Citation styles are rules on how to cite sources in academic writing.  These citation guidelines and referencing styles may vary across academic disciplines

Beyond in-text citation and reference list formatting, Citation styles also encompass the structure of papers and cover sheets.

In this article, we will explore the characteristics of each citation style along with examples and resources. 

What is a Citation?

A citation is when you reference the source of the information used in your study. Anytime you quote someone else’s publication or paraphrase significant elements of another person’s research, what should follow is an in-text citation. 

Before we proceed, let us briefly discuss in-text citation, paraphrasing, and similar terms.

An in-text citation is a short notation that is input within your paper’s text or your presentation. The notation refers your readers to the citation at the end of the paper, or to the fuller notation which details all information about the researcher’s source of information.

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Now, when placing direct quotations in a paper or publication, it should be done with quotation marks at the sides. Also, direct quotations are used when the best way to convey the idea you want to input in your work is best expressed in the exact way the source conjoined it. 

Summarizing and paraphrasing entails using your own words to express the significant idea behind the work of someone else. This is often done by either condensing the words or wording them to fit into the researcher’s writing style.

Note that there is no need for you to cite your own ideas except they have been previously published. Also, you don’t have to cite things considered as common knowledge or general information already known by your readers without looking it up on the internet.

Importance of Citation in the Research Process

1. Citation is a fact-checking tool.

In writing, accuracy is extremely important, especially when the paper or publication involves science. Providing a reference that can be looked up for verification serves as an accuracy check to the work of the researcher.

For example, the authenticity of a direct quote or a summarized paraphrase can be confirmed by fact-checking the citation to a study similar to yours.  

2. Citation makes you a better researcher

One hallmark of excellent research is how it pays attention to details and how it makes connections to the information and discerns patterns. This is where excellent citation practices come in because they can help with both attention to detail and pattern discernment. Proper assertion of the sources used in research requires many details. 

Some of the details are the facts being presented in your paper, the correct spelling of the author’s name, and the correct page number. A researcher can improve their reputation in the research community and within their colleagues and readers by referencing the sources of information used in their research.

Paying attention to detail also helps the researcher to form good habits regarding the entire study. Writing Bibliography, on the other hand, prepares the researcher to discern patterns and trends which are important in scientific analysis.  

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3. Citation makes you a better writer

We all aspire to be elegant writer who creates interesting papers. Excellent citation habits help in building the required firm foundation that leads to achieving that goal. When you accurately cite your sources, it shows you’re not slothful, shallow in thought, and sloppy.

It also shows that you do not rely on the “everyone knows this sentence” or “somebody said” phrases. You are willing to include accurate sources of the ideas in your paper.

Proper citing of sources erases any doubt in the mind of your readers as regards your key points in the paper. Another way citing makes you a better writer is by helping you avoid passive language in your writing. The more you properly cite your sources, the more your paper is free from phrases such as “it is said that” in your research paper. 

4. Good citation practices build credibility

This is a simple one that comes with good practice. As great as being a scholar is, it is even greater to see what being an author of a well-cited article or publication can do for you. Bibliography especially gives a deeper insight into the work of a researcher and this helps to build credibility for the researcher in the research community. You build more credibility among your colleagues when your paper is properly documented.  

5. Citation makes your work more verifiable

All academic writings are vetted over and over again before they are finally approved for printing or publication to a website. You also make the works of the reviewers, editors, or editorial assistants who should track the sources in the bibliography easier when you properly cite your sources.

Therefore, less criticism is given to your work even when it passes through all these verification stages, and editing. You get more positive feedback when you properly and accurately cite all your sources in your paper. 

Read: How to Write a Problem Statement for your Research

What is a Citation Style?

A citation style means a set of rules on how a researcher should cite the sources sampled in a paper. Whenever you make a reference to an idea from another person’s work, you should use a citation. This will also help you to avoid plagiarism.

The guidelines of different citation styles are usually published in an official handbook detailing the explanations of the citation styles, the examples, and the instructions.

All necessary information about citation is included, and the citation styles are orderly placed with punctuation and other formatting.

After you have concluded on what you will cite in your paper, and whether to use paraphrase or direct quotation, then select a citation style. Citation styles will give you the specific format of bibliographies and in-text citations that are in your study paper. Basically, the field you’re writing on will dictate your choice of citation style and it could also be decided by your professor.

Citation Styles in Research

1. MLA system and examples: This is mostly used in Humanities to write language and literature.

2. APA system and examples: This style came about by the American Psychological Association. It was first used in psychology and the social sciences. APA’s citation style makes use of an author-date system of the parenthetical citation.

3. Chicago/Turabian Citation Style and examples: This citation style can have both a Notes page and a Bibliography page. Also, there are two types of Chicago style. There is Chicago A and Chicago B style.

4. IEEE Style and examples: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is a citation style that is used in technical studies. IEEE has specifications on the types of sources. If the source style you’re using is not covered in IEEE, then use Chicago style because IEEE makes use of a numeric system.

5. Harvard system and examples: it is mostly used in the economics field. It has no official style guide, but just a few variations. 

6. MHRA system and examples: This style is a set of guidelines for referencing, commonly used in humanities subjects. In MHRA, sources are cited in footnotes, marked by superscript numbers in the text.

Read: Research Report: Definition, Types + [Writing Guide]

How to Choose a Citation Style

To pick a reference style in your research, you have to be guided by your citation style. The citation style you use will determine how you gather information and the manner in which the information is ordered. The citation style will also determine the format and the punctuation you will adopt for the footnotes and endnotes, the in-text citations, and the bibliography or list to be cited.

It is, however, easier to get the citation done when you select the citation style you want to apply in your paper before starting your research. This provides insight on the information you need to collect about the sources whose work you will adapt in your paper.

We have curated some steps that can help you in your citation style decision-making in this paragraph. Let us take a look.

1. The first thing you can do to save time is to ask your professor what the preferred style is or what the required style for your course is. That way, you are sure that the style you want to use is not out of line.

2. You can also pick your citation style on a standard basis. That means you should select your citation style depending on how they relate to your area of study. 

For instance, 

  • Use the APA format if your study is under Social Sciences.
  • Use the MLA if your study is under Rhetorics, Humanities, Foreign Language, and English.
  • You can use Turabian in almost all academic research. It supports these two styles.

a. The notes and bibliography style are used primarily in humanities.

b. The Author-date style is used primarily in sciences and Social Sciences.

  • You can use the Chicago format if your study but it supports these two styles:

a. The notes and bibliography style are used primarily in humanities.

b. The Author-date style is used primarily in sciences and Social Sciences.

When you have selected one of the above-listed styles for your paper, try to stick to it throughout. You can also make sure of a citation management tool on the internet to gather, organize and cite your sources.


Plagiarism is hugely frowned upon in the research community and in society at large. Hence, there are citing and referencing guidelines for researchers to follow. 

There is no offense in drawing ideas from someone else’s work, however, it is wrong to take credit for someone else’s work

Therefore, we have extensively discussed different types of citation styles and how to apply them in this article. It is important that you note them as a researcher and use them appropriately in your research. 

  • busayo.longe
  • on 8 min read


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