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This article is about the research concept that acknowledges use of another's ideas. For other uses, see Citation (disambiguation).
"Cite" redirects here. For the HTML element <cite>, see HTML element#cite.
For Wikipedia's citation guideline, see Wikipedia:Citing sources. For Wikipedia's citation templates, see Wikipedia:Citation templates.

Broadly, a citation is a reference to a published or unpublished source (not always the original source). More precisely, a citation is an abbreviated alphanumeric expression embedded in the body of an intellectual work that denotes an entry in the bibliographic references section of the work for the purpose of acknowledging the relevance of the works of others to the topic of discussion at the spot where the citation appears. Generally the combination of both the in-body citation and the bibliographic entry constitutes what is commonly thought of as a citation (whereas bibliographic entries by themselves are not). References to single, machine-readable assertions in electronic scientific articles are known as nanopublications, a form of microattribution.

Citation has several important purposes: to uphold intellectual honesty (or avoiding plagiarism), to attribute prior or unoriginal work and ideas to the correct sources, to allow the reader to determine independently whether the referenced material supports the author's argument in the claimed way, and to help the reader gauge the strength and validity of the material the author has used.

The forms of citations generally subscribe to one of the generally accepted citations systems, such as the Oxford, Harvard, MLA, American Sociological Association (ASA), American Psychological Association (APA), and other citations systems, as their syntactic conventions are widely known and easily interpreted by readers. Each of these citation systems has its respective advantages and disadvantages relative to the trade-offs of being informative (but not too disruptive) and thus are chosen relative to the needs of the type of publication being crafted. Editors often specify the citation system to use.

Bibliographies, and other list-like compilations of references, are generally not considered citations because they do not fulfil the true spirit of the term: deliberate acknowledgement by other authors of the priority of one's ideas.



Citation content can vary depending on the type of source and may include:

  • Book: author(s), book title, publisher, date of publication, and page number(s) if appropriate.
  • Journal: author(s), article title, journal title, date of publication, and page number(s).
  • Newspaper: author(s), article title, name of newspaper, section title and page number(s) if desired, date of publication.
  • Web site: author(s), article and publication title where appropriate, as well as a URL, and a date when the site was accessed.
  • Play: inline citations offer part, scene, and line numbers, the latter separated by periods: 4.452 refers to scene 4, line 452. For example, "In Eugene Onegin, Onegin rejects Tanya when she is free to be his, and only decides he wants her when she is already married" (Pushkin 4.452-53).
  • Poem: spaced slashes are normally used to indicate separate lines of a poem, and parenthetical citations usually include the line number(s). For example: "For I must love because I live / And life in me is what you give." (Brennan, lines 15–16).
  • Interview: name of interviewer, interview descriptor (ex. personal interview) and date of interview.

Unique identifiers

Along with information such as author(s), date of publication, title and page numbers, citations may also include unique identifiers depending on the type of work being referred to.


Broadly speaking, there are two types of citation systems (the Vancouver system and parenthetical referencing). However, the Council of Science Editors (CSE) adds a third, the citation-name system.

Vancouver system

The Vancouver system uses sequential numbers in the text, either bracketed or superscript or both. The numbers refer to either footnotes (notes at the end of the page) or endnotes (notes on a page at the end of the paper) that provide source detail. The notes system may or may not require a full bibliography, depending on whether the writer has used a full-note form or a shortened-note form.

For example, an excerpt from the text of a paper using a notes system without a full bibliography could look like:

"The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance."1

The note, located either at the foot of the page (footnote) or at the end of the paper (endnote) would look like this:

1. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying (New York: Macmillan, 1969) 45–60.

In a paper with a full bibliography, the shortened note might look like:

1. Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying 45–60.

The bibliography entry, which is required with a shortened note, would look like this:

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. New York: Macmillan, 1969.

In the humanities, many authors also use footnotes or endnotes to supply anecdotal information. In this way, what looks like a citation is actually supplementary material, or suggestions for further reading.

Parenthetical referencing

Parenthetical referencing, also known as Harvard referencing, has full or partial, in-text, citations enclosed in parentheses and embedded in the paragraph.

An example of a parenthetical reference:

"The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance"(Kübler-Ross,1969, p 45–60).

Depending on the choice of style, fully cited parenthetical references may require no end section. Other styles include a list of the citations, with complete bibliographical references, in an end section, sorted alphabetically by author. This section is often called "References," "Bibliography," "Works cited," or "Works consulted."

In-text references for online publications may differ from conventional parenthetical referencing. A full reference can be hidden, only displayed when wanted by the reader, in the form of a tooltip. This style makes citing easier and improves the reader's experience.

