A Basic Taxonomy of Documentation Styles That Editing Services Should Know

In their freshman English courses, many college students must use Modern Language Association (MLA) style.  Some even learn MLA well enough to apply it in later undergrad papers.  However, when they take classes outside of the English department, they often find they must learn other documentation styles. The more common among these additional styles are the American Psychological Association (APA) style and Turabian or Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS or CMS; often referred to as Chicago style).

For graduate students and professionals engaged in scholarly writing, the documentation styles tend to be more varied, with many disciplines and professional groups having their own specific styles, including the Council of Science Editors (CSE), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Political Science Association (APSA), the American Sociological Association (ASA), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE, pronounced “I triple-E”).  In addition, many other professional organizations have their specific styles, many journals have their own in-house styles, and some publishers have their own styles that apply to all of their journals or to those focused on certain fields.

The various styles can be very confusing.  Besides the more salient differences (whether notes or parenthetical citations are used and whether dates follow authors’ names in parenthetical citations), the styles are often differentiated in the bibliographic entries by the use of parentheses and punctuation or the placement of the date.

To identify styles by the in-text citations, I generally apply the following system.

Numbers used to represent citations

  1. Are the numbers superscript (1) or regular font (in-line) in brackets (2)?
    1. Superscript numbers are used for different purposes in different systems.

a. In some documentation styles, superscript numbers indicate footnotes or endnotes that provide authorial comments only (used in MLA or APSA, for example).  These notes are not used primarily to indicate references unless, as specified by MLA, a parenthetical citation would contain enough references so that its length interferes with reading the text.

b. In other styles, the footnotes or endnotes indicate the sources for information used in the text and may contain authorial comments (alone or with reference information).  Such notes are used in the CMOS/Turabian notes-bibliography style.  Notes corresponding to superscript numbers appear at the bottom of the page on which the numbers appear (footnotes), at the end of a chapter (chapter endnotes), or after the last chapter (endnotes).  The information in these notes is repeated in a bibliography that often follows the final endnotes.  The bibliography is in alphabetical order.  This notes-bibliography style allows the use of shortened citations or Ibid. after the initial note giving the full publication information.  However, many students complain about having to duplicate the information from a bib entry for a source in the first note referring to that source.  Simply copying the information will not work because the punctuation in the notes is different from that in the bib entries.

c.         Finally, superscript numbers can indicate entries in the final references list (often labeled References or References Cited).  The entries in the final list are organized in the order in which they appear in the text and are numbered.  Subsequent references to a source will be indicated by the earlier superscript number assigned to that source.  Styles using this citation/sequence style include AMA and one of the CSE styles.  AMA indicates page numbers in superscript parentheses immediately following the number: 5(p377).

  1. Non-superscript (in-line) numbers in brackets usually indicate a citation/sequence style (with entries in the references list organized in the order of their citation in the text).  IEEE is an example of this style.  However, ACM has an alternative name/sequence style in which sources in the references list are organized alphabetically by authors’ last names and numbered consecutively.  In the text, a number in brackets (following punctuation marks if any are present) indicates the source being cited.

 

Parenthetical in-text citations

  1. Do parenthetical citations include the publication date?
    1. If parenthetical citations do not include a date, the documentation style is very likely MLA.
    2. Styles that include the date in parenthetical citations are often used in the social sciences and in some humanities.  They include CMOS/Turabian author-date style, APA, ASA, APSA, ACM, and CSE name/year style.  These styles can be further differentiated by the formatting of the citations.

a.         If an ampersand (&) is used to join multiple authors’ names instead of the word and, the style is very likely APA or Harvard style.  APA is further identified by a comma following the author’s name before the date and preceding the ampersand (Smith, Jones, & Brown, 2010) while Harvard style does not have either of these commas (Smith, Jones & Brown 2010).  Both Harvard style and APA have the page number preceded by a p and a period: (2010, p. 5).

b.         Styles that do not place a comma after the author’s name can often be differentiated by the way the date and page number are treated. APSA and CMOS/Turabian author-date styles separate the date from a page number with a comma (Name 2010, 23).  CSE name/year style also separates the date from a page number with a comma and indicates the page number with a p with no punctuation following it: (Name 2010, p 23).

c.         ASA separates the date from the page number with a colon: (Name 2010:23).

d.         Some styles do not use parentheses for the in-text citations.  Specifically, ACM uses brackets: [Name 2010].

 

Thus, the taxonomy for the documentation styles is as follows:

Numbers or Information in parentheses

If numbers, are they superscript or regular font?

If superscript, do the numbers indicate notes?

If so, do the notes contain source information?

If not, the style is probably MLA or APSA. (Skip to “parentheses” questions below.)

If so, the style is probably CMOS/Turabian.

If the numbers do not indicate notes, check the references list for numbered entries. The style is probably AMA or CSE.

If the numbers are not superscript, they are probably in brackets.

If the numbers are consecutive early on in the paper, the style is probably a citation/sequence style, such as IEEE, and the entries in the references list are not in alphabetical order.

If the numbers appear to be random, the style is probably a name/sequence style, such as ACM, and the entries in the references list are in alphabetical order.

If parentheses are used, do the in-text citations include dates?

If not, the style is probably MLA.

If so, is an ampersand used to connect authors’ names?

If so, does a comma appear before the date?

If so, the style is probably APA (which has a p and a period before the page number).

If not, the style is probably Harvard (which also uses a p. before the page number).

If an ampersand is not used to connect authors’ names, is the date separated from the page number with a comma?

If so, does a p without punctuation appear before the page number?

If so, the style is probably CSE name/year style.

If not, the style is probably APSA or CMOS/Turabian author-date style.

If the date is separated from the page number with a colon, the style is probably ASA.

 

Finally, if the author-and-date citation appears in brackets instead of parentheses, the style is probably ACM.

 

If you are having trouble, hire a good editing service such as Edit911.