Sometimes the citation style you use is your choice, but most often, your instructor will give you a style he or she would like you to use. The two most common are MLA and APA.
MLA, or Modern Language Association, is used most often in the humanities: English, history, the languages, etc. It is focused on the names of authors; this authorial expertise is highly valued in the humanities.
APA, or the American Psychological Association, is used most often in the sciences: biology, chemistry, sociology, and, as the name suggests, psychology, among others. It is most focused on dates; this is why you see the copyright date noted after the last name when it’s used in a signal phrase in the text.
Citations in both styles have two parts: source information in the actual essay(called an in-text citation) and source information on a separate page that becomes an alphabetical list of all your sources.
Let’s say we’re looking at a (fictional) website. When creating an in-text citation, you can use a signal phrase or a parenthetical citation (as noted in the previous section). In MLA citation, a signal phrase will mention, at the very least, the author(s) OR, if there’s no author, the title of the work. For example:
According to Fred Rogers…
As noted in the article, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,”…
A parenthetical citation is placed after the source material (remember, you cite even if you put the source information in your own words!), and it looks like this:
Or, if there is no author, then
(“It’s a Beautiful Day”).
Note that the period goes outside the parentheses and you should use a shortened version of the title.
Creating a works cited
Now, you’ve got half the job done. It’s no good having an in-text citation if it doesn’t refer to a source, so on a separate sheet of paper titled “Work Cited,” you’ll list what’s called the full citation for each source. It might look something like this:
Rogers, Fred. “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Fred Rogers Superfans,
Let’s continue with the same fictional website. When creating an in-text citation for APA, a signal phrase will mention the author (but only the first initial of the first name as APA maintains gender neutrality) AND the copyright date:
According to F. Rogers (2015)…
As noted in the article, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (2015)…
An APA parenthetical citation would look something like this:
(F. Rogers, 2015).
(“It’s a Beautiful Day,” 2015).
As with MLA citation, you’ll also need a separate list of sources for APA citation. It should be titled “References,” and just like in MLA citation, your sources should be alphabetized. A citation might look something like this:
Rogers, F. (2015). “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” Retrieved from www.fredrogerssuperfans.com
What can be most frustrating about citation is that there are as many ways to cite sources as there are sources. First, know that the basic citation formatting is similar, so when you get the basics down, it makes it easier. Second, there are lots of sources out there to help you make your citations.
Here are some of the best:
Online citation tools
EasyBib Citation Guides: http://www.easybib.com/guides/citation-guides/
Citing Your Sources: MLA (Williams Libraries): https://libguides.williams.edu/ citing/mla
Citing Your Sources: APA (Williams Libraries): https://libguides.williams.edu/ citing/apa
MLA Citation Style Guide: 8th Edition (LIU Post): http://liu.cwp.libguides.com/ mlastyle
APA Citation Style Guide (LIU Post): http://liu.cwp.libguides.com/APAstyle
USER BEWARE: Go ahead and use a citation-generating tool, but the responsibility is yours to make sure the citation is correct. For that reason alone, it’s worth having an understanding of how citations should look.
Example: Parts of a website used in citation