Research Paper Basics

Citation Basics

These rules are the same for both APA and MLA.

What “cited” means

For once, I'll give you a definition from

  1. to quote (a passage, book, author, etc.), especially as an authority:
    He cited the Constitution in his defense.
  2. to mention in support, proof, or confirmation; refer to as an example:
    He cited many instances of abuse of power.

MLA calls its bibliographic page Works Cited, and APA uses the term References, but the idea is the same:

The Works Cited (or References) page isn’t enough

References for APA and MLA (as well as others such as Vancouver, OSCOLA, IEEE, AMA, ACS, NLM, AAA, and APSA) are a two-part system:

Both pieces must be there, and they must be part of the same citation format. You cannot have in-text citations from one system and a back page from another.

You don’t get to invent

Formats for all the citation systems are well-documented, and you can find the three major ones (APA, MLA, and Chicago) in any good grammar handbook as well as online resources such as Noodletools.

Here is a sample of several citations plus a Works Cited sample to show you what you are aiming at.

Note #1: Some citation formats don't allow you to cite some categories of information. If you are writing an APA paper and you want to cite a personal letter or a ballet performance, don't make something up or borrow an idea from MLA. You cannot cite that sort of thing in APA.

Note #2: This same "don't invent" rule goes for your page layout. Do not get creative with typefaces, etc. Just do the official format and save your creativity for the content of your writing.

Learn how to format your paper

The main body

Follow this link to the Resources for Using Your Computer page. I have put specific instructions there for the three main word processors. (Look for "Word Processing Instructions.")

Long quotations

If you need to insert a long direct quotation (4+ lines), here are the instructions. Note: Your paper really should not be just an assortment of long quotations. You need to do some writing and thinking too. George Orwell had this to say about over-quoting:

Modern writing at its worst […] consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. (from “Politics and the English Language”)

That last page

The formatting is difficult, and most students have trouble.

Each word processor is a bit different, so I have put together this page to guide you through all of it.

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 11/25/21 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: