Section 2.5: Citation Systems

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Citations serve as the foundational building blocks of academic integrity in scholarly work. They play a pivotal role in substantiating arguments, grounding statements in empirical evidence, and providing the necessary context for a line of inquiry.

In fields such as psychology, sociology, and economics, citations are indispensable for linking current research to existing frameworks and theories. They serve a dual purpose: first, citations recognize the intellectual property of original thinkers, and second, they provide a roadmap for readers to track the scholarly conversation on a particular subject.

Understanding how to use citation systems effectively is akin to mastering the grammar of academic writing. Just as sentences become jumbled without proper syntax, scholarly work can lose coherence without a consistent citation system. Essentially, citation systems offer a standardized methodology for giving credit to the original sources of information, theories, or research findings. This standardization enables readers to easily locate sources and enhances the credibility of the work.

In this Section, the focus will be on elucidating two predominant citation systems: the APA 7th edition for professional papers and the most recent edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. The APA style is widely used in social sciences like psychology and education, while the Chicago style finds broad applicability across various disciplines. The chapter will outline the advantages and disadvantages of both systems, explore their specific applications, and offer insights into avoiding common pitfalls. As these systems serve different purposes and cater to different academic needs, understanding their intricacies can significantly elevate the quality of research writing.

Understanding Citation Systems

A citation system is a standardized set of rules and conventions that govern how sources are credited and referenced in academic and professional writing. This systematization encompasses various elements: the format of in-text citations, the organization of a reference list or bibliography, and even the layout of footnotes or endnotes. Each citation style guide, whether it be APA, Chicago, or another, offers a comprehensive blueprint for authors to follow when acknowledging the work of others.

The importance of a consistent citation system in scholarly work cannot be overstated. Consistency in citations serves as a cornerstone of academic integrity, ensuring that each source of information, data, or theory is appropriately credited. This not only protects the intellectual property rights of the original authors but also enhances the credibility of the researcher’s own work. Moreover, a uniform citation system facilitates the reader’s ability to locate and verify sources, thereby contributing to the paper’s transparency and rigor. In essence, the citation system acts as a cohesive framework that organizes the scholarly conversation, allowing for a seamless integration of new insights and discoveries into existing academic discourse.

Writing an APA Style Paper?
This link takes you to a page where you can download an APA template formatted for a Seventh Edition paper. Just replace the red template information with your own information, change the color to black, and you’re ready to go!

Parenthetical Citation Systems

Parenthetical citation systems, also known as author-date citation systems, are a type of citation methodology that integrates source references directly into the text. When employing this system, the author’s last name and the publication year of the source are enclosed in parentheses and situated within the sentence where the source is cited. This compact form of citation is commonly used in disciplines like psychology, sociology, and other social sciences. The primary strength of parenthetical citation systems lies in their minimalistic approach: they provide just enough information for readers to locate the source in the reference list, without disrupting the narrative flow of the text.

Footnote Systems

Footnote systems are an alternative approach to source citation that utilizes footnotes or endnotes for documenting sources. Unlike parenthetical citation systems, which embed source information directly within the text, footnote systems relegate this information to the bottom of the page (footnotes) or the end of a chapter or article (endnotes). This method is particularly prevalent in disciplines like history, theology, and the humanities. In this system, a superscript number is placed in the text where a citation is needed, leading the reader to a corresponding footnote or endnote containing the complete citation details. This approach allows for extensive citation information and additional commentary without cluttering the main text.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Citation Systems

Advantages of Parenthetical Citations

Parenthetical citations offer a number of distinct advantages that contribute to their widespread usage, particularly in the social and behavioral sciences. First and foremost, they are highly reader-friendly. The streamlined format of presenting only the author’s last name and the publication year directly within the text allows for a quick and straightforward source identification. This promotes a smoother reading experience, enabling the audience to engage more deeply with the content.

Secondly, parenthetical citations are easily integrated into the text. Because they are concise, they can be inserted seamlessly into the natural flow of a sentence without causing disruption. This ensures that the narrative retains its coherence and that the focus remains on the research content, rather than the citation mechanics.

