Citation and Citation Styles

quotation marks in a conversation bubble
Sources that influenced your thinking and research must be cited in academic writing.

Citing sources is an academic convention for keeping track of which sources influenced your own thinking and research. See Ethical Use and Citing Sources for many good reasons why you should cite others’ work.

Most citations require two parts:

  • The full bibliographic citation on the Bibliography, References or Works Cited page of your final product.
  • An indication within your text that tells your reader where you have used something that needs a citation. In-text citations usually include the author and publication date and maybe the page number from which you are quoting.

With your in-text citation, your reader will be able to tell which full bibliographic citation you are referring to by paying attention to the author’s name and publication date.

Let’s look at an example.

Example: Citations in Academic Writing

Here’s a citation in APA style in the text of an academic paper:

Studies have shown that compared to passive learning, which occurs when students observe a lecture, students will learn more and will retain that learning longer if more active methods of teaching and learning are used (Bonwell & Eison 1991; Fink 2003).

The information in parentheses coordinates with a list of full citations at the end of the paper. At the end of the paper, these bibliographic entries appear in a reference list:

Bonwell, C.C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom (Report No. 1). ASHE-ERIC Higher Education. 

Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences. Wiley.

Citation Styles

Style guides set the specific rules for how to create both in-text citations and their full bibliographic citations. There are over a dozen kinds of citation styles. While each style requires much of the same publication information to be included in a citation, the styles differ from each other in formatting details such as capitalization, punctuation, the order of publication information, and whether the author’s name is given in full or abbreviated.

Example: Differences in Citation Styles

Below are bibliographic citations for the same article in four common styles. Notice they contain information about who the author is, article title, journal title, publication year, and information about volume, issue, and pages. Notice the small difference in punctuation, order of the elements, and formatting that do make a difference.


Rosenhan, D. L. (1973). On being sane in insane places. Science, 179(4070), 250-258.


Rosenhan, D. L. 1973. “On Being Sane in Insane Places.” Science 179, no. 4070: 250-258.


Rosenhan, D. L. “On Being Sane in Insane Places.” Science, vol. 179, no. 4070: 250-258, 1973,


Rosenhan, DL. On being sane in insane places. Science.1973, 179(4070):250-258.  doi:10.1126/science.179.4070.250.

Compare citation elements including punctuation and spacing to see how each style handles each element.

Citing Data (See also – Ethical use of Sources)

Unlike many other types of resources, data is not copyrightable, but the expression of data is. So as with any other information source, you should cite any data you use from a source, whether it appeared in an article or you downloaded the data from a repository on the Web.

Some data providers will have recommended citations on their web pages. Unfortunately, data citation standards do not exist in many disciplines, although the DataCite initiative is working on them. Current workarounds include:

  • Citing a “data paper,” where available.
  • Citing a journal article that describes the dataset.
  • Citing a book that includes the data.
  • Citing the dataset as a website, where possible.

Examples: Citing Data

Data from a research database:

  • APA: Department of Agriculture (USDA). (2008). “Crops Harvested”, Crop Production [data file]. Data Planet, (09/15/2009).
  • MLA: “Crops Harvested”, Department of Agriculture (USDA) [data file] (2008). Data Planet, (09/15/2009).

Data from a file found on the open Web:

  • APA: Center for Health Statistics, Washington State Department of Health. (2012, November). Mortality Table D1. Age-Adjusted Rates for Leading Causes of Cancer for Residents, 2002-2011. [Microsoft Excel file]. Washington State Department of Health. Available from
  • MLA: Center for Health Statistics, Washington State Department of Health. Mortality Table D1. Age-Adjusted Rates for Leading Causes of Cancer for Residents, 2002-2011. Washington State Department of Health, Nov. 2012. Microsoft Excel file. Retrieved from


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Critical Thinking in Academic Research Copyright © 2022 by Cindy Gruwell and Robin Ewing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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