Citation Vocabulary Cheat Sheet


Citations, along with grammar, punctuation, research, and exam preparation, are an essential part of academic life. However, with different citation rules for different institutions, different subjects, and different types of sources, it can be hard to keep track of the terminology involved.

Don’t worry! We’ve put together a quick citation vocabulary cheat sheet which should come in handy if your tutor or classmates mention a term that leaves you feeling confused. To keep things simple, all examples will refer to a book as the source. When using a different source type, you can find citing help via


Ok, this one should be easy. A citation is a way to reference any sources that you’ve used while researching and writing your paper, project, or any other piece of academic work. You need to think about both in-text citations and also supplying a full citation (sometimes called a reference in some citation styles) on a reference list, works cited list, or bibliography.

APA style

Short for American Psychological Association, APA is one of the most popular citation styles. It’s most commonly used within science subjects.

MLA style

Short for Modern Language Association, MLA is one of the most popular citation styles. It’s most commonly used within English and humanities subjects.

Chicago style

Chicago Manual of Style citations are most commonly used within history and humanities subjects. There are two different types of citations which fall under Chicago style: author/date and footnote/bibliography.

In-text citation

In-text citations sit within the body of your work (often within parentheses), usually following a direct quote or paraphrased information. They give the reader basic information about the source, which may include the author, the date of publication (for some styles of citation), and the page number if relevant.

APA style in-text citation example:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” said Gandalf (Tolkien, 1954, p. 20).

MLA style in-text citation example:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” said Gandalf (Tolkien 20).

Note that, if the author is referenced within the sentence, you don’t need to include the author’s name in parentheses.

Reference list / Works cited list

Your reference list or works cited list is where the full information on your sources is included. All of the  in-text citations in the body of your paper should have a corresponding full citation in the reference/works cited list.

The information given on the reference/works cited list should allow the reader to easily look up your source. Additional information that might be given here could include the author’s full name, the full title of the source, the name of an editor or translator, publisher, and place of publication, depending on the citation style being used.

APA citation example:

Shakespeare, W. (1996). Hamlet. T. J. Spencer (Ed.). London, England: Penguin Books.

MLA citation example:

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by George Richard Hibbard, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp 18-22.


A bibliography differs from a reference list or works cited list in that it includes details of every source that you used when writing your paper or essay, even if you haven’t quoted or paraphrased from that source. For example, a tutor might request a bibliography if you’re writing a paper that requires a lot of background reading and research. It would show them exactly what materials you have consulted, and prove that you’ve put in the hard work, even if you don’t have in-text citations referring to every source.

Annotated bibliography

An annotated bibliography includes a citation for each source, followed by a brief paragraph. Information within this paragraph could include anything that you feel might be useful for the reader to know. For example, you could include some information on why you feel the source is relevant to your work, or report on the accuracy or quality of the source.

Source type

This term refers to the type of material that you have used within your work (and wish to cite). Common source types include books, images, websites, and articles, but you can cite anything from a political speech to a movie.

Primary source

A primary source is an original work such as a recording, photograph, newspaper article written from a firsthand experience, or letter. An example of a primary source is actual text of the Magna Carta or photographs of King Tut’s tomb taken by Howard Carter and his team.

Secondary source

A secondary source is an interpretation or evaluation of a primary source, such as a biographical work, analysis of a study, or review. An example of a secondary source is an interpretation of the Magna Carta. Another example is a present day article analyzing Howard Carter’s photographs.

Tertiary source

A tertiary source is a collection/interpretation of primary and secondary sources, such as a textbook, manual, or directory. Note that some types of sources, such as textbooks for example, can be either secondary or tertiary, depending on their content. An example of a tertiary source is a book all about the Magna Carta and its effects on the world.


An online database is a collection of digital information. In libraries, databases are usually comprised of digital articles, research papers, videos, or photographs. These sources are useful when researching for a paper.


Paraphrasing refers to the expression of an idea in your own words. It’s important to remember to still cite your sources when paraphrasing.


When you repeat someone else’s words, work, or idea exactly as it appears in your source, this is known as quoting. Put quotes in quotation marks and include an in-text citation.


Summarizing refers to the condensing of an idea to express it more succinctly. If you’re summarizing someone else’s work or ideas, you still must cite your source.


And finally, this is a really important one. Plagiarism refers to the passing off of someone else’s work, words, or ideas as your own, and is the very thing that citation is designed to avoid. Using a plagiarism checker and citation creator like the ones at is an easy way to ensure that all of your sources are properly cited and your paper is 100% plagiarism free.

Now that you’ve got citation terms down, brush up on your grammatical ones! Read up on irregular verbs, relative pronouns, conjunctive adverbs, and more with our free grammar guides.

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