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Distance Learning: Citation

Library orientation and advice for students and faculty in distance/online classes.

What is Citation?

The term "citation" refers to the systems and methods used in academic writing to identify the sources of words and information.  Simply put, the audience for your paper or project needs to know how you know what you know, and be able to find your sources if they want to know more.

Different citation systems--also known as "formats" or "styles"--are used in different fields.  Your instructor will usually tell you which style is required for your assignment; if the instructor doesn't say, ask.  Some of the most common are:

  • MLA style:  developed by the Modern Language Association, this style is used in the humanities,\ and sometimes the arts.

  • APA style:  developed by the American Psychological Association, this style is used the social sciences and education, and sometimes for business and  the sciences.

  • Chicago Style: also known as CMS or Turbabian, is sometimes used for business, history, and the arts.

  • AMA Style:  developed by the American Medical Association, used in medicine and allied health fields, and sometimes in other sciences.

If you are not sure what citation style to use for your paper, check your syllabus or assignment sheet, then ask your professor!  


If you're not sure how to cite something, there are several places you can turn for help.  

  • The Research Services Desk:  SRU librarians can help you with your citation questions.  Use the Ask a Librarian box (below this one), telephone us at (724-738-4649, or call or email the subject librarian for your major.

  • The Writing Center:  the Writing Center is run by the English Department and staffed by undergraduate and graduate students.  They provide help with all aspects of writing, for any subject.  Telephone them at (724) 738-2654.  Be sure to inform them that you are a distance student in order to receive help over the phone; on-campus students are asked to come in person.  

  • Your instructor:  You can also take your question directly to your instructor. This is a particularly good option if your question is  a particularly tricky one or if you are using one of the less-common citation styles.  However, your instructor will probably  appreciate it if you make clear that you tried to figure it out on your own first, paticularly if he or she has a large number of students.  Look for information in your textbook/other course materials and the resources suggested on this page.  

Ask A Librarian

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Citation Resources

Bailey Library has prepared LibGuides to help students with the citation styles most commonly used as SRU.

The following outside resources are also recommended by librarians:

  • Purdue OWL:  This resource, developed by Purdue University's Online Writing Lab, provides information about APA, MLA, and Chicago styles.

  • Citing Sources at provides information about how and why to cite, and links to other guides on various citation styles.

Academic Honesty Resources

The university Code of Conduct can be downloaded here.  Academic honesty is discussed under "student responsibilities." provides a variety of resources about plagiarism and citation.  The "Plagiarism 101" and "Citing Sources" tabs are particularly useful.  

This post from SRU's educational technology blog explains how Turnitin's plagiarism-checking software works.  

Subject Guide

Rocco Cremonese's picture
Rocco Cremonese
201 Bailey Library
(724) 738-2657