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A detailed guide to citing sources in MLA and APA
Whether you are writing a blog post, a research paper, or creating a new webpage, if you want to avoid plagiarism or worse, then you need to cite your sources.
Fortunately, you have a lot of options.
From MLA to the APA format, there are multiple styles to choose from and plenty of resources out there to help you get your citations just right.
There’s a lot of information out there, so we’ve compiled this guide to help you understand how citing your sources works, the different styles with examples, and a breakdown of the tools you can use to generate citations and bibliographies, including:
What does citing sources mean?
When you cite sources in your work, you’re essentially telling the reader that the cited words or ideas came from someone else.
Without correctly citing your sources, you run the risk of falsely misrepresenting the work as yours, otherwise known as plagiarism.
Plagiarism is unethical and can cause many problems for the person stealing another’s work. In some cases, it can also be an illegal practice.
For instance, if you were to omit a citation for a source that’s protected by intellectual copyright, then you could face legal consequences.
Fortunately, you can easily avoid plagiarism by giving your sources the credit that they’re due. But avoiding plagiarism isn’t the only reason to cite your sources. Including citations demonstrates to your audience that your work is credible because you’ve done your research. It can also direct your readers to sources that could be beneficial to them. Additionally, if the reader questions the validity of the cited material, they can check the information themselves.
There are quite a few different types of material that you can cite. Most people make the mistake of thinking only books should be cited, but that’s just one of many. Here are several of the most common types of materials that can be cited:
- Print books, newspapers, trade publications, and journal articles.
- Digital or electronic articles, blog posts, articles from databases, websites, social media posts, source code, emails, whitepapers, and ebooks.
- Interview, conversations, lectures, and academic presentations.
- Charts, tables, architectural plans, images, tables, artwork, or illustrations.
- Podcasts, speeches, vlogs, and television.
- Census data, government data, survey data, statistics, and geospatial data.
Following your chosen citation style guidelines, whenever you cite a source, you’ll be expected to share information about the source, such as the original author name, date of publication, name of the publication, book title, edition number, issue numbers, etc.
Often, you’ll have an abbreviated citation within the text followed by a full list of source information at the end that can be referenced by the reader.
Depending on the source, the available information that you could include and the way you set up your citations will vary. This is why it’s so important that you follow the citation format you use.
In the next section, we’ll cover some of the different citation methods that can be used to credit your sources, including three of the most common styles: MLA, APA, and Chicago style.
3 ways to cite a source
You’ll need to use different citation methods based on the type of writing you’re working on. There are many different styles to choose from, but in academics, the field you’re studying or working in will often dictate the citation style you’ll need to follow.
The way you cite your source, meaning the type of citation style you use, will determine what information is important to include as well as punctuation, the order of details, and other formatting nuances.
Here are three of the most common citation styles used to cite sources:
1. American Psychological Association (APA) Citation Style
The APA style is often used by students, researchers, and academics in the social sciences fields. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s exclusive to this field. APA is one of the most popular citation styles and is open for any writer to use. The most recent edition of the APA Manual was published in 2019 as the 7th edition. This is the edition that this summary will follow.
First, we’ll cover the basics of APA style, starting with how in-text citations are handled. In-text citations for APA are short sentences within the text that are fleshed out in the paper’s reference entry at the end. Whenever you paraphrase or quote someone’s words or ideas, you’ll need to include an in-text citation. You may need to use the same in-text citation multiple times throughout the piece.
For instance, if you want to include a verbatim quote on the first page of your paper and a paraphrased passage on the second page of your work from the same original source.
This in-text citation will include the following information, if available: last name of the author, year of publication, and a timestamp or page number.
In-text citations for APA come in two different forms, narrative and parenthetical.
A parenthetical citation would appear like this (Doe, 2008), while the same source with narrative citation would look like this instead, Doe (2008). Things can get a bit trickier when multiple authors are involved. Remember to watch your punctuation and utilize the ampersand (&) when citing multiple authors.
When including references for your APA style citations, you’ll need to include specific details such as publication date, source title, and author names.
On the reference page, be sure to only include information about sources that are cited within the copy. This means that you should be paying attention if you’ve removed any sources, so you don’t have a source in the reference section without a representation in the text.
Reference pages for APA must follow these specific guidelines:
- Label your reference section as “References” in bold and centered on the first line of the page.
- Include double spacing within and between sources.
- Use a ½ inch hanging indent.
- Add a page number to the top right corner of the page.
- Utilize legible fonts such as Arial 11.
- Order sources alphabetically by the last name.
Please note that with APA citation style you cannot refer to sources that are inaccessible to the audience. For example, gated online materials, private email chains, or text conversations.
