There are a handful of citation styles (a.k.a. “documentation styles” or “bibliographic styles”) commonly used by college students: MLA, APA, Chicago and CSE.* All of them call for similar information and organize it in similar ways. The difference is primarily formatting. Learning how to use one citation style will make it easy to learn others. Each style is associated with different disciplines (or areas of study).
* There are thousands of citation styles associated with different journals and publishing companies, but you don’t need to be concerned with them.
- MLA (Modern Languages Assocation) style is associated with the Humanities: languages, literature, philosophy, religion and the arts.
- APA (American Psychological Association) style is associated with the Social Sciences: psychology and behavioral science, education, sociology, anthropology, business, economics, political science and criminal justice.
- Chicago is associated primarily with History, but is sometimes used in other humanities and social sciences fields. Turabian is a variation of Chicago style intended for student writers.
- CSE (Council of Science Editors) style is associated with the all of the sciences.
You can usually pick a style based on the discipline you’re studying. If you are studying in an interdisciplinary field such as music or art therapy, you may have more than one option. The decision ultimately lies with your instructor, so be sure to ask before you begin researching.