CMS vs. MLA vs. APA

Citation styles can be confusing; they have so many seemingly arbitrary rules, and there are so many different methods and styles for papers. How do you know which style to use? How are the styles different? Here we break down the three major citation styles used at WKU, and in academic writing in general.

Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)

Disciplines used in (generally): History, Anthropology, Archaeology, Political Science, Religious Studies, Philosophy, Art History, International Studies, etc. Also used in publishing, though many publishers will have a house style that is adapted from the CMS.

Citation system

  1. Notes and Bibliography (NB)–uses footnotes or endnotes for in-text citations and includes a bibliography. Footnote or endnotes have a particular format which includes bibliographic information as well as the page numbers of the referenced material.
  2. Author and Date (AD)–uses the author and date in in-text parenthetical citations and includes a bibliography.

Resources: 

Modern Language Association (MLA)

Disciplines used in (generally): English, Literature, Linguistics, Communications, and the arts and humanities

Citation system: Author and page numbers in parenthetical in-text citation and Works Cited page.

Resources:

American Psychological Association (APA)

Disciplines used in (generally): Psychology, Sociology, Education, Social Work, Nursing, and social sciences. Occasionally used in the sciences.

Citation system: Author, date, and page numbers in parenthetical in-text citation and References page.

Resources:

We also have general citation-related online resources! Click here for a useful citation style chart from the Purdue OWL comparing these three major styles. Click here for a WKU Writing Center tutorial video on creating citations in each of these styles. The video also includes explanation on some of the differences between the citations in MLA, CMS, and APA.

If you find yourself still confused by your discipline’s citation style, or could use more clarification on the differences between Chicago, MLA, and APA styles, stop by the writing center! Our tutors have experience with working in these styles, and we have resource books and reference sheets on all of these styles. Visit the Writing Center today or set up an appointment online. We’re open from 9 AM to 4 PM in 127 Cherry Hall and 4 PM to 9 PM in theWe’re open from 9 AM to 4 PM in 127 Cherry Hall and 4 PM to 9 PM in the Academic Commons in Cravens, Monday through Thursday (9 AM to 3 PM in 127 Cherry Hall on Fridays).

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The final(s) countdown: Getting your paper started

by Abby Ponder 

We’ve reached that time of year, folks: finals week. Or, better yet, crunch time.

It’s been a grande ole’ semester filled with football games and friends, festivities and fun times. But, like all good things, this semester has to come to a close, and with that conclusion, final projects and papers must come to an end, too.

So how are you coping with the stress of finals week?

Well, step one: don’t panic. I know that is much easier said than done (trust me, I definitely know that), but it’s doable. Compartmentalizing is key. I have four or five papers due in the upcoming weeks, and compartmentalizing them is the only way I’m going to be able to remain a fully functioning human being by the end of this.

So, let’s walk through the process. Bear in mind that, as we go, what works for me may or may not work for you. Everyone has a different approach to paper writing, but it is my hope that even if this isn’t the exact path you wind up taking, that this post might help you figure out for yourself what works and doesn’t work, and then provide you the support to build your own foundation from there.

First, look at the assignment and deconstruct what it is asking you. Are there multiple questions being asked in the prompt? In that case, I’ve found that it can be helpful to separate them into different questions. Suppose that the prompt it asking you the following question: “How does The Scarlet Letter reflect the mentalities of Puritan New England? How is this mindset still reflected in a contemporary setting? How do the symbols from the novel reflect the way symbols are used today in regards to shame?” When planning to write this paper, you might break it down like this:

Admittedly, the questions your professors assign will be more eloquent than my attempts, and your answers will certainly be more elaborate, but you get the general idea. Breaking down these long questions can help you figure out what direction you want to take your paper in. I’m a very visual learner, and so having this clearly laid out in front of me helps tremendously.