2. Modern Language Association (MLA) Citation Style
Like the APA citation style above, MLA is often used by students, researchers, and professors in the humanities field. Again, these are not required fields for you to use MLA style citations. MLA is just as common as APA, and you’ll often see the two compared to each other. For this section, we’ll focus on the most recent handbook, the 8th edition published in 2016.
For MLA, you’ll use both in-text citations and a list of Works Cited, similar to the reference page for APA. The Works Cited list gives complete details for each source referred to in the paper. In addition to citation and reference guidelines, you’ll want to make sure your entire paper complies with MLA formatting. This includes.
- Use of 1” margins
- MLA heading at the top of the first page
- Double spacing throughout
- Indented paragraphs
The Works Cited page of a paper written in MLA style can also be called a bibliography or reference list. It gives a complete list of detailed sources and includes the following nine elements:
- 1. Author
- 2. Title
- 3. Container
- 4. Additional contributors
- 5. Version
- 6. Number
- 7. Publisher
- 8. Publication date
- 9. Location
In-text citations in MLA style work similarly to the in-text citations in APA. They refer to a cited work, and the full source details are listed within the bibliography.
Often, in-text citations include the author’s last name and a page number in parentheses.
3. Chicago Manual of Style
Chicago style is commonly used in academic settings but varies a bit from the standard MLA or APA practices.
For instance, Chicago gives the user two options for the style of citation, either notes and bibliography or author-date. Notes and bibliography is the most popular option of the two. With this guideline, citations are found within endnotes, and the full resources are listed in a bibliography at the end.
For author-date, parenthetical in-text citations are used with a reference list included. The most current edition of The Chicago Manual of Style is the 17th edition, which we’ll be referring to in this section.
Chicago style bibliographies are placed at the end of the paper ahead of the appendix if applicable. Authors are ordered alphabetically in the bibliography by the last name. If the source is two or more lines, a hanging indent must be applied. For sources with multiple authors, you should list up to ten but use an “et al” after the first seven for sources with over ten authors. Though it isn’t required for Chicago style to include a bibliography in your work, it’s highly recommended. If you nix the formal bibliography, you will still need to include cited sources with full details.
Another thing to keep in mind when citing sources through Chicago guidelines is the use of superscript numbers in notes and bibliography style. Superscripts go at the end of a sentence, after the punctuation mark. Keep in mind that most word processing software can automatically link superscripts with your notes.
For author-date style, the citations will appear in parenthesis within the text instead of superscripts. With author-date style, you’ll use a reference list instead of the bibliography mentioned above. It’s similar in style, but it shows up at the end of the text and gives full details for each source.
Though Chicago style is a commonly used citation method, we are not going to dive deeper into it for this article. For this post, we’ll be focusing primarily on MLA and APA. These are two of the most popular citation styles. In the next section, we’ll give examples of how you would cite your sources in each.
Citing sources examples
For this part, we’ll share examples of the same source being cited with MLA and APA to compare the two side by side. Please note that these sources are fictional and meant to be informative only.
Click on each type to view a APA and MLA example :
- Website with an unknown author and no article title
- MLA: Just an Example Site. www.justanexamplesite.com.
- APA: Just an Example Site. www.justanexamplesite.com.
- Website article with multiple authors and a title
- MLA: Doe, John, and Jane Doe. “The Art of Creating Examples.” Just An Example Site, 2020, www.justanexamplesite.com.
- APA: Doe, J., & Doe, J. (2020). The Art of Creating Examples. Just An Example Site. www.justanexamplesite.com.
- Whole book with a single author
- MLA: Sample, Tom. My Life as a Sample. 2nd ed., ABC Generic Publishing, 2021.
- APA: Sample, T. (2021). My Life as a Sample (2nd ed.). ABC Generic Publishing.
- Book chapter with multiple authors
- MLA: Schmoe, Joe, and Jane Smith. “Chapter 8.” The Big Book of Examples, Sample Publishing, 2010, pp. 80–120.
- APA: Schmoe, J., & Smith, J. (2010). Chapter 8. In The Big Book of Examples (pp. 80–120). essay, Sample Publishing.
- Interview with one person
- MLA: Human, Carol. “Interview with Teresa Person.” 1 Jan. 2021.
- APA: Human, C. (2021, January 1). Interview with Teresa Person. personal.
- Lecture with one professor
- MLA: Prof, Jerry. “Sample Lecture.” The Generic Series. University Event, 8 Feb. 2020.
- APA: Prof, J. (2020, February). Sample Lecture. The Generic Series.
- Magazine article with multiple authors
- MLA: Writer, Mary. “How to Write an Article.” Writers R Us Magazine, 1 Nov. 2020, pp. 12–14.
Writer, M. (2020, November 1).
How to Write an Article.
Writers R Us Magazine, 12–14.
- Manuscript with a single author
- MLA: McManuscript, Manny. Chicago, 2021.
- APA: McManuscript, M. (2021). My Test Manuscript. ms, Chicago.
