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22.1 Choosing a Documentation Format

As a rule, your assignments requiring research will specify a documentation format. If you are free to use the style of your choice, you can choose any format you want as long as you are consistent, but you should know that certain disciplines tend to use specific documentation styles:

  • business and social sciences: American Psychological Association (APA)
  • natural and applied sciences: Council of Science Editors (CSE)
  • humanities: Modern Language Association (MLA) or the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)

For the purposes of this appendix, we will confine ourselves to the three documentation formats that will be the most common in your undergraduate courses: the style manuals from APA and MLA, as well as CMS. (Other formats are listed at the end of this appendix. Also, note this appendix explains the “Notes-Bibliography” system of CMS, used more often in history, the arts, and humanities, rather than the “Author-Date” system, used in the sciences and social sciences.)

These three systems of documentation have been refined over many generations so that academics can rely on certain standards of attribution when they cite each other’s work and when their work is cited. When you enter into an academic conversation in a given discipline, it’s imperative that you play by its rules. It’s true that popular, nonacademic forms of attribution exist. Making a link to another website in a blog or a Twitter post works quite well, but in an academic context, such a form of attribution is not sufficient. Of course it should go without saying that stealing someone else’s words or borrowing them without attribution, whether you do it casually on the web or in an academic context, is simply wrong.