Documentation and Citation Resources for Writers


Documentation and citation serve as a connection between a writer and readers in particular contexts. If you cite and document your sources in a way that is familiar to your readers, they understand you as a member of their intellectual or disciplinary community. If you treat sources in a way that is alien to your readers, they may see you as an alien, and react with suspicion or even anger.

Resources for Documentation and Citation

The first and most important resource is always the immediate audience for your work. When you are writing for a professor or TA, ask if they have a preferred documentation style. If they do, this is always the style you should use when writing for them. Other professors may have other preferences, so be sure to check when writing for a different professor.

If you are writing for submission to a publication, check the "Information for Authors" section of the publication's website. For example, the journal Anthropological Theory (published in the UK) uses the house style of the publisher SAGE, and the Journal of Pacific History follows its own style sheet. Some journals, such as Nature, provide highly detailed guidelines for authors.

Much academic work follows one of four styles (although individual publications often develop their own style sheet based on one of the Big Four):

  1. APA (from the American Psychological Association), used mainly in the social sciences and behavioral sciences. The Journal of Neurolinguistics uses APA style.
  2. CMS (the Chicago Manual of Style, from the University of Chicago Press), used in the humanities and the social sciences. The journal American Literature uses a version of Chicago style.
  3. CSE (from the Council of Science Editors), used mainly in the sciences. The journal Microelectronic Engineering uses a version of CSE style.
  4. MLA (from the Modern Language Association), used mainly in the humanities. The journal Adaptation uses MLA style.

The Purdue University OWL or Online Writing Lab is a one-stop resource for citation and documentation help across the disciplines.

Stanford subscribes to three citation-management systems, Refworks, EndNote, and Zotero. For large or long-term research projects, these are essential tools. The Library has limited online tutorials for Refworks and EndNote. For Zotero resources, contact Stanford University Libraries.

Many students use EasyBib, a free web-based service that promises to build your bibliography instantly. An informal test indicates that EasyBib-produced bibliographies are only as accurate as the information entered by the writer; it may be just as easy to maintain your bibliography on your own.

Reasons for Documentation and Citation

Professor Andrea Lunsford of Stanford writes: "In the academy today, we have very strict standards for citation and attribution, and we have them for a reason. We want to know where the knowledge comes from, and we want to be able to check it. We want to go to those sources and look to see if the student is using them correctly or not. In fact, we want to be able to do that with all scholarship."

In this engaging video, PWR Lecturer Dr. Kathleen Tarr further explains documentation and citation as respect for intellectual property.

Learn More about Community Standards