How to Use Citations to Cite Anything: APA, MLA, and Chicago Style

While citations may be occasionally confusing and tedious, proper referencing isn’t an aspect of writing that can be overlooked as it is an essential part of any kind of work.

Citing sources is crucial for logistics (such as ensuring ensuring that your work complies with copyright law or workplace standards), and for quality reasons. When you properly cite a source, it ensures you speak in your voice, build trust with readers, and contribute to healthy information culture.

For that reason, knowing know to the major citation styles is a valuable skill. Without these styles one could easily attribute citations wrongly, which is accidental plagiarism and just as serious as intentional plagiarism.

In this article, we’ll break down how to cite a source in the APA, MLA, and Chicago styles to avoid plagiarism in any paper.

What Are Citations?

Citations are a reference to the source of information to help the audience locate or identify the original author of information. They are also a method of giving credit to the original source for any idea, quote, concept or fact used in your writing.

When you are referencing factual information resulting from an investigation or a proposition made by someone else, you need to cite it. This rule applies not only to direct quotations but also to paraphrasing instances.

In-text Citations and Bibliographic Citations

The two major citation types are in-text (or parenthetical) citations and bibliographic (or reference) citations.

In-text citations mention the source briefly within the main text of the paper or document. For example, in the MLA style, an in-text citation appears at the end of the sentence or paragraph that contains the citation, as in the following: “The root of the novel’s plot is a metaphor for the Industrial Revolution (Collins 4).”

We can also use it for a direct quote: “Collins suggests that ‘This novel is an excellent demonstration of the power of locomotives’ (Collins 9).”

Keep in mind that you must cite every new reference. Essentially, you must include a citation every time you use information from a source different from any of your previously mentioned sources.

All in-text citations must have a corresponding entry in a list of references (or bibliography) that is usually at the end of the document and includes more details about the source.

A bibliographic citation is an entry on the above-mentioned list of references. In the MLA style, it would look like:

“Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield. Edited by Jerome H. Buckley. New York: Norton, 1990.”

Bibliography lists include all the sources mentioned in-text, in addition to any others that you may have used as part of your research. This page serves as a reference bank for readers to look back on the locations your information come from.

Citation Styles

There are several citations formats in professional writing, with the three major styles are APA, MLA, and Chicago. The appropriate citation for your work may vary depending on your industry or department.


Chicago is the oldest of the three major citation formats. The University of Chicago Press created it in 1906; they developed the citation style as part of a broader effort to standardize writing rules for their publishing house.

Chicago style is mostly used in humanities (philosophy and history) and social sciences (such as anthropology and sociology). Chicago is the most flexible style, allowing for some mixing and matching of elements.

It calls for in-text citations to be placed in footnotes and for full citations, including those of consulted works, in a reference list. This requirement allows readers to check the origin of a text without the need to flip to the end of the paper.


MLA is the style of the Modern Language Association and was developed in 1951. As its name suggests, this approach is used in literature and language studies.

This style is most recognizable by its in-text parenthetical citations, which comprise of an author’s last name and the corresponding page number at the end of a sentence, such as “(Woolf 4).”

Another difference is MLA requires citations only of works cited, not of every work an author consulted for research.


Finally, the APA format stands for American Psychological Association. APA was first developed in 1929 for the social sciences. The 7th edition of the this publication manual is the most recent, however 6th edition is still relatively common.

APA citations are similar to MLA but differs in that it includes the source date of publication in its in-text citations, such as (Johnson, 1991). This is useful in social and hard sciences because it allows the reader to determine the accuracy of a piece of cited information compared to contemporary research.

Elements of a Citation

Regardless of your industry’s preferred citation style, all citations comprise a set of core elements. These include the title of the source, the author’s last name, the year and place of publication, and the page number.

Source Title

Depending on the style, not every text includes the source’s title in in-text citations, but all styles include titles in the source’s full reference entry. Book titles appear italicized, while articles should be in quotation marks. If you reference a source multiple times, authors may use abbreviations to denote it—consult your preferred style guide for specifics.

Author’s last name

Every citation includes the last name of a text’s author (or the first author, in the case of a co-authored source). Depending on the style, it may also include the first name or its first letter.

Year of Publication

The year of publication is omitted in some in-text citation styles but is included in all reference lists.

Place of Publication

Not included in APA 7 or the MLA style, but required in Chicago. In the case of an online source, include a link to the webpage.

Page Number

Page numbers help locate specific information in the text. In the case of certain source types, like those with many editions or without page numbers, use a section number or paragraph number instead.


Citations can’t be strings of information; they appear in proper order, separated by specific punctuation marks. Depending on the style, this might be a semicolon, period, or comma.


In a reference list, references will have a hanging indent for every line after the first.

How To Use Citations

Beyond those general criteria, there’s a wide array of information for specific secondary sources. The following outline shows the key themes in essay writing and citation generation:

  • How to cite something you have said – You need to cite yourself, including both published and unpublished work. In either case, cite your work in the same way you would cite somebody else’s.
  • How to cite a PDF document – To cite a PDF document, simply cite the document according to its content and mention that you accessed it in PDF form.
  • How to cite an interview – Each style guide handles interviews differently, but all three have different requirements depending on whether an interview is published, unpublished, or personal. The key thing is to cite the interviewee, the interviewer, and the interview type.
  • How to cite another research paper – Cite the author(s), paper title, its date of publication, source, and other major publication information.
  • How to cite an entire website – Citing a website lets you include all the information you derive from that site without citing each page. Include all the details you’d use in a journal article or book citation. For specific quotes, use paragraph numbers rather than page numbers.
  • How to cite a blog or blog post – Use all the same information as you’d use for citing an entire website, but include individual post titles. Also, be sure to mention the date you last accessed the post.
  • How to cite a film – For movies, cite the director, title, year of release, and studio. Add specific timestamps in parenthetical if you reference specific moments.
  • How to cite a Wikipedia article – You can cite Wikipedia articles like other web pages without naming the author but reference the modification date of the page, not the initial publication date.

Let Quetext Generate Citations For You

The complexities of citation writing can make it feel daunting to cite your sources correctly. But don’t fear! Using a citation generator, like the one provided by Quetext, you can easily enter in key information about your secondary sources and get perfect citations in various styles and for various source types.

So what are you waiting for? Get writing!