How’s this for a bunch of acronyms: APA; MLA; CBE. Add Chicago to that, and what do you get? Several different methods for documenting your paper’s sources. Are they really all that different? Well, let’s take a look…
If you’re using APA, your in-text citations will look something like this:
Lowman (1995) points out that “there’s nothing worse than incorrect citations in an essay” (p. 4).
However, the same quotation in MLA formatting would look like this:
Lowman points out that “there’s nothing worse than incorrect citations in an essay” (4).
Why the difference? In using MLA, the Works Cited page (where you list all the works you cited in the paper) will contain all the details about Lowman’s writing that you’re making reference to. So, it will be clear to the reader what you’re referring to when you use the author’s name and page number. Note: the APA equivalent of a Works Cited page is a References List.
Many students (understandably) have trouble keeping all the rules straight. For example, a student may cite a source in MLA fashion in one section of the essay, and then use APA formatting in a different section. This is not intentional, of course, but it does become confusing for the reader (normally a professor who will be assigning a grade).
Which citation style should you use? The most important thing is to use the same style throughout your paper. But most instructors will say which style they prefer for a given assignment. If they don’t have a preference, you will most likely want to use APA or MLA. These are the two most widely recognized (and more-or-less intuitive) styles.
In general, it is standard to use APA for social sciences, while MLA is used more for work in the humanities. However, most professors, unless they specify a style preference will be quite happy if you just make sure to use your style of choice throughout the paper.
Incidentally, if you don’t have time to deal with the tedious job of putting in all those citations, you may want to consider an online editing service such as Papercheck.