In the writing profession and publishing industry, a citation pertains to the official acknowledgement of merit that students, writers, and researches use to verify and authenticate their sources, such as a paraphrase, summary, or a quotation from an authoritative source that is used to support an idea, thesis, or argument. Citations have two well-known standard formats: the APA citation and the MLA citation style. They are particularly used in the writing of essays, scholarly journals, and research papers.

In scholarly writing, writers usually proceed by steps or increments in writing their work, as they progress and build upon works that have been written before. When writers prepare their research papers to be published in specialized journals, academic conventions and copyright law require them to abide by the tradition of acknowledging the sources that they use, carefully noting the ideas, findings, or developments from which their new work proceeds. To avoid the risk of plagiarism, they do this by means of citations, which pertain to the brief notes that acknowledge the source of ideas, information, and quoted passages used in a research paper.

A complete citation typically includes the author, the title of a specific work, the publisher, the date, and other relevant information to help readers locate the original source. Each citation gives credit to an author for a prior achievement and indicates where the achievement was published. For the APA citation, the following format is generally used for various types of print media and other similar commonly used research sources:

Author’s Last Name, First Initial. Middle Initial. (Year Published). Title of a Particular Work. City: Publisher.


Glassman, P. (1976). Joseph Conrad and the Literature of Personality. New York: Columbia University Press.

Jonson, B. (1980). The Critical Difference. Baltimore: John Hopkins University.

Mitchell, S. (1988). Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis: An Integration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

The APA citation style is generally used for research works that fall under the various fields of social sciences and other health-related fields, such as nursing, medicine, criminology, psychology, and even business and economics. Established and developed by the American Psychological Association, this style has been designed for use in its own publications. In essays, book reports, and collegiate research papers, however, this list is called the APA reference page.

On the other hand, the MLA citation style is used for the various fields of liberal arts, including literature, literary criticism, language studies, philosophy, and the fine arts. It was developed by the Modern Language Association, an organization that promotes the study of literature and languages, and thus it has been adopted by departments in English by several universities as well as by publishing houses. For a research paper or an essay, the list of citations is called the MLA works cited page, which uses the following format:

Author’s Last Name, First Name, Middle Name. Title of a Particular Work. City: Publisher, Year Published.


Glassman, Peter. Joseph Conrad and the Literature of Personality. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.

Jonson, Barbara. The Critical Difference. Baltimore: John Hopkins University, 1980.

Mitchell, Stephen. Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis: An Integration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Both the APA reference page and the MLA works cited page appear at the end of a document, and all citation entries are listed alphabetically, as shown in the examples. While the APA citation format only includes the initials for the first and middle names of an author, the MLA citation format includes the complete names. Another easily recognizable difference between the two styles is the underlining of work or article titles in MLA and their italicizing in APA.