Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Writing Wednesdays: Citation Styles

We all know we need to cite when we reference someone else's work or thoughts in a paper (to not do so is plagiarism). But what style should we use?

There are three primary styles of citation in academia: Modern Language Association (MLA), American Psychological Association (APA), and Chicago/Turabian.

The primary difference between the MLA and APA styles is how each organization prioritizes information. For example, MLA is more concerned with who wrote what, and APA is more concerned with when the information was written. The reasons for this are actually pretty straight forward.

MLA is typically the style preferred by those disciplines nestled under the "Humanities" label: Literature, Art, Philosophy, Religion, etc. People writing in these disciplines are researching theories and concepts that have existed for hundreds if not thousands of years. Because the chronological scope of information is so large and these theories and concepts are essentially "timeless," MLA style dictates that the preference should be given to the author and the title of the work that features an analysis of the theory/concept.

APA is the style used most often by the evolving disciplines like Science, Psychology, Education, Medicine, Business, etc. People writing in these disciplines are researching concepts and theories that are constantly changing and evolving. For this reason, APA style gives priority to the date something was written because the more current the date, the more relevant the information.

Chicago/Turabian is a universal style well suited to use in all of the disciplines but that is used most frequently by those people writing in History and Social Studies. Such people often collect vast amounts of research for a single paper/publication and often need to cite many different sources by the same author. Chicago/Turabian style focuses on the organization of cited materials and, like APA, gives priority to the date the text was published.

If writing at the high school or university level, always remember to go with the style your instructor requires.

For additional information about these three styles, please visit the official APA, MLA, and Chicago websites.

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