Hollins University Writing Center

How to Choose a Style

When documenting a paper that uses outside sources, you should choose a specific documentation style. This will give your documentation consistency, which makes it easier for your reader to follow. In addition, experienced readers (like your professor) are used to the “shorthand” of a certain style in their discipline.

When choosing a style you should first ask yourself what you hope the in-text documentation will tell your reader. The in-text reference is the parenthetical or numerical reference that the reader sees as part of your essay. For example:

APA Style: (Smith, 1985) Author and year of publication; add pg. # for direct quotes
MLA Style: (Smith 7) Author and page number
Turabian: Smith 1 Superscript number in text; complete bibliographic reference in footnote or endnote

In a research-based field like psychology, the year in which a research study was performed is important. So a parenthetical documentation style like APA (American Psychological Association), which gives the reader a quick reference to the year of publication, would be the best choice. Psychologists aren’t the only ones who use APA, though. At Hollins, the Communication Department and the Sociology Department also prefer this style. (See the chart below for styles used in various departments.) Other disciplines may not emphasize the year of publication. In English, for example, analysis of poems, stories and essays is common and the author’s name and page number are the important pieces of information. For English and some other disciplines, then, a parenthetical style like MLA (Modern Language Association) is the preferred style. Some disciplines prefer the more complete information provided by a footnote or endnote reference. In styles like Turabian and Chicago, all the information about a source (title, publication information, etc.) is included in the footnote or endnote. At Hollins, some members of the History and Political Science departments prefer the thoroughness of these styles of documentation.

MLA Style       APA Style       Turabian      
English       Psychology       History      
Philosophy       Communications       Political Science      
(Please note that this is a generalized and incomplete list. Some departments use several styles, and faculty members have individual preferences that may change depending on the assignment or other factors. To know for sure ask your professor.)

Lists of Sources

Don’t forget that each style (e.g., MLA, APA, Turabian) has rules about how to format the list of sources at the end of your document. The title and formatting of this list will be different depending on the style you use and sometimes on its purpose:


Works Cited
Works Consulted

Check the Writing Center summary sheets on each of these styles, located on the HollinsNet web site, for details on formatting the list of sources for APA, MLA, Turabian and Chicago.

Electronic Sources

For tips on citing electronic sources (Internet sites, electronic databases from the library, journals on line, CDs), go to the page on the Writing Center website for the individual style you’re using (MLA, APA, Turabian or Chicago) and click on “Electronic Sources.”

Each style page has additional links to Internet sites with additional documentation information. If you don’t find the information you need there, check the style manuals for your style. You can look at copies of these manuals in the library or in the Writing Center, or you can buy your own copy in the bookstore:

MLA: MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Fifth Edition. Joseph Gibaldi. New York, The Modern Language Association of America, 1999.

APA: Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Fourth Edition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1994.

Turabian: A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Sixth Edition. Kate L. Turabian. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

ONLINE SOURCES: A useful source for on-line citation in APA, MLA and Turabian style is: The Columbia Guide to Online Style by Janice R. Walker and Todd Taylor. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. Walker and Taylor attempt to fill in the gaps on electronic citations in these three styles.