How To Cite a Research Paper & Provide a Bibliographical Reference
Whenever you make use of a research paper in an academic or scientific document written for publication or course credit, you will need to cite the paper both in the main text and in the list of references. There are many different referencing or documentation styles used for this purpose, so the publisher’s guidelines or professor’s instructions should be consulted to discover which method is appropriate. The advice I offer here on how to cite a research paper focuses on the two most common forms of in-text citation: the parenthetical method recommended by the American Psychological Association (APA), the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) and other manuals and journals, and the numerical method often referred to as Vancouver style and commonly used in medicine and the sciences.
How To Cite a Research Paper Using Parenthetical In-Text Citations
A parenthetical author–date citation contains the last name of the author (or last names of the authors) of the research paper along with the date of publication. In most cases, this information will appear in parentheses immediately after the statement related to the paper:
APA Format: The latest study indicates just the opposite (James & Snider, 2018).
CMS Format: The latest study indicates just the opposite (James and Snider 2018).
Note that the APA format features an ampersand (&) between the authors’ names and places a comma before the publication date, whereas the CMS format uses the word ‘and’ between the names and requires no punctuation. Attention to details of this kind is absolutely essential when constructing citations and references.
Either the names of the authors or the date of publication or both can instead be integrated into the text, in which case the remaining information should be placed in parentheses. These three options are therefore also possible for an APA in-text citation:
APA: The latest study by James and Snider indicates just the opposite (2018).
APA: A 2018 study indicates just the opposite (James & Snider).
APA: The 2018 study by James and Snider indicates just the opposite.
Notice that the word ‘and’ is used in the text for APA style, although an ampersand is used in the parentheses. CMS documentation also allows all or some of the citation to appear in the main text, but always uses the word ‘and’:
CMS: The latest study by James and Snider indicates just the opposite (2018).
CMS: A 2018 study indicates just the opposite (James and Snider).
CMS: The 2018 study by James and Snider indicates just the opposite.
The parenthetical citation style used by the Modern Language Association (MLA) is similar, except that the relevant page number or page range is used instead of the publication date:
MLA: The latest study indicates just the opposite (James and Snider 88–96).
The page numbers should not be placed in the main text, but the author names can be, and the publication date might be included as well, though its inclusion does not mean that the page numbers can be eliminated:
MLA: The latest study by James and Snider indicates just the opposite (88–96).
MLA: The 2018 study by James and Snider indicates just the opposite (88–96).
As is the case with Chicago style, the word ‘and’ should be used between the authors’ names whether they appear in the main text or in the parentheses.
Page numbers can also be used in APA and CMS citations, but they are only required when providing a citation for a direct quotation or other very specific information. In such cases a comma and then a page number is added to the parenthetical citation, and for APA style, a ‘p.’ for ‘page’ is added as well:
APA: James and Snider define the term clearly (2018, p.92).
CMS: James and Snider define the term clearly (2018, 92).
Every research paper cited in an academic or scientific document should also be included in a list of ‘References’ or, for MLA style, ‘Works Cited.’ A reference list to accompany all three of the styles I have considered here (APA, CMS and MLA) should be arranged alphabetically based on author names, and all the bibliographical information required for readers to find each source must be given, but different styles require different arrangements for the information, as well as different punctuation and formatting.
For full bibliographical APA references, the author names are inverted and placed first, followed by the date of publication (in parentheses), the title of the article, the name and volume number of the journal (both of those in italic font, though it may not display in this post) and the pages on which the article can be found. If there is a doi or url for the paper, that should be tacked on at the end:
APA: James, S., & Snider, G. (2018). How to cite research sources Chicago style. Academic Writing Journal, 8, 76–107. doi:00.0000/00000000000000
Careful attention must be paid to capitalisation as well as fonts, punctuation and spacing, so here it is worth noting that only the first letter of the article’s title and any proper nouns are capitalised, whereas the first letter of all major words in the journal’s title are capitalised.
The complete reference for the same research paper using CMS style would look like this:
CMS: James, Samuel, and Gregory Snider. 2018. How to cite research sources Chicago style. Academic Writing Journal 8:76–107.
Only the journal name (not the volume number) is in italics here, no parentheses are needed around the publication date, which is followed by a colon (:) instead of a stop, and the second author’s name is not inverted.
If you are using MLA style citations, the full reference would take this form, with the journal name again in italic font:
MLA: James, Samuel, and Gregory Snider. “How to Cite Research Sources Chicago Style.” Academic Writing Journal 8 (2018): 76–107. Print.