Citation-name system

Superscripted numbers are inserted at the point of reference, just as in the citation‐sequence system, but the citations are numbered according to the order of cited works at the end of the paper or book; this list is often sorted alphabetically by author.


Citation styles can be broadly divided into styles common to the Humanities and the Sciences, though there is considerable overlap. Some style guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, are quite flexible and cover both parenthetical and note citation systems. Others, such as MLA and APA styles, specify formats within the context of a single citation system. These may be referred to as citation formats as well as citation styles. The various guides thus specify order of appearance, for example, of publication date, title, and page numbers following the author name, in addition to conventions of punctuation, use of italics, emphasis, parenthesis, quotation marks, etc., particular to their style.

A number of organizations have created styles to fit their needs; consequently, a number of different guides exist. Individual publishers often have their own in-house variations as well, and some works are so long-established as to have their own citation methods too: Stephanus pagination for Plato; Bekker numbers for Aristotle; citing the Bible by book, chapter and verse; or Shakespeare notation by play,


  • The Chicago Style (CMOS) was developed and its guide is The Chicago Manual of Style. It is most widely used in history and economics as well as some social sciences. The closely related Turabian style—which derives from it—is for student references, and is distinguished from the CMOS by omission of quotation marks in reference lists, and mandatory access date citation.
  • The Columbia Style was created by Janice R. Walker and Todd Taylor to give detailed guidelines for citing internet sources. Columbia Style offers models for both the humanities and the sciences.
  • Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills covers primary sources not included in CMOS, such as censuses, court, land, government, business, and church records. Includes sources in electronic format. Used by genealogists and historians.
  • Harvard referencing (or author-date system) is a specific kind of parenthetical referencing. Parenthetical referencing is recommended by both the British Standards Institution and the Modern Language Association. Harvard referencing involves a short author-date reference, e.g., "(Smith, 2000)", being inserted after the cited text within parentheses and the full reference to the source being listed at the end of the article.
  • MLA style was developed by the Modern Language Association and is most often used in the arts and the humanities, particularly in English studies, other literary studies, including comparative literature and literary criticism in languages other than English ("foreign languages"), and some interdisciplinary studies, such as cultural studies, drama and theatre, film, and other media, including television. This style of citations and bibliographical format uses parenthetical referencing with author-page (Smith 395) or author-[short] title-page (Smith, Contingencies 42) in the case of more than one work by the same author within parentheses in the text, keyed to an alphabetical list of sources on a "Works Cited" page at the end of the paper, as well as notes (footnotes or endnotes). See The MLA Style Manual and The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, particularly Citation and bibliography format.
  • The MHRA Style Guide is published by the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA) and most widely used in the arts and humanities in the United Kingdom, where the MHRA is based. It is available for sale both in the UK and in the United States. It is similar to MLA style, but has some differences. For example, MHRA style uses footnotes that reference a citation fully while also providing a bibliography. Some readers find it advantageous that the footnotes provide full citations, instead of shortened references, so that they do not need to consult the bibliography while reading for the rest of the publication details.

In some areas of the Humanities, footnotes are used exclusively for references, and their use for conventional footnotes (explanations or examples) is avoided. In these areas, the term "footnote" is actually used as a synonym for "reference", and care must be taken by editors and typesetters to ensure that they understand how the term is being used by their authors.


Main article: Legal citation
  • The Bluebook is a citation system traditionally used in American academic legal writing, and the Bluebook (or similar systems derived from it) are used by many courts. At present, academic legal articles are always footnoted, but motions submitted to courts and court opinions traditionally use inline citations, which are either separate sentences or separate clauses. Inline citations allow readers to quickly determine the strength of a source based on, for example, the court a case was decided in and the year it was decided.
  • The legal citation style used almost universally in Canada is based on the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (aka McGill Guide), published by McGill Law Journal.
  • British legal citation almost universally follows the Oxford Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA).