However, while some assignments may be long and elaborate, there are others that are completely open-ended. In some cases, these assignments can be even more overwhelming. You know you’re supposed to write about something, but with no specific guidelines or instructions, where on Earth are you supposed to begin? In that case, find a topic that is both interesting to you and is relevant to the class. Making a list can be helpful, and taking a look back at the syllabus can also give you an idea of everything you might’ve forgotten from earlier in the semester. (But you wouldn’t forget any of the material, right?)
Photo Credit 
Once you have a general idea as to what you’re going to be writing about, I’ve found that writing up an outline can be particularly helpful. Outlines, in my experience, can go in a couple of different directions.
One option is the bare-bones skeleton. This is the idea of just putting words on paper to have some sense of direction as to where the project should go. I typically write this outline on paper, because drawing arrows and crossing things out can sometimes be especially satisfying, and it definitely lends itself towards making you feel as if you’re making progress–because you are!
The above picture is from the beginning of an outline I was working on for a class earlier this semester. It’s nothing terribly elaborate, but more of an idea as to where the paper will eventually go. Even if the paper deviates from this path, it’s a nice way of gathering your thoughts and saving them for later. You never know what epiphanies will happen!
Once I have finished my bare-bones outline, then I start a quote-based outline. In most of your academic research papers, secondary sources are crucial. Instead of flipping back and forth while writing the paper, I like to have a good idea of what quotes I’ll be using and where I will be using them before I even get started.
Following the bare-bones outline, I created this one to plug in resources that, if the paper presented an opportunity for them, I could cite.
While you may still need to pull out some other quotes as you go along (because, hey, papers develop in different ways sometimes), this way you already have the central ones at your disposal. If you follow this outline (ha!), though, make sure you continue to mark where you’re pulling the quotes from. Citations are critical, and you’re not saving time in the long run if you have to go back and find the author and page number after the fact. Do it all upfront and you’ll be golden!
From there, the next thing to do is just start writing. And remember, the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect–that’s why it’s called a first draft. If you have the time, check out one of our recent post about the editing process for some extra assurance and advice.
Also, don’t forget that the Writing Center is here to assist you with any stage of the writing process. We are not an editing service, but we will gladly help walk you through any bumps in the road you may stumble across, whether you’re on the preliminary outline or looking at a final draft. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a second opinion on things, too.
Like always, you can schedule an appointment by clicking here and selecting a time that works well for you. If you’re struggling with the system, we also offer a step-by-step tutorial for how to make an appointment. We are also available for drop-in appointments, but please remember that those function under a first come, first serve basis. Because of that, we strongly encourage students to go ahead and schedule an appointment in advance to secure their spot.
Good luck in the upcoming couple of weeks, my friends, and have awonderful break!
Happy Writing!
This post was originally published on November 24, 2014.

“Red, the blood of angry pens; black, the marks of mistakes past…”

by Abby Ponder 

For almost all writers, editing is a fundamental aspect of the writing process. Without it, mistakes can be glossed over and points can remain unrefined. And while in a lot of cases editing is no one’s idea of a good time, it certainly doesn’t have to be the nightmare most people make it out to be.

Whenever I’m writing, my first draft is, to put it rather bluntly, a bit rough. Actually, it’s more than a bit; it’s generally so rough that I almost always refuse to let anyone else even glance at it. My first draft is usually a compilation of various outlines (a step outlined in a recent post) that have been tossed together into an assortment of paragraphs that are usually long and rambling with very little cohesion. It’s something resembling a paper, but it’s not there yet. Like I said, these initial drafts are rough–but that’s okay.

Anne Lamott, most known for her novel Bird by Bird which highlights tips for successful writers of all genres, has a chapter in the aforementioned novel called “Shitty First Drafts.” In the chapter, Lamott explains that a first draft is just that: a first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it is a starting point. The whole point of the first draft is to get words and ideas on paper, after all, and that is almost always the hardest part of writing: you have all these fantastic ideas, but you might not have a specific place to start or a way to tie them all together. However, between the help of your outline and your “shitty first draft,” you’ll begin to have an idea come together and slowly but surely that idea will begin to blossom.

So, after you’ve written that first draft, some people write another one… and then maybe another one after that. I know that I usually go through several drafts before I am finally satisfied.

