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When in college or university, students write all manner of academic papers. These papers have rules that guide the writing process, and more importantly, there is a way that they are supposed to incorporate the existing knowledge. Essays are the most common assignments, and students have to write them based on different topics. Research papers follow suit, and they differ in structure and the contents that they have. As such, students need to know how to differentiate between the two; the common thing about the two papers is that they are all academic, and require citations.

These citations come in different formats, all of which a student needs to know about. The guidelines of research paper citation depending on the format that the student is using, especially if it has been recommended by the professor. Any paper used, as a reference, needs to be cited accordingly. The format of references in the research paper is important because it prevents the student from plagiarizing the works of others as well as following in the right way of acknowledging the existing knowledge, an aspect that is very common in scholarly writing.


Common formats of referencing

When citing a research paper, you are likely to use the following formats, each of which has its guidelines. They include the:

  • MLA or the Modern Language Association
  • APA or the American Psychology Association
  • AMA or the American Medical Association
  • Chicago Manual Style
  • Harvard

Knowing when to cite a source

As a student, you need to know when to cite a source. Remember that research paper citation is the golden rule of avoiding plagiarism in an academic paper. As such, you have to include a citation whenever you can. If you are not sure, whether you can cite a source, go ahead and do it. When it comes to citing a research paper, you can:

  • Use a direct quote from the source
  • Paraphrase or summarize another writer’s idea, opinion or concept
  • Cite any information, data, and facts that you use in your research paper

When a citation is not necessary

Since you know when you can engage in research paper citation, when can you do away with citations?

There is no point of citing a research paper if the information that you are using is common knowledge. For instance, everybody knows the president of Russia. However, if you are unsure that this is common knowledge, you can go ahead and cite that information.

Types of sources

Before delving into different types of research paper citation and formats, you need to know the major types of sources that you can use. They are primary, secondary, and peer-reviewed sources.

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When citing a research paper using primary sources, you have to know that they are in their original form or digitized. They can also be reprinted or reproduced in some form. They provide first-hand accounts of an event or a period in history. In most cases, primary sources are the original document,and they include tests, artifacts, and audiovisuals.

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These are steps away from sources in that they are written about primary ones. They can be discussions, comments of interpretations that concern the primary source, or the original material. They can be articles from journals, magazines, and newspapers. They can also include textbooks, encyclopedias, plays, movie reviews, commentaries criticism and so on

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As you learn how to cite a research paper, you will discover the peer-reviewed sources. They are published as articles in a medical or professional publication. This publication can be a journal. With peer-reviewed sources, there are multiple critiques by top scholars in a given field. The sources are authoritative and are of high quality provided in any scholarly discipline. Their characteristics include the following:

  • They list the journal or publication and credentials of the author
  • They are abstract from a bigger publication
  • They have numerous in-text citations, Endnotes, references, footnotes and cited works, bibliographies, and appendices
  • They have methodology, conclusion and results sections
  • They contain tables, graphs,and chart
  • They use jargon that is only specific to the field

Having understood the major types of sources that you can use when doing a research paper citation, it is time now to delve into the individual formats and see how each one of them is applied.

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Citing a research paper in the APA format

When using the APA format, the name of the author is inverted. In other words, you have to use the last name first, followed by a comma then the initial of the first name. If you are dealing with a source that has multiple authors, the APA style of citing a research paper requires you to separate the multiple names of these authors with commas and use an ampersand (&) before the last name.

The APA style is usually applied in psychology-related papers as well as social sciences. An example of an APA citation would look like this:

“Kennedy, J., & James, F.”

If the source was published in an academic journal, you need to provide the year it was published. It should look like this:

“Kennedy, J., & James, F. (2019)”

You can list the title of the paper and use sentence capitalization as you write out the full title of the paper. Any first word us be capitalized and any other proper name. If there is a subtitle, you can place a colon and capitalize its first word. For instance:

“Kringle, K., J., &Frost,J. (2012). Red noses, warm hearts: The glowing phenomenon among North Pole Reindeer.”

If you found the source in a university-maintained database, corporation,or organization, you have to include the index number assigned to the paper in parenthesis after the title. For instance:

“Kringle, K., J., & Frost,J. (2012). Red noses, warm hearts: The glowing phenomenon among North Pole Reindeer. (Report Number 3456).”

