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Education Guide (General)

General Education, K-12, Children's Literature

What is a citation?

citation is a reference to a published or unpublished source. It is an abbreviated alphanumeric expression embedded in the body of an intellectual work that denotes an entry in the bibliographic references section of the work for the purpose of acknowledging the works of others. Generally the combination of both the in-body citation and the bibliographic entry constitutes what is commonly thought of as a citation (whereas bibliographic entries by themselves are not). 

Citations have several important purposes: to uphold intellectual honesty or avoiding plagiarism, to attribute prior or unoriginal work and ideas to the correct sources, to allow the reader to determine independently whether the referenced material supports the author's argument in the claimed way, and to help the reader gauge the strength and validity of the material the author has used. 

Citations generally subscribe to one of the generally accepted citations systems, such as American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA), Chicago and the American Medical Association (AMA) because their syntactic conventions are widely known and easily interpreted by readers. Each of these citation systems has its advantages and disadvantages.

With any of the styles listed in this LibGuide, you need to use a citation if you quote text from another source, paraphrase an author or authors' ideas, or refer to her work, such as a study, original thinking, or even an elegant turn of phrase. When you cite a source, you cannot simply repeat most of the words from the work to which you are referring. You have to put the ideas into your own words, or you need to quote the text directly.

APA Citations

American Psychological Association (APA) style is often used in social sciences and other disciplines.  For more information, please consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (7th ed).

MLA Citations

MLA style is most commonly used to cite sources within the language arts, cultural studies, and other humanities. For more information, please consult the official MLA Handbook

Chicago Citations

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOSis the oldest of the three major writing and citation styles in the United States, having begun with the 1906 publication of the first Chicago style guide.This style covers a variety of topics from manuscript preparation and publication to grammar, usage, and documentation and has been lovingly called the “editor's bible.” The material in this resource focuses primarily on one of the two CMOS documentation styles: the Notes-Bibliography System (NB), which is used by those in literature, history, and the arts. The other documentation style, the Author-Date System, is nearly identical in content but slightly different in form and is preferred in the social sciences.

In addition to consulting The Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed) for more information, students may also find it useful to consult Kate L. Turabian's Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (8th ed.). This manual, which presents what is commonly known as the "Turabian" citation style, follows the two CMOS patterns of documentation but offers slight modifications suited to student texts.


Nordquist, R. (2018). What Is a Citation? Definition, Styles, and Examples. Retrieved from

PURDUE Online Writing Lab (OWL). Retrieved from

Citation Help

Citation Help