A guide to citation styles: which one to choose?

Create a spot-on reference in APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard, and other styles

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There are hundreds or even thousands of different citation styles that are used either internationally or locally and are destined to provide a uniform framework for the creation of bibliographic references and in-text citations for scholarly papers, articles, theses, and other kinds of research works.

Are you writing a paper yourself? Then, a question for you to solve is which citation style to apply in your work. Our quick guide will help you deal with this task.

What is a citation style?

A citation style is a set of rules for organising your list of bibliographic references and the in-text citations. There are many different citation styles: from the widely known styles such as APA, MLA, Harvard, Chicago, or Vancouver, to the individual style guides developed by particular universities and journals.

What citation style should I choose?

If you are writing a thesis or another university project, you should ask your tutor or consult the university’s recommendations: often, the university either imposes directly the citation style to be used or allows you to choose among several alternatives. The same applies if you are submitting an article to a scholarly journal, a conference paper, etc.

If you have the option to choose the citation style that suits you most, remember that different citation styles are traditionally used in different sectors of scientific research, and here is a brief table for you to help make your choice:

Citation style Fields of research
APA (American Psychological Association) Social sciences: psychology, history, sociology, economics, etc.
MLA (Modern Language Association) Linguistics, literature, cultural studies, etc.
Chicago The humanities: literature, arts, history, etc., physical, natural, and social sciences
Harvard The humanities and a wide range of other disciplines
Vancouver Medicine, biology
IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Electrical engineering, mechanics, computer science, etc.
ACS (American Chemical Society) Chemistry
AIP (American Institute of Physics) Physics
OSCOLA (Oxford University Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities) Law

As can be seen, some of the styles are used in a narrower range of disciplines, while some, such as APA or Harvard, are applied in a variety of science sectors. This being said, bear in mind that virtually any referencing style can cope with your bibliographic work, regardless of the sphere of your research.

Before making your ultimate choice, read about the requirements of the major styles (for example, we have extensive online guides for APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard, Vancouver, and other styles: they explain in detail how to reference and cite different types of sources in each individual style), evaluate the associated difficulties, and choose the style that you will find yourself most comfortable to work with.

Once you have chosen the citation style to apply, use our references and citations generator Grafiati in order to get the flawless references and in-text citations and to spare over 90% of time on your routine bibliographic work. We generate perfect references in any of the available citation styles and help make your referencing impeccable.

And if you want to get an idea of the differences between citation styles, let's have a quick look at them.

What are the differences between citation styles?

In general, every citation style pursues the same aim, namely to give credit to the original authors whose works you are citing: this allows complying with the rules of academic honesty and avoiding plagiarism. Correct references and citations also help you organise the flow of your thoughts and support your own ideas with credible data.

However, each citation style may have many specific traits. Here are some of them that you will stumble upon most often:

1. Contents of a bibliographic reference

Some citation styles require you to provide more elements, e.g. the city where the book was published or its ISBN identifier, the number of pages, the year of original publication, etc., while some styles omit these elements.


APA (7th ed.): Woolf, V. (1994). A room of one's own. Flamingo. (Original work published 1929)

Harvard: Woolf, V., (1994). A room of one's own. London: Flamingo.

2. Ordering of elements in a bibliographic reference

In some styles, it is common to give the name of the author first followed by the year of publication, while some styles may require placing the year of publication in the end of the bibliographic entry.


Chicago (notes and bibliography) (17th ed.): Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own. London: Flamingo, 1994.

3. Different punctuation

The rules of punctuation vary significantly across different style manuals. Different citation styles may employ full stops, colons, semicolons, long or short dashes, or even slashes to separate specific elements in a reference.


Vancouver: Woolf V. A room of one's own. London: Flamingo; 1994. 123 p.

DSTU GOST 7.1:2006: Woolf V. A room of one's own / Virginia Woolf. — London : Flamingo, 1994. — 123 p.

4. Different spelling

This is true for both the names of authors, which can be written either in their standard form or in all uppercase letters, and for the spelling of the work titles in either the sentence or the title case.


MLA (9th ed.): Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own. Flamingo, 1994.

ISO 690:2010: WOOLF, Virginia. A room of one's own. London: Flamingo, 1994. ISBN 0006547583.

5. Different requirements to in-text citations

Depending on the style, you might be required to use either in-text citations or footnotes, and their contents will differ as well for the author-date and the author-sequences systems taking into account the requirements of every particular style.


OSCOLA (4th ed.): 1 Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (first published 1929, Flamingo 1994) 25.

MLA (9th ed.): Woolf 25

IEEE: [1, p. 25]

6. Multiple other parameters

Rules for citing particular types of sources, including Internet sources; presentation of the full names of authors or their last names with initials; use of italics and the bold font; correct formatting of the bibliography page, and many more.


ABNT NBR 6023:2018 (author-date): WOOLF, Virginia. A room of one's own. London: Flamingo, 1994. 123 p. ISBN 0006547583.

What should I do next?

Once we are done with the main characteristics of citation styles, try to generate your references in different citation styles on Grafiati. You will see interactively how the contents of your bibliographic references are changing depending on the chosen citation style and thus will be able to understand better which styles are more or less suitable for you.

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