Citing References in Research Papers

Style manuals contain standards for written works including how references should be listed. There are two widely accepted standards for citing references. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, usually called the APA style, is used for psychology papers. Also, many high schools, colleges and universities require the APA style for research papers. The other accepted standard is the Modern Language Association Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, normally called the MLA Handbook. Find out which standard is required prior to starting your research as the information needed for the citation varies slightly depending on the required style manual.

Style manuals are updated annually so check for the latest version at your library or on the internet.

The full list of all works cited in your paper should be included in a section called References or Works Cited. Bibliographies follow the same formats as the References or Works Cited section but include all works consulted in the development of the paper. Arrange the reference citations alphabetically. Double-space the lines of the entry. Use one space after any punctuation mark.

APA Style. There are two formats for references.

1. The first format is used for notes included in the text. These documentary notes are parenthetical. The author’s last name is followed by a comma and the date of publication. If the reference is to a specific page or pages in that text or includes a quotation, a page or chapter number must be included.

(Rosati, 2001)

(Rosati, 2001, p. 37)

(Rosati, 2001, pp. 37-110)

If the documentary note is for a publication without author credit, use the title and date of the publication. Italicize or underline such titles to match the way they appear in the reference list, but omit quotation marks.

2. The second format is in the reference list at the end of the paper. The reference list must include all citations in the text. Entries are double-spaced with a hanging indentation. The second line and following lines are indented a half an inch, which is a default setting in word processing programs. The examples below show entries for different types of reference material — book, article in a journal or magazine, website, in that order. Note that website references are hyperlinked, but not underlined. To remove the underlining automatically supplied by software programs, highlight the URL, press CTRL, and then press the letter U twice. The linked reference will be displayed in blue or purple.


Rosati, P. (2001). Bookbinding Basics. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing.


Allen, M. (2004, January). The e-publishing shakedown. The Writer, 117(1), 15-16.


Halsted, J. W. (1990). Guiding the gifted reader. ERIC EC Digest E481. Retrieved from


MLA Style. The MLA style also has two formats for references.

1. The first format is the in-text references (or documentary notes) which are parenthetical and include the author name and a page reference.

(Rosati 36).

2. The second format is for the reference list at the end of the paper. Examine the examples below which use the same example references as before. Note the differences in order, information included, and punctuation.


Rosati, Paola. Bookbinding Basics. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing, (2001). Print.


Allen, Moira. “The e-publishing shakedown.” The Writer Jan. 2004: 15-16. Print.


Halsted, Judith W. “Guiding the gifted reader.” ERIC EC Digest E481. 1990.


There are exact specifications for each type of reference material. For a comprehensive list containing examples of different types of reference material, search the internet for “APA style examples” or “MLA style examples”.

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