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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.



  • Know your Style Guide
    Every citation style is based on a set of rules outlined in a published manual. The manuals, or style guides, instruct authors in the formatting of citations for a variety of sources.
  • 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.
  • Learn your Style
    Most disciplines prefer a single citation style. Master the style, and you can benefit by using it in almost every assignment.

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.

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. 

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 Reference List 
MLA Parenthetical Citation Works Cited
Chicago Footnotes Bibliography
Legal Footnotes Bibliography

Sample papers - Opens in a new window formatted in APA, MLA, and Chicago are available thanks to the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).

Which Style is Right for You?

Almost every academic discipline has its own preferred style. English instructors tend to prefer MLA style, and Business Schools often ask for APA style. Find the style for your discipline by browsing the following research guide from Sheridan College:

Cite it Right - Opens in a new window

Citation Style Guides

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

Start Building Citations

If you know which style you need to use for your assignment, then head over to our page on how to Build Citations.