Learn and Generate Bibliographies, Citations, and Works Cited

Understanding Citations vs. References

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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-text citation that matches up to a source citation in your reference list, works cited or bibliography. References refers to the sources listed within a reference list. Now that you know the basics, examine each one in a bit more detail.

In-Text Citations

All the different styles (e.g., 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, and more.

Example: MLA In-Text citation:

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

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

Example: APA In-Text citation:

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

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

Source Citations

Each in-text citation connects to a source citation in your 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 citation will be different depending on what you are referencing like a blog or a picture.

Example: MLA Source Citation:

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

Example: APA Source Citation:

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

Using Them in Your Paper

Although you normally have to match all in-text citations with a source citation in your reference list, there are times when it’s not necessary to do this.

  • 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 and Chicago. MLA does require a biblical source citation in the works cited page.

Citing Your Sources

Always remember to cite your sources accurately. Most citations include an in-text or parenthetical citation that refers to the full citation in your references. It’s important to credit the sources you use to write your research paper to avoid plagiarism.

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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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