Lastly, the simplicity and uniformity of parenthetical citation systems offer compatibility with multiple types of sources, from academic articles and books to digital resources. This makes them a flexible tool for authors working with diverse source materials.

Disadvantages of Parenthetical Citations

However, parenthetical citation systems are not without their limitations. A key disadvantage is that they provide limited information within the text. While this conciseness aids readability, it can also make it difficult for readers to discern the type or credibility of the source without referring to the reference list.

Additionally, the insertion of multiple parenthetical citations can result in textual clutter. Particularly in research-heavy discussions, the frequent appearance of parentheses can break the narrative flow and make the text appear disjointed.

Moreover, parenthetical citations face challenges when dealing with complex sources, such as works with multiple authors, multiple works by the same author from the same year, or sources without clear authors or publication dates. Handling these scenarios within the constraints of parenthetical citation rules can become cumbersome.

Advantages of Footnote Systems

Footnote systems come with their own set of merits. The most significant advantage is the ability to provide detailed citation information. Because footnotes appear separate from the main text, they can accommodate additional details and even supplementary commentary.

Another strength of footnote systems is the reduced interruption in the narrative flow. With citations moved to the bottom of the page or the end of the chapter, the main text remains clean, making it easier for the reader to engage with the material.

Furthermore, the format allows for greater flexibility in adding commentary, elaboration, or annotations, providing a richer context for the source material without impinging upon the main text.

Disadvantages of Footnote Systems

Despite these advantages, footnote systems do present some challenges. For one, the system can be cumbersome for readers who must frequently move their focus away from the text to the footnote section, disrupting the reading experience.

Secondly, the freedom and flexibility of footnote systems can lead to inconsistency in citation formats, particularly when authors add extensive commentary or neglect to follow specific style guidelines.

Lastly, the complexity of footnote systems introduces a steeper learning curve for those unfamiliar with this method. As a result, it may require more time and effort to master compared to parenthetical citation systems.

The APA Style (7th Edition)

Overview of APA Style

The American Psychological Association (APA) citation style, now in its 7th edition for professional papers, is a widely recognized standard for academic writing in the social sciences. Originally developed to standardize research papers in psychology, APA style has evolved to become the go-to citation system for fields such as sociology, education, and nursing. The style is characterized by its use of parenthetical citations within the text and a comprehensive reference list at the end of the paper.

Parenthetical Citations in APA

Parenthetical citations in APA style follow the author-date format. Within the text, after a quote or paraphrase, the author’s last name and the year of publication are enclosed in parentheses. For example, a simple citation would appear as follows: (Smith, 2020). For works with multiple authors, the names are separated by an ampersand (&), for instance, (Smith & Jones, 2020).

When quoting directly, a page number is also included: (Smith, 2020, p. 24). If the source has no page numbers, such as a web page, the paragraph number can be used: (Smith, 2020, para. 4).

Reference Lists in APA

My example references in this text do not show the “hanging indent” required by the APA for formal papers due to software limitations.  Be sure to format that correctly in your own papers!

The reference list is a crucial component of any APA-formatted paper, appearing at the end of the document. It provides the full details of every source cited in the text. Entries are alphabetically arranged by the author’s last name and include details such as the title of the work, the publication year, and the publisher’s name or URL.

What's a 'Hanging Indent' Anyway?
APA references pages should be formatted using “Hanging Indents.” The following FAQ explains how to set that up in MS Word:

Different types of sources necessitate specific citation formats. For example, an academic journal citation would look like this:

Smith, J. (2020). Title of the article. Journal Name, Volume(Issue), page range.

A book citation might appear as:

Smith, J. (2020). Title of the book. Publisher.

Online resources are also frequently used and cited like this:

Smith, J. (2020, Month Day). Title of web page. Website. URL

Common Pitfalls and Tips for Using APA

While APA style aims to standardize academic writing, it’s not uncommon for researchers to encounter pitfalls. One frequent mistake is inconsistent formatting within the reference list. For instance, neglecting italics for journal titles or overlooking the capitalization rules for book titles can reduce the paper’s professionalism.

