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October 3, 2019
3 mins read

Setting your sights on citations

“Citations” might stand alongside “dentist” and “Brussels sprouts” in the dictionary of dread-inducing words.

Yes, the conversation around citations seems to be that of fear and loathing. As in, citations are only something you do to avoid plagiarism. As in, citations are finicky, overly-complex, and time-consuming.

Sure, that last one might be true, but there’s so much more to the world of citations than that. Beyond just a means to give credit to the work of others, your references list acts as a springboard for your readers to research and discover more about your topic. Citations are like a conversation between a community of writers, researchers, and readers!

Proper citing practices also make your own writing process easier, because you’ll be able to quickly go back and reference the information you intend to use in your paper.

Despite all these positives, there is a bit of a learning curve to citations. So, let’s walk through the 3 main styles, discuss their finer points, and debate their pros and cons. With a more robust understanding of citing practices, it’s easy to see the value they provide!


The APA style is most often commonly found in the social sciences, like Geography, Psychology or Sociology.

  • In-text: Last name, date, and if a direct quote, page number e.g. (Maier, 2016, 220).
  • Reference list: Should be titled “References” and included at the end of the paper. The order should be formatted as follows: last name, first initial (date). Title of the work. Publisher, issue number, page numbers.
    • Example: Maier, G. (2016). Out of Focus: Irony and Photographs in Distant Star by Roberto Bolano. Neophilologus, 100(2), 213-222
  • Pros: The author and date in-text citation makes it easier to distinguish between numerous works by the same author, e.g. (Carson, 1998) and (Carson, 2013).
  • Cons: The repeated use of dates can become clunky.


The MLA citation style is commonly found in the Humanities, like English Literature and Philosophy.

  • In-text: Name and page number e.g. (Berressem 435)
  • Reference List: Should be titled “Works Cited” and included at the end of the paper. The format should be ordered as follows: Last name, first name. Title. Publisher, issue number, page.  
    • Example: Berressem, Hanjo. "Economies of Greed in 'Late Pynchon': America and the Logic of Capital." Textual Practice, vol. 33, no. 3, 2019, pp. 433-449.
  • Pros: Considered to be a more flexible style that takes into account new forms of media, like Tweets and Youtube videos.
  • Cons: Requires the use of pages for all citations, which can be difficult to keep track of.


The Chicago style is also used in the humanities, most often History and Anthropology, as well as being common in Computer Science.

The Chicago style has two variants: Author-Date, and Notes-Bibliography. We will stick with Notes-Bibliography because it’s the more distinct of the two.

  • In-text: Either footnotes or endnotes, with the author’s full name, the title of the work, followed by the publication location, the publisher, and date in brackets, and finally, the page number.
    • Example: Joan Didion, The White Album (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979), 18.
  • After a work has been cited once, it can be included in abbreviation with just the author’s last name, the title of the work, and the page.
    • Example: Didion, The White Album, 21.
  • References List: Should be titled “Bibliography” and included at the end of the work with all works in alphabetical order. The entries should be organized in this order: last name, first name, title. Location of publication: publisher, date.
    • Example: Didion, Joan. The White Album. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979.  
  • Pros: The lack of citations embedded within the text itself can make for a smoother and more straightforward reading experience.
  • Cons: A long footnotes section can break up the page and your text, and the formatting can be tricky.

Citation elation

Citations might seem daunting at first, but once you learn the ropes you’ll realize there’s nothing to fear!

Not only are citations an integral aspect of maintaining academic integrity, but they’re also an essential element of scholarly discourse, where you can share and connect with a whole world of knowledge!

If you still have citation questions left to be answered, the Library has some great resources to help. From time to time citation workshops are also held on campus.

So set your cites high and show off the fascinating research you’ve done with proper citation practices!