Sciences, mathematics, engineering, physiology, and medicine

Main article: Scientific citation
  • The American Chemical Society style, or ACS style, is often used in chemistry and other physical sciences. In ACS style references are numbered in the text and in the reference list, and numbers are repeated throughout the text as needed.
  • In the style of the American Institute of Physics (AIP style), references are also numbered in the text and in the reference list, with numbers repeated throughout the text as needed.
  • Styles developed for the American Mathematical Society (AMS), or AMS styles, such as AMS-LaTeX, are typically implemented using the BibTeX tool in the LaTeX typesetting environment. Brackets with author's initials and year are inserted in the text and at the beginning of the reference. Typical citations are listed in-line with alphabetic-label format, e.g. [AB90]. This type of style is also called a "Authorship trigraph."
  • The Vancouver system, recommended by the Council of Science Editors (CSE), is used in medical and scientific papers and research.
    • In one major variant, that used by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), citation numbers are included in the text in square brackets rather than as superscripts. All bibliographical information is exclusively included in the list of references at the end of the document, next to the respective citation number.
    • The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) is reportedly the original kernel of this biomedical style, which evolved from the Vancouver 1978 editors' meeting. The MEDLINE/PubMed database uses this citation style and the National Library of Medicine provides "ICMJE Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals -- Sample References".
  • The style of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), or IEEE style, encloses citation numbers within square brackets and numbers them consecutively, with numbers repeated throughout the text as needed.
  • Pechenik Citation Style is a style described in A Short Guide to Writing about Biology, 6th ed. (2007), by Jan A. Pechenik.
  • In 2006, Eugene Garfield proposed a bibliographic system for scientific literature, to consolidate the integrity of scientific publications.

Social sciences

Boundary marks

In the case of direct citations, the boundaries of a citation are apparent from the quotation marks. However, the boundaries of indirect citations are usually unknown. To clarify these boundaries, citation marks (˻…˼) can be used. Example:

This is sentence 1. ˻This is sentence 2. This is sentence 3.˼ (Smith et al., 2013)

Here, it becomes apparent from the citation marks that the citation refers to both sentence 2 and 3, but not to sentence 1.


In their research on footnotes in scholarly journals in the field of communication, Michael Bugeja and Daniela V. Dimitrova have found that citations to online sources have a rate of decay (as cited pages are taken down), which they call a "half-life," that renders footnotes in those journals less useful for scholarship over time.

Other experts have found that published replications do not have as many citations as original publications.

Another important issue is citation errors, which often occur due to carelessness on either the researcher or journal editor's part in the publication procedure. Experts have found that simple precautions, such as consulting the author of a cited source about proper citations, reduce the likelihood of citation errors and thus increase the quality of research.

Research suggests the number of citations an article receives can be, partly, explained by superficial factors and not only by the scientific merits of an article. For instance in Medicine among other factors the number of authors, the number of references, the article length, and the presence of a colon in the title influence the impact. Whilst in Sociology the number of references, the article length, and title length are among the factors.

Citation patterns are also known to be affected by unethical behavior of both the authors and journal staff. Such behavior is called impact factor boosting, and was reported to involve even the top-tier journals. Specifically the high-ranking journals of medical science, including the Lancet, JAMA and New England Journal of Medicine, are thought to be associated with such behavior, with up to 30% of citations to these journals being generated by commissioned opinion articles

See also


  1. The field of Communication (or Communications) overlaps with some of the disciplines also covered by the MLA and has its own disciplinary style recommendations for documentation format; the style guide recommended for use in student papers in such departments in American colleges and universities is often The Publication Manual of the APA (American Psychological Association); designated for short as "APA style".



  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "What Does it Mean to Cite?" MIT Academic Integrity.
  2. Association of Legal Writing Directors Darby Dickerson and Mickey Mouse, ed., ALWD Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation, 4th ed.(New York: Aspen, 2010), 3.
  3. "Oxford Referencing System". Retrieved 18 January 2011. 
  4. Gibaldi, Joseph. "Work Cited, References, and Bibliography-What's the difference?". OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Retrieved 15 March 2012. 
  5. "Library glossary". Benedictine University. August 22, 2008. Archived from the original on April 30, 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  6. Long Island University.
  7. Duke University Libraries 2007.
  8. ^ Brigham Young University 2008.
  9. ^ Neville, C. (2012). Referencing: Principles, practices and problems. In RGUHS Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Vol 2:2. pp. 1-8
  10. Council of Science Editors, Style Manual Committee (2007). Scientific style and format: the CSE manual for authors, editors, and publishers.
  11. "How to Write Research Papers with Citations - MLA, APA, Footnotes, Endnotes". Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  12. Live Reference Initiative. Accessed 2012-04-28.
  13. California State University 2007.
  14. Lesley University 2007.
  15. Rochester Institute of Technology 2003.
  16. Elizabeth Shown Mills. Evidence Explained : Citing History Sources from Artifacts to cyberspace. 2d ed. Baltimore:Genealogical Pub. Co., 2009.
  17. The 2nd edition (updated April 2008) of the MHRA Style Guide is downloadable for free from the Modern Humanities Research Association official Website.
  18. Martin 2007.
  19. Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (Cite Guide). McGill Law Journal. Updated October 2008. Retrieved on 2009-02-05.
  20. Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals.
  21. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. "ICMJE Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals -- Sample References".
  22. IEEE Style Manual. Accessed 2011-08-08.
  23. Pechenik Citation Style QuickGuide (PDF). University of Alberta, Augustana Campus, Canada. Web. November 2007.
  24. Garfield, Eugene (2006). "Citation indexes for science. A new dimension in documentation through association of ideas". International Journal of Epidemiology 35 (5): 1123–1127. doi:10.1093/ije/dyl189. PMID 16987841. 
  25. Stephen Yoder, ed. (2008). The APSA Guide to Writing and Publishing and Style Manual for Political Science. Rev. ed. August 2006. Publications. Retrieved on 2009-02-05.
  26. Bugeja, Michael and Daniela V. Dimitrova. Vanishing Act: The Erosion of Online Footnotes and Implications for Scholarship in the Digital Age. Duluth, Minnesota: Litwin Books (2010)
  27. Raymond Hubbard and J. Scott Armstrong (1994). "Replications and Extensions in Marketing – Rarely Published But Quite Contrary". International Journal of Research in Marketing 11 (3): 233–248. doi:10.1016/0167-8116(94)90003-5. 
  28. Malcolm Wright and J. Scott Armstrong (2008). "The Ombudsman: Verification of Citations: Fawlty Towers of Knowledge?". Interfaces (INFORMS) 38 (2): 125–139. doi:10.1287/inte.1070.0317. 
  29. van Wesel, M.; Wyatt, S.; ten Haaf, J. (2014). "What a difference a colon makes: how superficial factors influence subsequent citation". Scientometrics 98 (3): 1601–1615. doi:10.1007/s11192-013-1154-x. 
  30. Heneberg, P. (2014). "Parallel Worlds of Citable Documents and Others: Inflated Commissioned Opinion Articles Enhance Scientometric Indicators". Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. doi:10.1002/asi.22997. 


