As promised, today we are going to break down the basics of citations in preparation for that research paper you have hopefully (cough, cough) been diligently working on since last we spoke. Last time we discussed the different types of sources you might encounter in your research project. These include primary sources and secondary sources. If you need a refresher, look over Sorting your Sources before proceeding.
Today we’ll unpack methods on how exactly to “cite” those sources that you use in the body of your paper. Today, meet MLA and Chicago.
What is a citation?
A citation is the fancy term you give to a textual reference to a source that you have used in writing your paper. “Textual reference” can mean many different things, because there are several different methods of citation. But basically a “textual reference” is an actual, formatted acknowledgment within your paper that you have used another author’s ideas.
MLA Citation (Book)
If you are using MLA format, often you will be citing within the text, as in the following example:
Dr. Smith provides some convincing evidence for the presence of electromagnetism in orangatan’s fur, which he considers to be indicative of “a burgeoning source of alternate energy currently underrepresented on the world stage of oilmongers” (Smith 117).
Notice how these citations are formatted. Always make sure to place the parentheses before the end punctuation, and include in these parentheses the author’s last name (Smith 117) or shortened title if there is no author (Alternate Sources 117) , followed by the page number.
This holds true for all types of sources for MLA, with the exception of web pages with no author and no page number. These would just include the title of the web page in quotations, like following: (“Roddenberry Legacy”)
Because in-source citation is made very easy with MLA, it is often the preferred format for high schools.
If you are using Chicago format, you will be using footnotes or endnotes to reference your source, which include author, title, and facts of publication:
1Vance Smith. On Alternate Sources of Energy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Chicago is a little more complex. Make sure your footnote goes outside of all punctuation in the text. In the footnote itself, the first time you cite a source write out the author’s name in standard order (“Vance Smith”). Titles of larger works are italicized; titles of smaller works (chapters, articles) are presented in normal font and enclosed in quotations. The footnote should take the following format as shown above for books only:
Author’s name. Title. Publishing place: publishing company, date.
After it has been cited the first time, the note should become abbreviated to simply the following:
Last name of author, Title, page number.
I.e.: Vance, Alternate Sources, 117.
For journal articles, the first citation of the source should look like this:
Walter Smock, “On the Nature of the Hufflepuff,” Critical Inquiry 4, no. 2 (1967): 452-78.
Smock, “Nature of the Hufflepuff,” 457.
Notice how here the terms are separated by commas, and there are a few extra necessaries with regard to journal information and publishing date.
What is a bibliography?
A bibliography is an alphabetized list of all of the sources you have used throughout your paper, placed at the end of your work in an orderly, indented list for your reader’s edification. These are also called “Works Cited.” MLA and Chicago Bibliographies are quite similar, though we will look at individual formatting later. Here are some examples: MLA Works Cited, Chicago Bibliography.
Which do you use?
I personally prefer Chicago, simply because I feel fancy using footnotes. But in all seriousness, MLA is most appropriate for literature, arts, and humanities subjects; Chicago for all those “real world” subjects, used by books, magazines, newspapers, and other non-scholarly publications. Sometimes it does not really matter; often whatever you feel comfortable with goes! Just make sure to check with your teacher or professor about which is all right to use before you start adding footnotes everywhere.
Are these the only two formats?
No! There are also APA, AMA, and Turabian. But MLA and Chicago are by far the most used. And besides, they are all I had room for in this blog post!
Check out your school’s library for a Chicago or MLA Manual of Style . If not, check out these online versions, which give you one-month free trials!
Also, Son of Citation Machine is excellent for plugging-and-chugging references. But make sure you can put sources into their proper format before relying on the machine to do it for you!
Check out the next posts in this 8 part series on writing academically:
- Writing Academically Part 6 – Writing Vocabulary
- Writing Academically Part 7 – Introductions
- Writing Academically Part 8 – Wrapping things up
Check out the previous posts:
- Writing Academically Part 1 – What’s the Point?
- Writing Academically Part 2 – Lexicon
- Writing Academically Part 3 – Structure
- Writing Academically Part 4 – Sources
About the author: Kathleen McGunagle is a senior in Princeton University’s English department and Interdisciplinary Humanities Certificate Program. Concentrating in British Renaissance Literature, she will be writing a thesis this spring on Shakespeare and epistolary culture. Kathleen is an Academic Peer Adviser at Princeton, tutor through Princeton Tutoring, and avid performer. She has recently returned from a year of study at Worcester College, Oxford.