Learn and Master Bibliographies, Works Cited, and References

Difference Between Citations and References


Students discussing difference between citations and references

References and citations are the apples and oranges of the writing world. While it might seem like these two words are interchangeable. They are distinctly different within a scholarly writing piece. Learn what they are and how to use each one.

Citations or References

No matter what writing style that you use, you’ll come across the reference or citation dilemma, especially if you’re a newer writer. It can be easy to get the two terms confused. At their core, a citation is an in-paper reference that you make to a source you used, hence the in-text citation. A reference is a full citation that is created at the end of the paper in the bibliography, reference or the works cited. Now that you know the basics, examine each one in a bit more detail.


All the different styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard) include an in-text citation. Sometimes called cites, in-text citations provide the reader with the name of the author, publication year and page numbers. If they discuss the publication year and author within the writing, the citation will then only include a page number. Citations are included for poems, books, magazines, etc. An example of an MLA book citation looks like:

  • According to Doe, “Citations can be hard to create” (99).

  • She stated, “Citations could be hard for students” (Jones 99).

In APA, this would be shown like:

  • According to Doe, “Citations can be hard to create” (1998, p. 199).

  • She stated, “Citations could be hard for students” (Doe, 1998, p. 199).


You’ve got citations down, it’s time to examine references. References will be found at the end of the work. They are on their own page with a title. The references are more in-depth than the in-text citations. They tell you how to find the reference by answering the who, what, where and when. The format of the reference will be different depending on what you are referencing like a blog or a picture. For example, a book in MLA would look like:

  • Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Edited by Margaret Smith, Oxford UP, 1998.

A book in APA would look like:

  • Bronte, C. (1999). Jane Eyre. Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Press.

Using Them in Your Paper

While you’d never use both at the same time in the body of the paper, there are times when you might use a citation but not include a reference. This isn’t very often, but it does happen.

  • Personal interviews are cited in the text but not on the reference page. This is because there isn’t a published reference to include.
  • The Bible is another source that might be included in the text but not on the reference page, especially in APA. This is because the Bible is a commonly known publication.

Citing Your Sources

References and citations both provide information about the source that was used to create the information, but they’re different. Knowing the difference is key to getting them formatted right in your paper.

About the author

Jennifer Betts

Jennifer Betts is a diverse educational writer who has been published in multiple online forums. She also works part time as a substitute teacher with seven different school districts. Building on skills gained from a brother and son with learning disabilities, she has been a tutor and mentor for disadvantaged children for more than 20 years. Interested in learning more about Jennifer Betts, just ask.

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