by the American medical association.
  • Harvard is a common citation style used for academic writing.
  • Another citation style for medicine and science is Vancouver.

Which Citation Style is Better for Students?

In some cases, universities have fixed the citation style for their students where they are required to use that specific style only. However, there are some cases when you are free to choose any citation style. For that, you should pick the style which best fits the requirements of your document. For example, for a paper with so many citations MLA would be an appropriate choice. For scientific papers, Chicago or APA are a better choice. We can simply say that pick the style which does not interrupt the flow of your arguments in the paper. The above guide has explicitly highlighted the facts about all styles, and you can pick any suiting your requirements.


Summing up the whole discussion, it is important to cite the work you have extracted from other sources. For citations, you have a lot of citation styles. This article has highlighted all the citation styles. It is not difficult to decide what citation style you should use. It just depends on the kind of document you are formatting. You can easily find the detailed guidelines in the article above. All the styles have been explained and you can use them per your convenience to cite the work you have extracted.