  • "ACS (American Chemical Society) Style Guidelines Quick Guide". 2006. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  • "Anatomy of a Citation". Archived from the original on January 9, 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  • "APA Citation Format". 2005. Archived from the original on December 28, 2007. Retrieved 2008-02-11. 
  • "APA Citation Format". 2003. Retrieved 2008-02-11. 
  • Armstrong, J Scott (July 1996). "The Ombudsman: Management Folklore and Management Science - On Portfolio Planning, Escalation Bias, and Such". Interfaces (Providence: Institute of Management Sciences) 26 (4): 28–42. OCLC 210941768. 
  • "ASME Journals Digital Submission Tool". American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  • Bugeja, Michael (2010). Vanishing Act: The Erosion of Online Footnotes and Implications for Scholarship in the Digital Age. Duluth, Minnesota: Litwin Books. ISBN 978-1-936117-14-7. 
  • "Book with a Single Author". 2007. Retrieved 2008-02-04. 
  • "CBE - Council of Biology Editors (Citation/Sequence System)". 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-11. 
  • "Citation Formats & Style Manuals". 2007. Retrieved 2008-02-11. 
  • "Citation Systems and Style Manuals by Subject Discipline". 2012. Retrieved 2013-08-02. 
  • "How to cite sources in the body of your paper". 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  • "IEEE Citation Reference". 2009. Retrieved 2011-05-12. 
  • Martin, Peter W (May 2007) [1993]. "Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (LII 2007 ed.)". Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  • "MHRA Style Guide: A Handbook for Authors, Editors, and Writers of Theses". Modern Humanities Research Association. 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-05.  (2nd ed.)
  • Pechenik, Jan A (2004). A Short Guide to Writing About Biology (5th ed.). New York: Pearson/Longman. ISBN 0-321-15981-0. OCLC 52166026. 
  • "Why Are There Different Citation Styles?". 2008. Retrieved 2013-10-10. [dead link]
  • Wright, Malcolm; Armstrong, J Scott (March 2008). "The Ombudsman: Verification of Citations: Fawlty Towers of Knowledge?" (– Scholar search). Interfaces (Providence: Institute of Management Sciences) 38 (2): 125–139. doi:10.1287/inte.1070.0317. OCLC 229821277. [dead link]
  • "Live Reference Initiative". 2012. Retrieved 2012-04-28. 

External links

  • Citing Government Documents/Government Agency Style Manuals, University of North Texas
  • Document it Citation and Referee AMS, and the AMSRefs package.
  • Guide to Citation Style Guides
  • "What is citation?",
  • "Cater all your Citation needs?",
  • Citation Maker
  • Illustrated examples, generated using BibTeX, of several major styles, including more than those listed above.
  • PDF file bibstyles.pdf illustrates how several bibliographic styles appear with citations and reference entries, generated using BibTeX.
Style guides
  • How to write footnotes, endnotes and electronic references in a proper format
  • Swarthmore library's Guide to Citation Styles for Science and Humanities.
Other online resources
  • Online resource for creating Harvard References.
  • Online resources for historical research and writing.

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