A Guide to Documentation Styles

The following links provide helpful information about the styles most frequently required by Columbia College faculty. On these pages you will find sample papers, sample bibliographies, and descriptions and examples of how to cite and document a variety of sources, both print and electronic:

1. Why do professors require students to use a particular style to document sources in papers?

For several reasons:

  1. To ensure that the information in the list of references at the end of a paper (some styles call it the “bibliography” while others call it the list of “works cited” or “literature cited”) provides the information necessary for a reader to locate the sources used by the writer.

  2. To provide consistency—and thus greater readability—in the presentation of that information.

  3. To help students learn how to write like professionals in a particular field of study.

2. How many different styles exist?

Many. Appendix B4 of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers lists eight different discipline-specific style guides (a different one for biology, for chemistry, for geology, for mathematics, for physics, for medicine, etc.) and then refers to three more that are used primarily by editors preparing a text for publication.

The following website lists other style manuals and the disciplines that adhere to them: http://dianahacker.com/resdoc/

The following, however, are used most often at the undergraduate level:

  • The MLA (Modern Language Association) Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing (commonly known simply as “MLA”)

  • The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (commonly known simply as “APA”)

  • The Chicago Manual of Style, a publication of the University of Chicago Press (commonly known simply as “Chicago” or “Turabian,” the author of a shorter, paperback publication that models its style after Chicago)

  • American Chemical Society Style Guide, a publication of the American Chemical Society.

  • Scientific Style and Format, a publication of the Council of Biology Editors (commonly known simply as “CBE”)

3. How do the styles differ and why doesn’t everyone get together and agree on one single style to make students’ lives easier?

Scholars in different disciplines use guidelines that best meet the needs of their profession. For example, literature scholars are less concerned about the date of the research they cite than are scholars in various scientific professions (medicine, social science, psychology, etc.) because the latter must ensure that research is current. Thus, most social scientists and psychologists use the APA style of in-text citation because it emphasizes the date of publication.

Other differences are somewhat arbitrary, but scholars adhere strictly to the nuances of a particular style (acceptable abbreviations, punctuation, order of information, etc.) in order to promote consistency and, ultimately, better communication among members of their professional community.

Colorado State University’s online writing guide points out that audience shapes style:

Not surprisingly, audience is as important to documentation and citation as it is to all other elements of the writing process. The word “audience” as it relates to documentation refers to readers who belong to a discipline or discourse community shared with the writer. (http://writing.colostate.edu/references/sources/

Michael Harvey, in his Web site entitled “The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing,” puts it this way:

There is no universally accepted format for formatting and documenting citations in academic writing. Different disciplines, and even different journals within a discipline, are each likely to have their own partly rational and partly idiosyncratic customs and rules. An important part of scholarly training is learning what the rules are in one’s particular field, so one can display the right kind of learning and professionalization. (http://nutsandbolts.washcoll.edu/chicago.html)

4. What documentation styles are used by professors at Columbia College?

Columbia College professors require students to use MLA, Chicago, APA, and ACS.

5. How do I know which style my professor wants me to use for a particular paper?

An individual professor’s writing assignment sheet should clearly state which style is required of a particular assignment. However, if a professor does not specify a particular style, first ask which style she or he prefers. If the professor does not have a preference, choose a recognized, published style and follow it carefully and consistently throughout the paper.

6. Where can I find a copy of the style manual I need to use for a particular paper?

The library has noncirculating copies of all five style manuals preferred by CC faculty. If the faculty member prefers a particular style, he or she will probably require a style manual as a text for the course. Because faculty members do often require style manuals for courses, they are frequently available in the bookstore.

Many Web sites also provide information about documenting sources. Here are a few helpful sites:


(includes sample paper)




http://dianahacker.com/resdoc/p04_c08_s2.html(includes sample paper)


http://www.mla.org (click on “MLA Style”)


(includes sample paper)




(aka CSE):

(includes sample paper)


What kinds of issues to the various style manuals address?

