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Section 10.3

Basic Structure and Formats of Citation Styles

All academic and professional disciplines have specific systems for citing sources. What all these systems have in common is that they provide sufficient information to allow a reader to locate the source of a quotation or reference. Most common citation styles share a common two-part structure: (1) a marker in the text that acknowledges another's words, facts, and ideas and that points to (2) the full source of information.

Citation styles develop this two-part structure through one of three general formats.

  1. Brief parenthetical information in the text linked to a list of references. The information included in the parentheses provides an unambiguous link to a work in the complete list of sources, usually listed as part of the end matter of the document. In most but not all formats, the primary link in the parenthetical reference is the last name of the first-listed author of the source, and, consequently, most lists of references are arranged alphabetically by author. Depending on the style and the context, parenthetical citations often include such elements as the year of publication, reference to exact page numbers, and a shortened title of the work. The main advantage of this system is that it is extremely flexible: an addition or a deletion of a reference has little effect on other references or the reference list. The principal disadvantages are that a long parenthetical reference may interrupt the text and the rules for parenthetical citations can sometimes be quite complex.
  2. In-text numbers linked to a list of references. Numbers are inserted in the text, usually as superscripts or in parentheses or brackets, that refer to a list of references, in which each of the full sources is numbered and listed once in the order in which it was first cited in the text. Subsequent references to a source in the text use the original reference number. The main advantages of this system are that references are less conspicuous in the text than parenthetical citations and the system is extremely efficient, saving both keystrokes and paper. Its principal disadvantages are that readers may be forced to jump to the reference list to identify an author and that the addition or deletion of a reference will necessitate the renumbering of references throughout the manuscript unless the text is prepared with sophisticated bibliographic software.
  3. In-text numbers linked to footnotes or endnotes with or without a list of references. Although this was once the most common citation system, most scholarly and professional organizations have abandoned footnotes and endnotes because they are redundant and cumbersome. Even the Chicago Manual of Style, the source of the most widely used and accepted note style, now recommends a parenthetical citation system. Similarly, in the 1980s the Modern Language Association, the largest American organization of scholars in English and foreign literatures, changed its recommended form of citation from a note style to its own version of the parenthetical style.

See also Citing Online Sources and Specific Citation Styles.

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