By Dawson Drake
Citing sources is a crucial part of academic writing and serves the purpose of giving legitimacy to your argument. Different formatting styles grant us as writers a variety of ways to express our sources of information. The three common styles–MLA, APA, and Chicago–each have a different method of citing, and these methods allow different strategies for presenting your sources when writing.
MLA is often the most familiar citation style to students, especially those who aren’t in writing intensive majors, because it is used in the English, humanities, and core writing classes. A general MLA in-text citation is incredibly simple. After a piece of information is presented, you put the source author’s name and page number in parentheses. For example, if quoting a book, your in-text citation would appear as follows:
Michael Jackson was a very popular musician whose “unstoppable cunning as a songwriter made him the uncontestable king of pop” (Smith 69).
Or, you can name the author of the source within the sentence itself and then include the page number at the end of the sentence in parentheses:
According to Smith, “Micheal Jackson’s unstoppable cunning as a songwriter made him the uncontestable king of pop” (69).
By providing the author and page number, MLA style allows the writer to analyze literature very thoroughly. We know who wrote the information and where that information appears in the source.
APA style is frequently used in the social sciences as well as general research-driven writing. APA provides the name of the author of a piece of literature as well as the year it was published. This is so the relevance of the source can be established by how new it is. APA also allows flexibility in that the citation may be presented in a few different ways, as long as the year and author are provided in the text. For example, if paraphrasing, you could provide the author and year in a few ways:
Steinberg (1997) states that Supertramp’s effect on musical culture survived from the 1970’s until the early 1990’s.
Supertramp’s effect on musical culture survived from the 1970’s until the early 1990’s (Steinberg, 1997).
If giving a quote, the rules still apply the same way (note that a page number is provided for quotes):
Music is constantly evolving, and “Supertramp influenced the way musicians write from the peak of his career until very recently” (Steinberg, 1997, p. 420).
APA’s flexibility makes it inviting to writers, especially in the sphere of researched-based writing where the manuscript must be professional and under the orthodoxy of a field.
The Chicago Manual of Style is a bit more obscure to most collegiate writers, but it is in many ways superior to APA and MLA, depending on the purpose of the writing. It is seen often in the fields of history or in longer researched-based texts, such as books. The basis of Chicago style is footnotes. Citations and asides are given in footnotes rather than in the text like the aforementioned citation styles. So, if you are citing a piece of information, a sentence would read as:
The Tempations’ impact on the world of Rhythm and Blues, and all music for that matter, was only reinforced further when they were the first Motown group to receive a Grammy for “Cloud Nine” in 1969.¹
With a footnote citation at the bottom of the page:
¹ Gonzales, Stefano Alexi, Jr., and Felix Der HausKatze. Motown Classics – A Book That Doesn’t Exist! 23rd ed. Vol. 1. Nowhereton: Fake Books Publishing House, 2001.
The Chicago footnote method is incredibly beneficial for the narrative of an argument. An author can generate very powerful continuity to the writing, both practically and aesthetically, by using footnotes to place an extensive citation out of the prose. The reader can check the footnote for the source if interested, but he or she is otherwise able to focus on the argument of the text itself. Footnotes may also be used to contextualize an argument further, which is helpful for technical or in depth ideas that an expert may already understand but a less informed reader may need clarification on.
There are many other citation styles beyond these three that have different weaknesses and strengths for different writing scenarios. For further information on these citation styles, you can visit resources such as the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) or the Harvard Writing Center websites. You can also come visit us at the University Writing Center on the 3rd floor of the Pennington Student Achievement Center! We offer one-on-one consultations for citations as well as a variety of style guides and resources.