- Press release with an unknown author
- MLA: “Big Company News.” Company XYZ’s Website, 11 Feb. 2021, www.companyxyzwebsite.com. Accessed 12 Feb. 2021.
- APA: Big Company News. (2021, February 11). Company XYZ’s Website. www.companyxyzwebsite.com.
- Newspaper article with a single author
- MLA: Scoop, Chase. “Breaking News Story!” Old-Timey Newspaper, 10 Jan. 2021, pp. 1–1.
Scoop, C. (2021, January 10).
Breaking News Story!
Old-Timey Newspaper, pp. 1–1.
- Blog post with a single author, plus the in-text citation
- MLA: Blogger, Bitty. “My Inner Monologue.” Little Bitty Sample Blog, 31 Oct. 2019, www.littlebittysampleblog.com. Accessed 2 Dec. 2020.
- MLA in-text citation:(Blogger)
- APA: Blogger, B. (2019, October 31). My Inner Monologue [web log]. www.littlebittysampleblog.com.
- APA in-text citation:(Blogger, 2019)
- Book with a single author, plus the in-text citation
- MLA: Booker, Donna. The Adventures of Example. Vol. 1, Test Adventures Publishing, 2015.
- MLA in-text citation:(Booker)
- APA: Booker, D. (2015). The Adventures of Example (Vol. 1). Test Adventures Publishing.
- APA in-text citation:(Booker, 2015)
Test your knowledge with our citation APA/ MLA quiz:
Best citing sources generator
Fortunately, you’re not on your own when it comes to citing your sources. Citation generators can do the heavy lifting for you. Many of them are free to use. Here are nine of the top citation generators available.
Our AI writing assistant makes it easy to cite your sources correctly – be it through the AP Stylebook Chicago Manual, etc. In addition, you can set rules for tone, grammar, spelling, compliance, plagiarism, among many other things.
In addition, you can even give writers in-line feedback suggestions as they write.
Citation Machine easily converts sources into complete citations, including in-text. The service lets you search for existing sources, such as a website, or manually input your data to create citations. The citing source generator lets you toggle between a large list of citation styles, including the two most recent APA and MLA styles. You can sort your list and export your citations to use as a reference or bibliography. It even features a plagiarism and grammar checker for added functionality.
EasyBib is owned by Chegg just like Citation Machine is. This means that the sites are very similar in design and function. The website is nearly identical. It also lets you utilize a large list of citation styles, exports your lists, and manually input data for the citation generator. Similar to Citation Machine, the site isn’t very intuitive and is bogged down by a heavy amount of banner ads.
Cite This For Me
Cite This For Me is yet again another Chegg service. However, this site is considerably cleaner than CitationMachine or EasyBib. It also doesn’t have as much functionality as the other two. You can only choose from 7 styles. There’s no option to manually add details. You can only search for existing content and hope the generator can find it.
bibme is another service through Chegg. This one is also ad-heavy and not the easiest to navigate. There appears to be less content than either CitationMachine or EasyBib. This generator allows you to use an auto-fill or manual entry mode. There’s a wide variety of citation styles to choose from as well.
Scribbr has two citation generators, one for MLA and one for APA. Additional tools include citation checker and citation editing, as well as style guide resources. The site is user-friendly and packed with helpful guides and articles. You can even toggle between light and dark mode. Additional tools offered by the company include a plagiarism checker, proofreading, and editing.
Citation Builder by NC State
Citation Builder is a single page on a university website. It’s simple to use and straightforward. You can select 6 different citation styles. Citation Builder doesn’t search for sources, so you’ll need to input all data manually. It’s also worth noting that the tool does not correct capitalization errors.
Unfortunately, you cannot sign up for an account to save or export your lists.
MyBib is a clean, modern citation generator and used as a Chrome extension. With MyBib, users can manually enter their data or have the software auto search for things like ISBNs or website URLs. You can even drag and drop a scholarly PDF to have it cited. You can download a reference list from the dashboard. The added functionality of being able to share your citations with others makes it easy for teams to collaborate.
Plagly’s citation machine lets you format and generate citations automatically. It includes popular citation styles, but not as many as some of the other citation generators. The best thing about Plagly is that it’s user friendly and easy to navigate. You can organize your work on their site by projects. Additional features like a grammar checker and plagiarism check are also available.
ZoteroBib is a clean, minimalist site that lets you cite anything. It’s a powerful, open-source research tool that includes auto and manual entry options, item editing, autosave, export capabilities, and links to share bibliographies. The tool boasts a crowd-sourced repository of over 9,750 free CSL citation styles. This variety by far surpasses any other citation generator on this list.
Keep in mind that the best way to avoid plagiarism is to cite your sources. With all of the citation generators available as a resource, there’s no excuse to leave citations out of your papers. Experiment with the different citation tools, and you’ll find one that works for you.