It is crucial that you include where you found the source. If it was published in a magazine or anacademic journal, you could use the same format that is applicable in any other article. If the article is unpublished, give as much information as you can to direct the audience to the research paper. For instance:

“Kringle, K., J., & Frost, J. (2012).Red noses, warm hearts: The glowing phenomenon among North Pole Reindeer (Report No. 3456). Retrieved from University of Alaska Library Archives, December 13, 2018”

Ensure there is parenthetical citation in your paper when you use a statement that comes from the source. Ensure that the names of the authors and the year of publication are there. For instance

“(Kennedy & James, 2019)” If there is no date on the source, you can use the abbreviation n.d. in the body of your text. For instance: “(Kennedy & James, n.d)”

The MLA format of citing a research paper

When using the Modern Language Association format of citing a research paper, you are likely writing something within the liberal arts and humanities. It follows these simple steps:

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When you are doing in-textcitations using the MLAformat, you are supposed to insert the last name of the author and page number of the material in parenthesis. For instance:

“(Kennedy, 230).

However, if you mention the name of the author in the text, you can omit it in the parenthesis.

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If you are using an in-text citation of a print research report, you have to include the works cited page. He name of the last name of the author comes first, a comma, the first name followedby a period. The article title and a period ought to appear in quotation marks. You then put the name of the journal in italics. More so include the issue number, year of publication inside parentheses, a colon, page range using a hyphen and a period. This citation ends with “Print,” but do not put it in quotation marks. For instance:

Kennedy, Francis. “ Eating Habits of Lions.” Capybara Monthly 20 (22015): 223-226.


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If you are using a web reference that is an online research report, you can include it in the works cited page. The format for references in a research paper here dictates that the author, article title, journal name, issue, year, and pages are put in their exact print version. After the pages, list the “Web” without the quotation marks, but add a period. You have to indicate the day, an abbreviation of the month, and year of access to the article and then finish with a period. For instance:

Kennedy, Francis. “Eating Habits of Lions.” Capybara Monthly 20 (22015): 223-226.

Web. 5 Feb. 2018

Citing your research paper using the AMA format

A student who does not know how to cite in a research paper using this format; you need to know that the first word of the article, its subtitle, and any proper noun is capitalized the journal name is abbreviated and italicized. In this format, the names of the authors and editors of the paper are used to being the citation. You cannot use any type of punctuation except for a comma between names. If you are dealing with more than size, authors are you list the first three followed by “et al.”

For instance:

“Kennedy J, Francis M.”

The title ought to appear in sentence case where you only capitalize the first word and any proper nouns therein the article. If there is a subtitle, include it after a colon with an initial capita at its beginning. For instance

“Kringle K, Frost J. Red noses, warm hearts: The glowing phenomenon among North

Pole reindeer.”

If the paper was published, you could include the journal information you can include the title of the journal in italics, followed by the year of publication, issue number and the pages where the paper is extracted. For instance:

“Kringle K, Frost J. Red noses, warm hearts: The glowing phenomenon among North Pole reindeer.Nat Med.2019; 18(9): 149-1432”

If the paper is unpublished, give the location information. This regards any paper presented at a conference, symposium or any other place, include that information. If found online, give a direct link to the date of access. For instance:

“Kringle K, Frost J. Red noses, warm hearts: The glowing phenomenon among North Pole reindeer. Oral presentation at Arctic Health Association Annual Summit; December 2017; Nome, Alaska.”

For a paper that you are citing online, it would read as follows:

“Kringle K, Frost J. Red noses, warm hearts: The glowing phenomenon among North Pole reindeer. http://www.northpolemedical.com/raising_rudolf”

Ensure that you have used superscript number within the body of your paper for in-text citations. This should come after the information that needs to be cited. This helps you to build your bibliography as you write the paper as you list these citations is the order in which they appear in your text.

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Common pitfalls to avoid when citing a research paper

Students are prone to making mistakes, especially when they are citing a research paper. These mistakes can cost them their paper and sometimes lead to plagiarism. As such, these are the common areas you need to be aware of when citing a research paper.
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Incorrect placement of a comma or a period cam ma a citation wrong. For in-text citations, the period in most cases, if not all, comes after the parenthesis. For instance, (Jane Doe 45). In the same breath, comas have to be placed in the correct place following the preferred format of references in the research paper.
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Even though you are using different words, citations are necessary for paraphrases because it still is information from another source. Citations in your paraphrases will help you to avoid plagiarism. Other common citation mistakes include:

• Being inconsistent your citations

• Main unnecessary citations past the recommended amount


The above styles are some of the commonly used formats of references in research paper. Should you find it hard, you can use our professional writers to help you with the entire process.

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