When athletes win a championship in a team sport, they always give credit to their teammates. They know it’s not a one-man or one-woman show.
In the same way, when an author’s work gets used in another author’s work, the respectful thing for the new author to do is to mention the source of that earlier work.
Listing all the sources that are used in a text can also give the new text more credibility. The reference list becomes proof that the author researched the topic well and is therefore more informed.
Academic registers have standardized ways for identifying and listing all the sources that are used in each text.
Some use superscript numbers like this to identify when a source has been used in the text:
At least one study proved inconclusive.1
Others use the author’s name and year like this in the text:
At least one study proved inconclusive (Turnbull, 2017).
Both approaches have pros and cons. Both systems also exist in a variety of different methods. Five widely used systems are:
Whatever the system, they all include at least these elements for each source in the reference list:
- Title of the text
- Date of publication
- URL if the source is online
Other information that is included for each source in the reference list can differ from one method to another.
They also differ in their use of commas, periods, parentheses, capital letters, italics and bold. There are at least 8 differences in the APA and Chicago formats here (depending on how you count them):
Ashlock, P. D., & Gagne, W. C. (1983). A remarkable new micropterous Nysius species from the aeolian zone of Mauna Kea, Hawaii Island (Hemiptera: Heteroptera: Lygaeidae). International Journal of Entomology, 25(1), 47-55. http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/pi/pdf/25(1)-47.pdf
Ashlock, Peter D., and Wayne C. Gagne. "A remarkable new micropterous Nysius species from the aeolian zone of Mauna Kea, Hawaii Island (Hemiptera: Heteroptera: Lygaeidae)." International Journal of Entomology 25, no. 1 (1983): 47-55. http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/pi/pdf/25(1)-47.pdf
Before the days of automated citation generators, writing a list of references was an even longer and more unpleasant task than it is today.
You had to know whether to put a comma or period and had to remember to do it the same way for every source in your list.
You also had to know all the variations for all the different types of sources you used.
Today, citation generators take care of all those details but we still have to be careful when we use them. We have to put the right information in the right boxes so that the generator can create a correct reference.
Which system we should use depends on what is standard for our field. As a college student, the best thing to do is ask your instructor.
Here are two popular online citation generators:
Some programs, like Microsoft's WORD, include a feature for generating citations.
Google Scholar offers 5 ready-made citation styles for each search result when we click on the quotation mark symbol: