As you’ve probably figured out by this point, erring on the side of caution and citing your sources is usually the best path to follow, especially when you’re quoting directly, paraphrasing someone else’s ideas, or aren’t sure if the information that you’re using should be considered “common knowledge.” Just as a quick refresher, watch this brief (1:05 minutes) video about what should be cited.
In your research, you may have noticed in one bibliography a journal title may be italicized and in another bibliography, the journal title isn't italicized. Additionally in-text citations may appear differently in the text, sometimes there are numbers and sometimes there are names. Why is this? The answer is complicated but it boils down to how each discipline communicates within itself. Think of it like tickets, you can't use a sports ticket to board an airplane but they are both types of tickets, having some of the same information - time, date, seat, and price. So each citation style is like a different type of ticket but you need to use the right one to join the conversation. This is why your English professor will require MLA and one of your science classes may require APA.
While these citation styles look different, they contain the same key pieces of information that will direct you to find the original source.
You can find information about other citation styles in this guide. Purdue Owl and Citation Fox provide good example of citation formats. While some databases will provide ready made citations, it would be wise to double check these formats with the official citation guide.
You have seen citations in Wikipedia, books, and journal articles, but how can they help you besides avoiding plagiarism? Think about the bibliography as a giant map of the topic information world. The citations give you exact directions to each point on this map. Each citation includes key pieces of information to guide you to the source you want to find. Just like some maps indicate what are cities or mountains or rivers, the citation will tell you what kind of source you will be heading to (e.g. newspaper, book, online article, website, etc.).
Learning how to read the citations will not only enable you to find your source quickly but also determine if it is a source you want to use. So if you are looking for scholarly articles and all the bibliography includes are newspapers and websites, you will know not to bother searching for those sources.
Looking at the graphics below, you will notice some similarities and differences and other key points to determine the type of source that was cited.