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Citation Styles: sub-module 2 of 4 of how to cite

A citation style is a set of rules that specifies the format and content of a citation. Each style outlines a set of rules for authors to follow. Adherence to the rules is required to make a correct citation. Most academic disciplines have a preferred style, but the style you should use is usually specified by the instructor or noted in the assignment guidelines.



  • Check with your Instructor Your instructor will almost always tell you the citation style you should use. Ask your instructor or check your assignment instructions to confirm the required citation style.
  • Don't get mixed up! Don't use more than one citation style in a single assignment. Always remain consistent with the style that you are using. The only exception to this rule is if your instructor would like you to practice a local variant of the style.
  • Choose a Trusted Style GuideEvery citation style is based on a set of rules outlined in a published manual. Many colleges have created online versions of these guides. Getting familiar with these guides will increase your efficiency when citing your sources.

Which Style Should You Use?

APA is often used in the following disciplines:

  • Psychology
  • Education
  • Business

MLA is often used in the following disciplines:

  • English
  • Literature
  • Communications

Chicago is often used in the following disciplines:

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Anthropology

Canadian Uniform Legal Citation is often used in the following discipline:

  • Law and Legal studies

Citation Terminology

All major citation styles are comprised of a brief in-text citation, as well as a detailed list of cited sources at the end of the document; however, the method varies by citation style.

Terminology Comparison

The chart below outlines the terminology used by each citation style. Remember to consult the citation style guide to check for any exceptions. 

Citation Style In-Text Citation List of Citations
APA Parenthetical Citation References
MLA Parenthetical Citation Works Cited
Chicago Footnotes Bibliography
Legal Footnotes Bibliography

Purdue OWL provides the following sample papers, formatted according to various styles:

Brief In-Text Citation Styles

Parenthetical citations require you to place the necessary citation components into parentheses. For example: (Freud, 1930). 

Footnotes require the use of numeric footnotes, which direct readers to the footer of the document. The footer contains the necessary citation components. For example, Schama3.  

Detailed Source List Styles

Reference Lists, Works Cited pages, and Bibliographies are all alphabetical lists of the sources used within a paper.