My British Fantasy Literature paper rocking some Les Miserables lyrics, as one naturally does.
For example, I took a class last fall where I had to write a paper breaking down the concept of love in works of British Fantasy Literature. (Harry Potter was, unsurprisingly, incorporated into this assignment.) However, even though I intimately knew the subject matter, there were still a number of changes that needed to be made. A friend of mine helped me to put the editing process in perspective, made me take a step back and laugh at it, and the break from the seriousness was a tremendous help.
Editing, in my experience, is mostly about taking that step back and examining what the words staring back at you are trying to say. It’s akin to reading another person: they’re trying to say something, but it is up to you to decipher the meaning.
There are two things that I have found incredibly helpful in the editing process: (1) printing off the paper, and (2) reading it out loud.
While it is easy enough to edit a paper on the computer (and, admittedly, it does save some on printing costs), there is something about editing a paper on, well, paper that makes a huge difference. People tend to be more inclined to skim when reading online, and consequently it can be very easy to skip over the small mistakes–especially when you’re not on the hunt for a misplaced pronoun or a comma splice. When you print the paper out and literally put pen to paper, you’ll be surprised at how many things you see. And, like with my paper above, there is a sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing a marked up paper. Sure, it means you still have a ways to go, but it also symbolizes progress, and progress is never a bad thing.
Next, reading the text to yourself (or another person) can alter your perception of the words. Reading aloud forces you to interact with the paper and actively think about both the content and the style. Additionally, most people have a tendency to catch any misplaced words or confusing phrases when they’re hearing or speaking them. What sounds good in your head may not always work out loud, and this step can do a lot in terms of drawing attention to that.
Just make sure that whenever it seems like too much, and you feel as though you can’t make sense of the words anymore, take a break. Sometimes you need to give your brain some room to breath, and then you can come back ready to get back to work.
Comic by Debbie Ohi.
When you feel like you’re finished, though, or even if you’re stumped along the way, don’t forget to utilize the WKU Writing Center. While we are not an editing service, we will help walk you through any bumps in the road you may be having. Sometimes it’s nice to have a second opinion on things, too.
As always, you can schedule an appointment by clicking here and selecting a time that works well for you. We are also available for drop-in appointments, but those function under a first come, first serve basis.

Happy Writing!

This post was originally published on October 20, 2014.

Documentation and formatting

Sometimes, citation style and formatting can seem like the most daunting – and the most tedious – part of writing a research paper. Following guidelines about margin sizes, cover pages, and detailed citations can seem like stuffy, academic nonsense and a waste of time for a paper that is most likely only going to be read by your professor. Though it is true that these details are secondary to content, they are not just torture devices designed by your professor to make you suffer and give them something to laugh about with other professors in the faculty lounge: there are actual, legitimate reasons for following these rules and learning appropriate style techniques.

Avoiding plagiarism is the most frequently discussed reason for following citation guidelines. Most of your professors have probably talked to you about this, so I won’t go into excruciating detail and give you a speech you’ve already heard. It’s pretty simple: you have to give credit where credit is due. Not giving your sources credit is stealing. It’s cheating. Don’t do it.

But why use these standard, field-specific styles? Why not just write a note at the end of your paper that tells where you got your information?

When you write a research paper, what you are essentially doing is entering into an academic conversation about the topic you’ve chosen (or been assigned) to address. You’re communicating what you understand about a given subject to an audience, and possibly pointing out something new about a topic that no one has thought of before. Proper documentation of the resources from which you gained your knowledge backs up your point; sloppy or incorrect documentation hurts your credibility (and your grade).

Documentation/citation styles are, much like grammar, or written music, or Latin classifications of plant and animal life (there is, I’m sure, a fancier word for this, but I’m not a biology major), codes that exist within a group – in this case, an academic field – to help people communicate. When you as a writer don’t follow these guidelines, your credibility is hurt. You and your audience have entered into an agreement to use these means to talk about this subject, and you’ve broken that agreement. Oops.

Now that you’re committed to learning and following style and citation guidelines, there is one obvious problem: they can be hard to master. They’re complicated. They’re technical. Lucky for you, there’s also an obvious answer!

We here at the WKU Writing Center really want to help you! As students of English and writing, we’re well versed in MLA style and documentation guidelines, but we’re also familiar with APA and other styles. If you bring in something we’re not familiar with, we can figure it out together.

It’s also important to note that we writing tutors, just like you, are only human. I look up details about MLA style nearly every time I write a paper. Almost no one has this stuff memorized – if you do, I want to know your secret. A really great resource for information about documentation style is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). This website has lots of helpful information about both MLA and APA documentation – I use it pretty much every time I have to cite something – and lots of other nifty writing tips as well.

Happy writing!

Rachel

This post was originally published on October 17, 2013.