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How do I find the right citation style?

There are different ways to cite sources correctly. Find the right citation style for your scientific work with this article.

Why cite?

Science builds on existing knowledge and develops it further. An important principle of scientific practice is the verifiability of results. It is essential to correctly attribute the intellectual property of others to avoid plagiarism. Citations can help to support one's own theses or to refer to certain ideas or concepts. For these reasons, citations play a significant role in academic work.

What is a citation style anyway?

A citation style defines rules for the use of references in scientific papers. These include the format and location in the text where the citation should appear, as well as the appearance of the bibliography (for example, sorted alphabetically or by occurrence of the reference). Proper citation is of great importance, as it is an important evaluation criterion of scientific papers. It is important to stick to one citation style for the entire paper, thus creating a consistent overall look of the paper.

Author-year in the text or rather footnote style?

When writing a scientific paper, it is important to think about the desired citation style for the references in the text early on. It is best to consult your supervisor right at the beginning of your work and ask for a preferred citation style. In many disciplines, certain citation styles have been established. Citation styles can be roughly divided into three categories: Author-year (in text), footnote styles, and numeric styles.

In-text citation styles

The Harvard citation style works entirely without footnotes. References appear in the text in the short form author-year. The detailed references can be found in the bibliography. Since there is no uniform set of rules and different variations are possible, it is very important to have a look at the manual of your own institute. The TU Graz recommends the Harvard citation style in the guide "Good Scientific Practice" in TU4U (in German only).

The APA style, developed by the American Psychological Association, is a variant of the Harvard citation style and is also based on the author-year system. The rules for this style of citation in scientific papers are regularly revised by the American Psychological Association (APA). This citation style is often used in the Anglo-American world in the social sciences and psychology.

Example APA
In text: (Shan et al., 2017, p. 23)
Bibliography: Shan, M., Hwang, B.-G., & Zhu, L. (2017). A global review of sustainable construction project financing: policies, practices, and research efforts. Sustainability, 9(12), 2347. doi.org/10.3390/su9122347 

You find more information on APA citation style on their website

Footnote styles

Footnote styles include source references in the form of footnotes at the bottom of each page. In the footnote, the source can appear as an abbreviated form or as a full reference. In contrast to the author-year system, which places references in parentheses in the body text, the footnote style allows for more detailed information about the source in the footnote itself. This makes it easier for readers to identify and look up the source.

A well-known representative of footnote styles is the Chicago style. There are two different variants of this style, which differ in the way sources are cited in the text and in the bibliography. The two variants are the author-year style (also known as "Chicago A") and the footnote style (also known as "Chicago B"). In Chicago B style, references to sources are made in the form of footnotes at the bottom of each page or in the appendix of the document. In the footnote, the source is indicated and given a corresponding number, which is inserted as a superscript in the appropriate place in the text.

In addition to the Chicago citation style, there are other citation styles that also use footnotes, such as the Turabian citation style. This is also used in the humanities and social sciences.

Example Chicago B in footnote
In the footnote: 1 Shan, Hwang, and Zhu, "A Global Review of Sustainable Construction Project Financing," 23.
Bibliography: Shan, Ming, Bon-Gang Hwang, and Lei Zhu. "A Global Review of Sustainable Construction Project Financing: Policies, Practices, and Research Efforts." Sustainability 9, no. 12 (December 16, 2017): 2347. doi.org/10.3390/su9122347 

More information on Chicago citation style can be found online at the Chicago Manual of Style website.

Numeric Styles

An example of a numeric style is IEEE from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. IEEE uses a numeric citation style - references in the text appear as numbers that refer to entries in the bibliography. This style is particularly common in science, technology, and engineering.

Example IEEE
In text: [1, S.23]
Bibliography: [1] M. Shan, B.-G. Hwang, and L. Zhu, "A global review of sustainable construction project financing: policies, practices, and research efforts," Sustainability, vol. 9, no. 12, p. 2347, Dec. 2017, doi: 10.3390/su9122347.

Guidance on this citation style is available in full online on the website of the American Psychology Association

Each discipline has different specifications and each institute has different citation style requirements. But each citation style has the same goal: to acknowledge the authors whose works are cited and to avoid plagiarism.

Citation style search in Citavi

The reference management program Citavi supports scientific writing. It facilitates the systematic collection and organization of literature references in one place, helps with correct citation and the creation of bibliographies - in short: you save a lot of time and nerves.

Your supervisor has probably already given you a document with the citation guidelines. To find out which citation style it is, Citavi offers a handy function. Under "Cite, Search Citation Styles" you can search over 10,000 citation styles to find a style that meets your needs. For example, filter by language or how the citation is presented in the text.

In the advanced search, you can filter by other requirements (e.g. separators, formatting). Once the search is complete, Citavi suggests citation styles that match these requirements. In the preview, you can analyze the citation styles in more detail. If the suggested citation styles do not meet the guidelines, you always have the option to adapt an existing citation style or create a new one using the citation style editor.


Download Citavi
Guidelines on Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice (only available in german)

Viola Mayerhofer is a librarian at Graz University of Technology. She supports researchers and students finding literature and is happy to answer questions about reference management programs.
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