My Favorite Citation Guide

As an English major and as a college student in general, I know firsthand that composing citations is dreadful. I generally anticipate that writing my works cited page (the page at the end of an essay listing one’s sources) will take at least 30 minutes, especially if any of the sources are less tangible than a book in my hand. I add that caveat because books are the easiest source to cite, and creating a citation requires little effort when the relevant information literally lies at my fingertips. Citing any other source–a web page, a work in an anthology, a PDF assigned by a professor that originates from Lord-knows-where–is tedious at best and can become a nightmare at worst.

Avoid Internet Citation Makers

Impatient people don’t want to hear this, but it’s true: using random citation makers is risky and inefficient. It’s risky because there’s no guarantee that a program invented by John Doe will create error-free citations. Why is it inefficient? Well, if I provided the format for an MLA book citation–Author Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Date.–and you found those details, typing that from scratch in a word document would be faster than entering those words in blank spots on a form and waiting for the “machine” to compute your citation. My coworker noted that legitimate citation makers can be obtained through the college, but never use machines found simply by a Google search.

Purdue OWL as a Resource

Screenshot from Purdue OWL homepage.

Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab is my favorite and most frequently used citation source. The website addresses the various citation styles, though I’ve only used MLA for school assignments. However, the business theses I’ve edited used APA, and I consulted Purdue OWL for those, too. I love how straightforward and thorough Purdue OWL’s organization is. With each style guide, the site features a homepage that breaks down the underlying structure behind the style, explaining the citation’s components. Here’s the one for MLA. The left sidebar provides links to pages covering various topics in MLA like “electronic sources” and “books.” Each page logically begins with consolidated instances and moves to complex ones.

For example, on the page about books, they provide directions for citing a book with one author, followed by a book with more than one author, multiple books by one author, a book by an organization, etc. More complex instances, such as an article in a reference book, appear further down the page. Each page progresses by providing brief explanations and accompanying examples for various types of sources, like my grammar tutorials. Purdue OWL’s style guides are brief, didactic, and easy to understand, so using them as an aid for citation writing makes the process less torturous.


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