Writing Style and Citation

MLA Handbook coverDoes your writing assignment require that you follow a particular style of citation, such as MLA, APA, or Chicago? Or are you writing for a particular discipline, industry or audience? Perhaps you are wondering: why are there so many different forms of citations?!?

A style guide (also known as a stylebook or handbook) is a set of standards for writing and document organization. These are used for different kinds of writing - academic, journalism, business, and so on. Each style guide sets out guidelines for writing and documentation of research in the discipline in question, and (perhaps most famously) they tend to be chock-full of really specific rules for formatting and punctuating citations.

Where to turn for authoritative advice on writing style and citation? Try these guides for writing for specific disciplines:

 

Academic writing tends to be guided by either the MLA, Chicago (or Turabian), or APA styles.

The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is often used for high school and undergraduate students, while the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing is geared toward graduate students, writers and researchers in the humanities.

The Chicago Manual of Style, created by the University of Chicago Press, is used in editing and publishing as well as academia. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers by Kate L. Turabian (sometimes you'll hear people refer to “Turabian style”) guides undergraduate and graduate student writing, but perhaps more for coursework than for publication. Turabian style is based on Chicago style, and almost identical to it.

The Concise Rules of APA Style is the go-to guide for students and researchers in the social and behavioral sciences, particularly above the undergraduate level and for published work.

 

There are also style guides for different professional writing disciplines.

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law is the standard used by newspapers and the news industry in the United States.

The Gregg Reference Manual is the style guide for business, both for professionals and students.  

The Elements of Legal Style is a handy guide to legal writing, based somewhat on Strunk and White’s classic text on writing style (see below). Citation in legal writing is complicated, because different courts have different requirements for citation. Most of the various forms of legal citations are based on the Bluebook system, which is described in the book Legal Writing Citation in a Nutshell, by Larry L. Teply.

The Yahoo Style Guide for the Web is a great resource if you’re writing for the web.  

 

Not sure what you need, or perhaps your classes require that you use different citation formats… a guide that covers the different styles might be useful to you:

A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker contains extensive advice about grammar and academic writing style, in addition to citation guides for MLA, APA, and Chicago style.

Cite Right: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles--MLA, APA, Chicago, the Sciences, Professions, and More by Charles Lipson focuses on citations, including many different styles.

Last but definitely not least, try out the OWL - Online Writing Lab from Purdue University. It’s a free online resource that covers academic citations formats (MLA, APA, Chicago) as well as a wealth of information about general writing, grammar, research, job search writing, ESL, and more. In short, it’s rather amazing.

 

Above I mentioned Strunk and White's classic guide to writing, The Elements of Style,​ which is a guide to language usage and form (not citations). It continues to be a great resource, and is freely available online via Bartleby. For other guides to writing, grammar, and composition, see our blog post about improving your writing skills.


As always, please feel free to ask a librarian if you have questions - we’re always happy to help with research, citations, and writing projects!

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