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Citation Help: Getting Started

How do I begin?

First things first. What citation style is your professor asking for? 

The most common styles are MLA, Chicago Style, and APA. Each one has an in-depth style guide that you may want to take a look at.



MLA is commonly used in the humanities, such as English. Chicago Style is a popular choice for history and law. APA is used mostly in the social sciences. These are often thought of as the main three styles, but there are many different styles used in scholarly publishing such as Vancouver for medicine, AMA for engineering, Blue Book for law, and many others.

Remember, there are always exceptions to the rule and a different citation style may be needed so, it never hurts to double check and ask your instructor! 

See more for each style:

Quick Tips - Steps for Citing your Sources

Citing your sources correctly is the right thing to do because...

  • you give credit to people who did research before you
  • your readers may want to follow-up and track down some of your original sources
  • it helps you avoid plagiarism, a form of academic dishonesty, which is “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work” (

Step One: Take good notes as you do your research

If you cut 'n' paste text, be sure to: 

  • Put quotation marks around any words that you pull directly from another source
  • Transfer the information about where the text came from as you go, for example, cut 'n' paste the URL of the website, and list the author, title, journal, etc. right below the text that you copied
  • Keep all the research you collect in one place
  • Write citations as you go

Step Two: Select the citation style you are going to use

  • Use the citation style recommended or required by your professor (commonly APA, MLA, or Chicago)
  • If the citation style is left up to you, use the one that is recommended for your discipline
  • Stay consistent, using only one citation style throughout your project

Step Three: Decide when you need to cite

  • Have you quoted something directly?
  • Have you paraphrased another person's idea?
  • Every time you cite something within the text of your paper, there should be a corresponding citation

Step Four: Carefully follow the rules of the citation / style guide

  • Rules apply to indentation, alphabetization, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviations, element order, using full names or initials, etc.
  • Example citations are listed in each of the style guide to be used as models
  • If you are citing something unusual, provide enough information to track down the original source, following the same general rules of punctuation, capitalization, etc. 

Step Five: Be consistent and proofread

  • Watch for the little things - those little things are what make a citation style distinctive
  • Have a detail-oriented friend proofread with you to help catch things you may miss
  • If you have used "machine-generated" citations, you need to "human-proofread" those citations to make sure they are following the current rules, and so they are consistent with the rest of your citations. read that right...

Proofreading citations can make you want to pull your hair out. But have no fear! All you need to make sure you catch every accidental typo or anything left out is a Rubber Duck (or any small inanimate object you can talk to). I know it sounds strange, but it really does work!

The practice comes from the world of computer coding. When computer programmers or web designers are checking through the code they are writing, it's common for them to use a "rubber duck."

All you do is read through what you're checking out-loud to your rubbery ducky friend and all of a sudden, anything that you might have missed in your first go-around proofreading jumps out at you!

Ask a Librarian

Librarians are available to help you with your questions. Please don't hesitate to contact us with any questions you might have regarding citation styles, citation management, etc.

Ask a question below or contact your subject specialist librarian for more help!