When choosing the best citation format or style for a research paper, it is easy to get confused.
One of the most important sections in a research proposal or scientific paper is the bibliography or references section. Even though it is often listed as one of the last parts of a research proposal checklist, leaving it to the end would cause you a lot more time and effort.
In this article, we will explore the best citation style or format for a scientific research paper, academic manuscript, or Ph.D./Master’s thesis or dissertation.
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Citation Style Guide Overview
If you have ever written any type of research document, then chances are you have come across an academic style guide.
What is a style guide?
A style guide or manual explains how to cite your sources properly. But that’s not all it does. It also tells you how to format your citations, bibliography (if you’re using one), headings, footnotes, and endnotes—all the things you need to know to avoid academic dishonesty or plagiarism and make sure your work is clear and accurate.
Besides attribution, citation style guides are also used to clarify your writing process, identify elements as points of emphasis, and give credibility to your research arguments. This is especially important when it comes to passing the peer review process, where your research will be closely scrutinized by other researchers in your field.
In general, citation style guides are used to ensure that all references within a document are formatted consistently. This helps make the document easier to read and less prone to errors that can be confusing to the reader.
Factors to Consider When Choosing A Citation Style
There are numerous citation formats and styles for science papers, academic research, and PhD/Master’s dissertations and theses, but which one should you use?
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a citation style. At the most basic level, the style you choose should reflect your discipline or field of study, the type of academic or research institution or organization you work for, the guidelines of your target journal, the type of source you are citing, and the nature of your readership.
Related Article: Complete Introduction to Citation Style Guides
Best Citation Format to Use for Science Papers
So, you have finally completed your research project or dissertation and are ready to submit it to a scientific journal.
Your next step should be to check your target journal’s submission guidelines–If you haven’t decided on your target journal yet, be sure to check out the following resources:
Ensure that the field, scope, and purpose of your research match your target journal. Another factor you must consider is your budget. Publishing in high-impact science journals is not cheap, so be sure to align your strategy with your professor or lab director.
Second, you want to consider the source of your citation. Is it a book, journal article, or even website? For science research papers, your sources will almost always be limited to journal articles and other primary research texts.
APA (American Psychological Association) style is a citation format used primarily in the social sciences, education, behavioral sciences, business, and nursing. However, APA is also seen in a variety of fields, including basic sciences.
In-text Citation Example – APA 7th style
“The current work assesses the demographic, social, and economic states of the southern half of the Korean peninsula…” (Schwekendiek, 2014, pp. v)
Reference List Citation Example – APA 7th style
Schwekendiek, D. J. (2014). The Data Atlas of South Korea: Demography, Society, Economic Activity (First Edition; A. Brennfoerder, Ed.). Seoul, Republic of Korea: Jimoondang.
APA in-text citations follow the Author-Date style in parenthetical format, which consists of the last name of the author and the year of publication within parentheses. To cite a source directly, include the page number using the abbreviation “p/pp”.
APA Style Resources
The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is used primarily for works in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Chicago style adds a layer of complexity in the form of two variations: Notes-Bibliography (NB) and author-date. The NB style is widely used in the arts and humanities, while author-date is more favored in the social sciences.
Author-Date Citation Example – Chicago 17th Style
“The current work assesses the demographic, social, and economic states of the southern half of the Korean peninsula…” (Schwekendiek, 2014, v)
Footnote Citation Example – Chicago 17th Style
1. Schwekendiek, “The Data Atlas of South Korea: Demography, Society, Economic Activity,” v..
Similar to the APA system, the Author-Date system for Chicago style is composed of in-text citations that match the reference list at the end of the document.
Chicago Style Resources
Vancouver style uses a strict author-number system and has been adopted by many journals and institutions in the medical field, including the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and MEDLINE. Vancouver style is different from the above styles in that it features a number encompassed within square brackets [ ] when using in-text citations. This bracketed number corresponds to the relevant source cited in the reference list at the end of the paper.
In-text Citation Example – Vancouver style
“According to Schwekendiek (1), the current work assesses the demographic, social, and economic states of the southern half of the Korean peninsula…”
Reference List Citation Example – Vancouver style
(1) Schwekendiek DJ. The Data Atlas of South Korea: Demography, Society, Economic Activity. First Edition. Brennfoerder A, editor. Seoul, Republic of Korea: Jimoondang; 2014.
Similar to the APA system, the author-date system for Chicago style is composed of in-text citations that match the reference list at the end of the document.
Vancouver Style Resources
MLA (Modern Language Association) style is commonly used by students and writers preparing manuscripts in humanities disciplines such as cultural studies, English, literature, and critical theory.
MLA style is rarely (if ever) used as a style guide for scientific papers. However, there are cases, especially for the social sciences and humanities, in which you may find yourself reading articles or books cited in MLA format. For that reason, it’s good to be familiar with MLA style.
In-text Citation Example – MLA 8th style
“The current work assesses the demographic, social, and economic states of the southern half of the Korean peninsula…” (Schwekendiek v)
Reference List Citation Example – MLA 8th style
Schwekendiek, Daniel J. The Data Atlas of South Korea: Demography, Society, Economic Activity. Ed. Andrew Brennfoerder. First Edition. Seoul, Republic of Korea: Jimoondang, 2014. Print.
MLA citations are based on the author-page format consisting of the author’s name and page number(s). Although your sentence may include the author’s name, any page number(s) should be included in parentheses.
MLA Style Resources
Frequently Asked Questions about Citation Styles
Which citation style should you use?
The citation style you use for your science paper or academic research document is dependent on various factors, including your research scope, target journal for publication, readership/audience, and type of cited source.
Which citation style is most commonly used in science?
What citation system is the best to use for science?
There are two types of citation systems: author-date and numeric. The author-date System is most used by those working in the social and basic sciences. Whereas those working in literature, history, and the arts should apply the NB System.
What is the author-date system?
With the author-date system, the author’s last name and publication year are included in an in-text citation. For example: (Schwekendiek, 2014, p. v).
What is an in-text or parenthetical citation?
There are two formats for in-text citations: parenthetical and narrative. Parenthetical citations include information about the publication date and the author’s name. When a narrative citation is used, the author name is incorporated into the sentence and the year follows in parentheses.