What is a Citation and a Reference?

Citations and references work together and both are required in scholarly works. Citations are found in the body (meaning the written text) of your work. They tell your readers where the information or ideas you are using came from.

References contain additional detail and information about the source(s) that you have cited. They contain enough information so that your readers, if so inclined, can locate the information and check it out for themselves. The list of references that you have cited in your text is located after the main body of your manuscript (but before any appendices). An APA style reference list is NOT a bibliography. A reference list only contains information related to your citations in the document. In contrast, bibliographies often include sources for background or further reading and may also include additional descriptive notes.

Why Citations and References?

There are several reasons to use a single consistent approach citations and references. This is not a complete exhaustive list, but just a few good reasons.

First, the writer needs to give credit where credit is due. Not doing so is plagiarism.

Second, students and professionals spend a lot of time reading and researching. It would be completely insane if everyone cited and referenced information differently. Think of the time you would waste if you had to decipher each writer’s unique approach to giving credit.

Third, a standard format provides the reader with all of the information necessarily to locate the source material that was used.

Fourth, if strong sources are used, citations and references strengthen your argument by showing the extent of your research and your understanding of existing knowledge.

Why Different Styles?

There are many different citation and reference styles, such as Modern Language Association (MLA) style, Chicago style, and the American Psychological Association (APA) style to name a few. Each has evolved over time to meet the particular needs of their respective communities.

For example, MLA, which is commonly used in the humanities, is well-suited for literature and archival sources. In the humanities a wide-variety of sources including personal letters are often cited. In this type of writing it is often important to use direct quotes and therefore direct quotes are encouraged.

In contrast, APA, which is commonly used in psychology, education, management, and economics, is well-suited for analytical and quantitative studies. This type of research and writing emphasizes citing previously published scholarly articles focusing on supporting the writer’s claims and broad ideas. Therefore, paraphrasing is encouraged.

In the end, each style is similar in that they give the same basic information, but the emphasis and presentation is designed to meet the discipline’s specific needs and interests. Hence different citation styles have been developed. Nevertheless, tradition, structural inertia, turf protection, self-interest, and stubbornness probably also help to explain the existence of so many styles.

Again . . . Why Do I Need to Bother?

You may ask, why do I need to bother with APA style? I am not going to be a psychologist. I am not going to graduate school. I don’t plan on publishing scholarly articles. And so on.

First, because it is a requirement of this class to properly use citations and references in all written work. Not doing so will waste my time, your classmate’s time, and help you earn much fewer total points.

Second, APA is a very common style. If you do any professional reading, you will likely encounter it. Thus, after this class you will at least be familiar with it.

Third, following such style guidelines is an important (and simple) professional skill to master. Try doing anything in a modern organization without following the proper formatting guidelines and see what happens. Your policy will be sent back to you unsigned. Your talking points for the CEO will be sent back to you (and your boss most likely with a nasty note). Your statement of work won’t go out on time. Mean HR won’t post your job announcement. And so on.

Think of this as practice for the even more overly complex and seemingly silly formatting requirements you will likely face in the future.

I strongly suggest that you purchase the APA Publication Manual. It is cheap and simple reading, but it contains a ton of helpful information. Reading it and adhering to it will make you a much better writer. There are a lot of other books and internet sources available. However, all they do is restate the APA Publication Manual. I believe it is alway much better to get information from the original source.

Test Yourself

1. Where are citations located?

At the end of the document
Before any appendices
Within the main body of the text


2. Where are references located?

Within the main body of the text
After the main body of the text


3. A reference list is just another way to say bibliography.