Although style manuals address methods of research and even grammar and mechanics, the two areas in which they differ the most are (1) the format of the paper and (2) the documentation and citation of sources. Here is one example of how three of them differ on the format of the paper—specifically, on the format for the title page:

MLA: None. Instead, on the first page of the paper, put a heading (four double-spaced lines—author’s name, instructor’s name, course number, and date. Center the title of the paper two lines beneath the heading. Leave another line of space and start the paper. (See MLA Handbook, sec. 4.5.)

APA: Papers need one with the following:

  1. Title, centered in the middle of the page.
  2. Author’s name and institutional affiliation, centered, directly below the title.
  3. A header (abbreviated version of title, no more than 50 characters, including spaces and punctuation). It will appear at the top of each page next to the page number throughout the paper, left justified.
  4. A page number in the upper right-hand corner, after the running head.

(Modified from a list found at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/
workshops/hypertext/APA/parts/title.html. This page also provides an example of an APA title page, although it incorrectly calls the “header” the “running head.”)

Chicago: Papers fewer than five pages long need no title page (see MLA for format of first page). Papers longer than five pages should have a title page, including the title (centered, halfway down page), the author’s name, the course name and number, the professor’s name, and the date. (See http://nutsandbolts.washcoll.edu/chicago.html for an example.)

They may also differ on such issues as margins, spacing, headings, and page numbers. Perhaps the greatest differences among style manuals lies in their rules for documenting and citing sources. Our three most commonly used styles differ greatly, for example, on the issue of in-text parenthetical citations. Here is an example of how each of these three style guides would handle an in-text citation for the following book (example taken from The MLA Handbook, p. 142):

Marcuse, Sibyl. A Survey of Musical Instruments. New York: Harper, 1975.

MLA: (Marcuse 197)

APA: (Marcuse, 1975, p. 197). Note: APA requires a page number only for direct quotes. Paraphrased information does not require a page reference but only an author/date in-text parenthetical citation.

Chicago: Chicago allows the writer to choose between using in-text citations or superscripted numbers that refer to endnotes or footnotes. If the writer chooses in-text parenthetical citations, he or she can choose either the author/page or the author/date/page method:

Author/page: (Marcuse, 197)
Author/date/page: (Marcuse 1975, 197)

The choice of one of these methods will dictate the form of the bibliography.

At Columbia College, most professors who prefer Chicago also prefer that students use footnotes:

1Kate Turabian, Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertation (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987), 120-164.

The format of the items in the list of references (called “works cited” in MLA, “bibliography” in Chicago, “references” in APA, and “literature cited” in ACS) also differs greatly among these three style guides. Here are just a few examples of commonly cited sources:

A book with one author:

MLA: Smith, Jane. Writing College Papers: A Student’s Guide. New York: McMillan, 2004.

APA: Smith, J. (2004). Writing college papers: A student’s guide. New York: McMillan.

Chicago: (same as MLA, except italics instead of underlining)

ACS: Smith, J. Writing College Papers. Series Name and number; McMillan: New York, NY, 2004; Vol. 1, pp 23-55.

A journal article:

MLA: Johnson, Millicent. “Documenting Sources Correctly.” The University Student’s Journal 30 (2004): 203-08.

APA: Johnson, M. (2004). Documenting sources correctly. The University Student’s Journal, 30, 203-208.

Chicago: (same as MLA except italics instead of underlining)

ACS: Johnson, M. UnivStudJour 2004, 30, 203-208. NOTE: No punctuation in journal abbreviations except periods. No conjunctions, articles, or prepositions in journal abbreviations. No comma or semicolon before or after journal titles.

For guidance about how to cite other kinds of sources (electronic sources, book reviews, interviews, newspaper articles, etc.), please see the list of Web sites listed under the heading “Where can I find a copy of the style manual. . . “ above.

Remember, too, that the tutors in the Academic Skills Center (Edens Library, basement level) can help students who are experiencing difficulty documenting sources.