Another common error is the incorrect usage of et al. The term “et al.” is used when a work has more than two authors and is cited multiple times within the text. The first time the source is cited, all authors should be listed; thereafter, the first author followed by “et al.” is sufficient.

Additional pitfalls include failing to update outdated URLs, neglecting to include DOI numbers when available, and overlooking the need for page or paragraph numbers in direct quotes or specific information points.

Here are some tips to navigate these challenges:

  • Consistency: Double-check the formatting in your reference list to ensure it follows APA guidelines to the letter.
  • Attention to Detail: Always remember to include page numbers in direct quotations and use ‘et al.’ correctly.
  • Verification: Verify the availability and correctness of URLs and DOIs. These are crucial for online materials and academic articles.
  • Consult the Manual: When in doubt, consult the APA manual or reputable online resources to confirm correct formatting.

The Chicago Manual of Style

The Chicago Manual of Style, commonly referred to as Chicago style, is one of the oldest and most comprehensive citation systems. Originating in the late 19th century, it was initially created as a guide for consistent American English writing. Today, it has expanded its scope to serve various academic disciplines, notably in the humanities and social sciences. The style is known for its flexibility, offering two main citation systems: the Notes-Bibliography System (commonly employing footnotes or endnotes) and the Author-Date System. This chapter focuses on the Notes-Bibliography System, which emphasizes comprehensive footnotes and endnotes alongside a concluding bibliography.

Footnotes and Endnotes in Chicago Style

Creating footnotes and endnotes in Chicago style involves marking each citation with a superscript number in the text. This number corresponds to a footnote at the bottom of the page or an endnote at the end of the paper, where the source details are provided. For instance, a footnote might appear as:

1 John Smith, The Impact of Social Factors, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020), 45-46.

Subsequent citations from the same source can be shortened, for example:

2 Smith, Impact, 50.

For online resources, additional details such as the URL or DOI and the access date are included.

3 Jane Doe, “Social Sciences Today,” Journal of Social Sciences, accessed August 1, 2021,

Bibliography in Chicago Style

In the Chicago style Notes-Bibliography System, the bibliography provides full citation details for every source cited, similar to an APA reference list. Arranged alphabetically by the author’s last name, the bibliography offers readers a concise directory of the work’s supporting materials. For a book, the format would be:

Smith, John. The Impact of Social Factors. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020.

For an academic journal:

Doe, Jane. “Social Sciences Today.” Journal of Social Sciences. Accessed August 1, 2021.

Different types of sources, such as newspapers, videos, and websites, can also be included, each with its own unique citation structure.

Common Pitfalls and Tips for Using Chicago Style

Navigating Chicago style comes with its own set of challenges. A frequent pitfall is inconsistent citation formats, especially between footnotes, endnotes, and the bibliography. Authors often struggle with the correct abbreviation of sources in the footnotes after the first full citation.

Another common issue is the improper sequencing of citation elements, such as placing the publication year before the publisher or omitting essential information like access dates for online resources.

To avoid these pitfalls:

  • Double-check Consistency: Ensure uniformity between footnotes, endnotes, and the bibliography. Each should align with the other in terms of source details.
  • Be Mindful of Sequence: Pay close attention to the order of elements in each citation. Referencing the Chicago Manual can be helpful.
  • Access Dates and URLs: Always include access dates for online sources and double-check URL availability.
  • Consult the Manual: In cases of ambiguity or uncertainty, the Chicago Manual of Style serves as the definitive guide for correct formatting and citation practices.

Comparing APA and Chicago Style

Similarities between APA and Chicago

Though distinct in many respects, APA and Chicago styles share certain similarities aimed at achieving the same fundamental goal: to provide a clear, consistent method for citing sources in academic writing. Both styles require a detailed list at the end of the paper that provides full citations for every source referenced—known as a “Reference List” in APA and a “Bibliography” in Chicago. Moreover, both systems advocate for the inclusion of in-text citations, though they differ in format. Each style also offers specific guidelines for citing a wide range of source types, from books and academic articles to online resources. Furthermore, both APA and Chicago are highly respected and widely accepted in various academic disciplines, each having been developed to meet the nuanced needs of specific fields but also finding broader applicability.

