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Citations and Style Guides

This guide is meant to help students and the Cooper Union community to better use style guides and understand citation styles.

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What is a Style Guide?

A style guides is a type of rule-book that sets conventions for the "form" of a piece of writing or research. Of course, you choose your own writing-style (formal, friendly, poetic, etc.), but style guides tell you how to format that writing. They may set standards for grammar, punctuation, citation configuration, and even what size font you should use! Style guides are generally common to an academic field, but may also be set by certain publishers, journals, or academic society.

Which Style is Mine?

Style guides are generally common to an academic field. Their rules, though seemingly arbitrary, generally have some sensible (albeit sometimes arcane) explanation. For example, healthcare professionals who don't want to mistake two terms for the same disease, prioritize standardizing the abbreviation for the Coronavirus Disease 2019. In everyday life you may see it written as "covid-19," "Covid-19," or "C.O.V.I.D. 19," but for anything written in the American Medical Association's Manual of Style (also known as AMA) it must be written as "COVID-19." Also, doctors in a hurry may prefer to glance at a simple and clear citation, rather than a scrupulously detailed one. That is also why the AMA recommends skipping periods for all abbreviations.

There are many different styles of citing materials, and most material types (books, articles, movies, etc.) have their own form. However, most styles and citations will share some common and crucial elements.

Style Guides and Citations

Have you ever noticed that citations may be written differently depending on what you're reading? They may be in a footnote or a bibliography. They can be shortened within parentheses, or correspond to a number. All of these choices are made depending on the style guide that that piece of writing follows. Citation formatting and how they correspond to certain mediums, make sense according to disciplines. This is likely due to the nature of evidence that the fields commonly utilize. In a field like linguistics for example, which generally uses Modern Language Association's Style Manual (MLA), it may be common to cite language used as evidence on something like a blog. That source could change day-to-day. This may explain why MLA requires all online materials to include an "Accessed" date. This is different than economics (commonly uses APA) in which online sources will generally be journal articles that are static and unchanging. That is likely why no such access-date requirement exists for citing webpages in APA.

Anatomy of a Citation

Remember, the whole point of citations is to help future scholars find and reproduce the research you did. Different fields' different methodological and evidentiary practices are reflected in their style guide and citation formatting. That said, almost all citations share a lot of the same information:

  1. Author(s)

  2. Title

  3. Date of Publishing

  4. Some information about how to navigate back to the source. (This could be a URL, a DOI, page numbers, publishing information, volume and issue numbers, etc.)

Comparable Citations

Here are a few examples that you can compare to each other:

Citing a Book:

Last Name, First Initial. (Year) Title. City: Publisher.
Posner, R. (2004) Catastrophe: Risk and response. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Last Name, First Name. Title. City: Publisher, Year.
Posner, Richard. Catastrophe: Risk and Response. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004.

In Chicago
Last Name, First Name. Title. City: Publisher, Year.
Posner, Richard. Catastrophe: Risk and Response. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Citing a peer reviewed article (accessed online):

Last Name, First Initial. Middle Initial. (Year). Article Title. Journal TitleVolume(Issue), Pages. DOI.
Heider, K. L. (2009). Information literacy: The missing link in early childhood education. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(6), 513–518.

Last Name, First Name, Middle Initial. "Article Title." Journal Title. Volume, Issue, Month Year, pages. Database, DOI. Accessed Date.
Heider, Kelly L. “Information Literacy: The Missing Link in Early Childhood Education.” Early Childhood Education Journal, vol. 36, no. 6, June 2009, pp. 513–18. Education Resources Information Center, Accessed 27 Jan. 2023.

In Chicago
Last Name, First Name Middle Initial. "Article Title." Journal Title Volume, number (Year): pages. DOI.
Heider, Kelly L. “Information Literacy: The Missing Link in Early Childhood Education.” Early Childhood Education Journal 36, no. 6 (2009): 513–18.

The Citation Game

Want to test or practice your citation skills with the ACS, APA, Chicago, or MLA style guides? This game is fantastic practice!

The Citation Game

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