Notice that all major words in the article title are capitalised here as well, and that title is enclosed in double quotation marks. The medium of publication is added at the end, and since the publication date is not used for in-text citations in MLA style, it does not appear immediately after the author names, the second of which is not inverted.
As you are constructing and checking your citations, remember that ensuring the utmost accuracy is an essential aspect of how to cite a research paper effectively. Documentation material tends to be especially difficult to proofread, yet mistakes are frequent, and there must always be a perfect match between the information cited in the text and the information provided in the list of references.
How To Cite a Research Paper Using Numerical In-Text Citations
If you are using numerical or Vancouver citations, a single Arabic numeral is all that is required to refer to a research paper in the text, but the format of that number varies according to the specific guidelines. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), for example, recommends placing reference numbers in parentheses:
ICMJE: The latest study indicates just the opposite.(1)
However, the documentation style of the American Medical Association (AMA) uses superscript numbers, which may not maintain their position in this post, so please note that the numeral ‘1’ should be superscript in the AMA examples:
AMA: The latest study indicates just the opposite.1
In some cases, square brackets will be required around the number, so this format is also an option:
Square Brackets: The latest study indicates just the opposite.
There is considerable variation in the placement of the number in relation to closing punctuation as well, so while a superscript numeral will almost always appear after a closing stop or period, reference numbers in parentheses or square brackets may be placed to either side of the stop as long as the relevant guidelines are followed and consistency across all citations in the document is maintained.
As with parenthetical references based on author names, information about sources can also be added in the main text when using numerical citations:
ICMJE: The latest study by James and Snider indicates just the opposite.(1)
AMA: A 2018 study indicates just the opposite.1
Square Brackets: The 2018 study by James and Snider indicates just the opposite.
All such information is offered as additional, however, and the reference number is always required. If you need to cite a specific page number, it can be added after the reference number, usually with a comma and a preceding ‘p.’ to avoid confusion:
ICMJE: James and Snider define the term clearly.(1, p.92)
AMA: James and Snider define the term clearly.1, p.92
There are two standard ways in which to construct a numerical list of references. The most common is based on the sequence of citations, which means that sources are numbered according to the order in which they are first cited in the document. The first source cited would therefore be reference 1, the second would be reference 2, the third reference 3 and so on, with the number assigned to each source remaining the same every time the source is cited. Great care must be taken when adding sources to or deleting them from a reference list of this kind because every change necessitates a corresponding change in the numbering of all sources that sequentially follow the addition or deletion. Checking and finalising the reference list after all the in-text citations are firmly in place is imperative.
Alternatively, the ICMJE recommendations indicate that a numerical list of references might be arranged alphabetically based on author names, with the first source in the list (by, say, an author named Abacus) numbered 1, the second (by Butler) numbered two, the third (by Conrad) numbered 3 and so on. Each source is assigned only one number that it retains throughout the document regardless of the order in which sources are cited. This arrangement is not used for AMA references, which are always numbered sequentially as cited.
The complete bibliographical references for a numerical list vary in arrangement and format according to specific styles and guidelines, though perhaps not as much as the full references for parenthetical author–date citation styles do. The ICMJE recommendations favour this format:
ICMJE: James S, Snider G. How to cite research sources Chicago style. Academic Writing Journal. 2018;8:76–107.
A full AMA reference, on the other hand, takes this form, with the only difference in this case being the italic font required for the journal title:
AMA: James S, Snider G. How to cite research sources Chicago style. Academic Writing Journal. 2018;8:76–107.
If the research paper has a doi or url, it should be included at the end of the reference:
ICMJE: James S, Snider G. How to cite research sources Chicago style. Academic Writing Journal. 2018;8:76–107. doi:00.0000/00000000000000.
AMA: James S, Snider G. How to cite research sources Chicago style. Academic Writing Journal. 2018;8:76–107. doi:00.0000/00000000000000.
The names of journals are usually abbreviated when preparing numerical references, but the correct standard abbreviation for each journal must be used to avoid confusion, so if you are in doubt, do a little research to find the right abbreviation, and use the complete journal title when there is no standard abbreviation.
Although the examples I have provided here are reliable, do be aware that citation styles and recommendations change and are adopted and adapted in a variety of ways, so the specific guidelines or instructions for a document must always be consulted when deciding exactly how to cite a research paper or any other source. Those instructions and the latest editions of any style manuals to which they refer you will also help you determine how to cite research papers with more complicated bibliographical information.