Structuring Your Research Paper References

There are three basic components to writing a good research paper, all of which are equally important: research, write, reference.  After all the exhaustive work of doing research and writing, you might think that references are an afterthought. True, they are not the focus of the paper, but having a properly referenced paper is as important as having a well-written and researched paper. Detailed and thorough references are the best defense against plagiarism.

There are two parts to citing sources. In-text citations accompany statements in your essay which directly quote or paraphrase a source, or refer to ideas taken from other sources. (If you are unsure if you should cite a source, cite it to be on the safe side.) A works cited page (in MLA format) or reference list (in APA) provides all of the information your reader will need in order to track down your sources. All references included in the body of your essay should be listed in the works cited/reference list, and vice versa. The format for this should be the same as that used in the works cited or reference list.

There are numerous kinds of formats for citing sources, but the most common are MLA, used mostly in the humanities, and APA in the social sciences.  Here’s a quick guide to how to cite sources in these formats:

APA Format

In-text Citations: Give the authors last name and the date the work was published.  Example: (Dickman, 1969). Direct quotations should also give the page number the quote comes from: (Dickman, 1969, p. 666). If you give the authors name in your text, you do not need to put it in parentheses, but give the date next to the author’s name:  “According to Dickman (1969) . . .”

References: List authors in alphabetical order.  References include author, date, work, and publisher information. They should look like this: Dickman, F. (1969). Complete Works. New York, NY: Publishing House.

MLA Format

In-text: Give only the last name of the author followed by the page number of the quotation or reference, with no comma: (Dickman 69).

Works Cited: Give the last name, first name, title, publisher information and Medium of publication: Dickman, Frank. Complete Works. New York: Publishing House. Print.

For formatting rules for different kinds of sources, consult The Purdue Owl Online writing lab.


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