A good way to guide your reader to the exact definition of a word you’ve used in your essay is to include a dictionary citation. You should keep in mind, however, that reference works, like dictionaries and encyclopedias, are secondary sources. You should use primary sources as much as possible in your essay instead. Setting up dictionary citations for your essay depends on the type of style used.
How to Set Up Dictionary Citations
To write a citation for a dictionary source, you first need to know what style guide you’re following for your paper. Check your assignment guidelines; your teacher will tell you whether to use MLA, Chicago or APA style. A dictionary is a reference book, so follow the guidelines for reference books if you’re citing the whole dictionary.
MLA Style Format
In MLA 8 style, you’ll place an in-text citation that matches with an entry in the works cited page. Place the defined word within parentheses as the first element.
Example – In-Text Citation
Example – Works Cited Page Entry
“Context.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., Merriam-Webster, 2003, p. 281.
APA Style Format
APA 6 style, which is used for psychology and other social science papers, follows a simple author, date style. This means that the author and date are the first two elements. Since there is typically no author for dictionaries, use the definition as the first element. Use n.d. if there is no date.
Example – In-Text Citation
(Citation, 2003, p.124)
Example – Reference List Entry
Citation. (2003). In Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (11th ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.
Chicago/Turabian Style Format
Chicago/Turabian 17 uses two styles. The author-date style is a simple way to create citations as it places the author’s name first, and then the date. The other elements follow as noted. Create a parenthetical citation for the first use only. There is no need for a reference list or bibliography entry.
Example – Parenthetical Citation
(Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., s.v. “emporium,”)
The notes-bibliography style uses notes that are placed at the end of the page (as footnotes) or end of the chapter (as endnotes). Do not create a bibliography entry for a dictionary definition. Simply include it in the notes.
Example – Notes
1. Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., s.v. “Emporium.”
Arranging Your Sources
After you finish writing your paper, you’ll need to arrange your sources in the proper order. MLA, APA and Chicago/Turabian follow the letter by letter alphabetization method. Look up the correct style to organize and format your paper correctly. Finally, check your essay or paper against your assignment rubric and always ask your teacher if you’re not sure.
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