When I was in high school, we spent a lot of time on the “correct” format for citing sources in research papers. We had to learn where to put commas and periods and parentheses, the order in which things like author, title, publication date, and page numbers went, and when to use underlining and quotation marks. My English teacher was a stickler for formatting, and if it wasn’t done correctly, we had to do it over.

LibrarianWhen I went to college, the rules changed. Sure, we were still citing sources. But the format was different. I can’t remember whether we used APA or MLA or Chicago or what, but I do know that it wasn’t the same as the rules we used in high school. Five years later, I found myself in grad school, where another set of rules applied. At this point, I was using APA, but it was during that awkward period when we wanted to use online sources, but there wasn’t any standard way to cite them. So there were rules, and exceptions to the rules, and a lot of shoulder shrugging and improvising.

Through all of this, I realized that there’s not much point in memorizing the format for source citations. There’s no universal agreement on a single style guide, and the guides themselves change over time. It’s much easier to just look up the format you need when you’re writing the paper.

Better yet: use an online generator. OttoBib is a pretty neat one, because you don’t have to type much data in. Just give it an ISBN number, tell it which style you want, and it’ll do the rest.

So, grabbing a book off the bookshelf, I type in “0-465-02685-0” and it gives me:

MLA: Hofstadter, Douglas. Godel, Escher, Bach. New York: Basic Books, 1979.
APA: Hofstadter, D., (1979). Godel, Escher, Bach. New York: Basic Books.
Chicago: Hofstadter, Douglas. Godel, Escher, Bach. New York: Basic Books, 1979.

What could be easier than that? Our High School currently uses NoodleTools, but this one’s free.


Author: John Schinker

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