As I’ve discussed throughout The Process of Research Writing Writing, citation is one of the key elements that distinguishes academic research writing from other kinds of writing. Academic readers are keenly interested in knowing where the writer found her evidence, in many cases so the reader can retrieve that evidence and read it themselves if they want.
Second, academic writers are also very interested in giving credit to other writers’ ideas. As I discussed in chapter three, “Quoting and Paraphrasing Your Research,” to not give proper credit to another writer’s words or ideas is plagiarism. To not use citation in academic writing is simply against the rules.
So, in the most general sense, the goal of citation in academic writing is pretty straight-forward: properly citing your research in your writing explains to your readers where you found the evidence to support your points.
Finding Out More About MLA and APA Citation
There are several different sets of “rules” that academics use for citing research. The two most commonly used in writing classes and used by academics working in the humanities (things like English, history, philosophy, Women’s studies, and education) and the “soft sciences” (psychology, sociology, political science, and so forth) are the guidelines of the Modern Language Association and those of the American Psychological Association.
While academic journals that focus on scholarship having to do with literature and language tend to follow the MLA guidelines, there are other English studies journals that use the style rules of the APA.
This chapter includes an abbreviated version of the basic rules of both MLA and APA style you will need to cite most types of materials you include in your research project. But for materials and details about citation that you don’t find included here, you may want to consult the official style guides, their Web sites, or other documentation sources.
The definitive guide for the rules of MLA is:
Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Sixth Edition. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2003.
For APA style, the definitive guide is:
American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Fifth Edition. Washington: APA, 2001.
Both the MLA and APA style guides are very complete. However, as you work on citing your research and review the guidelines I offer here, keep in mind two things:
- No style guide accounts for everything. While there are rules of citation for almostall of the different types of evidence you might use in your research projects, you might come across some type of evidence that doesn’t seem to be covered. Talk with your teacher when this happens, but you may need to approximate what you think is the proper citation style.
- Style guides are evolving, changing, and open to interpretation. While it may seem that the rules for citation in MLA, APA, and other style guides have always and forever been the same and are completely beyond any interpretation, this is not the case. The most obvious recent example as to how style guides change is the internet. Up until a few years ago, there were no good rules with any of the common style guides as to how to cite information from a web site because there were no web sites.