Differences between APA and Chicago

While APA and Chicago styles share common academic goals, they diverge significantly in their approaches to citation, and these differences often make one style more appropriate for a given type of research or discipline.

Citation Within Text: APA utilizes parenthetical citations containing the author’s last name and the publication year. Chicago, in its Notes-Bibliography System, leans on footnotes or endnotes that correspond to superscript numbers in the text.

Disciplinary Preferences: APA is generally favored in the social and behavioral sciences like psychology, education, and nursing. In contrast, the Chicago style is commonly used in history, literature, and the arts.

Detail in Citation: Chicago allows for more comprehensive citations and even commentary within its footnotes, offering richer contextualization. APA keeps citations brief and refers readers to the reference list for fuller details.

Flexibility: The Chicago style offers greater flexibility in citation formats, particularly through its footnotes, which can be a double-edged sword—enabling richer context but also opening the door to inconsistency if not carefully managed.

Scenarios for Preference: In research scenarios that benefit from detailed footnotes, such as historical papers requiring extensive context, Chicago may be preferred. APA would be more appropriate for research where the emphasis is on clarity and conciseness, and where the reader may benefit from knowing the timeliness of the source via immediate author-date citations.

The choice between APA and Chicago often hinges on the specific needs of the research, the discipline, and the level of detail or flexibility required in the citation process.

Latin Words & Abbreviations

Academic writers love to use Latin abbreviations in their writing.  In the minds of many, it lends an air of sophistication. Some of these are very common, and others are more obscure.  When writing an APA Style paper, remember that it is formal writing, and you should not use any abbreviations.  Just because an abbreviation is Latin does not make it formal.  The APA does, however, allow for the use of abbreviations within parentheses.  These are very useful for signaling the reader what to expect from a source provided in an in-text citation.


Common Latin Words and Abbreviations

Only Use These in Parentheses in the Abbreviated Form

Abbreviation Translation / Meaning Usage Notes
cf. confer.  “compare” or “consult” Used to indicate opposing information or contrast.  No comma after.
e.g., exempli gratia.  “for example” Use a comma after.
etc. et cetera.  “and so forth” Always comes at the end of a list.
i.e., id est.  “that is” Used to provide specific clarification.  Use a comma after.
viz., videlicet.  “namely” of “that is” Use a comma after.
et al. “and others” Used to keep from repeating a long list of authors in in-text citations.  See the Style Guide for details.
ibid. or id. ibidem.  “refer to the last source cited.” Used in legal materials, but not APA.  Cite everything every time in APA.
supra Latin for “above.” Used in legal materials to refer the reader back to a previous citation.  Not used in APA.
infra “below” or “under” Legal shorthand signaling that a citation will be considered in more detail later.  Not used in APA.
vs. versus Used to indicate two things being compared.  In court cases, use v. rather than vs.


This Section delves into two prominent styles: APA and Chicago. Both systems aim to standardize academic writing and provide clear, consistent methods for citing sources. APA, with its parenthetical citations and a focus on brevity, is widely used in the social and behavioral sciences. Chicago, known for its comprehensive footnotes and endnotes, is a staple in humanities disciplines like history and literature. Despite their differences, both share a core purpose—to lend credibility to scholarly work and guide the reader to the original sources.

Selecting the appropriate citation style is not merely an academic formality; it’s a critical component of effective research and communication. The choice often depends on the specific requirements of the project and the expectations of the audience. Whether it’s the straightforward, author-date approach of APA or the nuanced, detailed footnotes in Chicago, the citation style serves as a key element that shapes the presentation and impact of academic work.

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File Created:  07/25/2018

Last Modified:  09/20/2023

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2 thoughts on “Section 2.5: Citation Systems

  1. I’m confused. In the text it states “All of your references should use a hanging indentation, which means the first line is flush left and every line after the first is indented half an inch.” Then in the examples it does not show that. Please advise.

    1. That is something I should fix. The reason, for now, is that HTML, the language of the web, doesn’t support hanging indents. You can easily set those in a Word document using the paragraph settings.

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