Differing citation style guides are predominant in differing disciplines, different countries, and some are even specific to academic presses and journals. Humanities styles, for instance, tend to place the Author's name with the title, and furnish publication dates as the last component of the citation, while citations styles for scientific publications almost invariably begin with the Author's name and the publication date. A few of the more widely used of these guides in the US are: The Modern Language Association Style Guide, The Chicago Manual of Style, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, and Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. There are innumerable guides, however - far too many for us to list here - in many countries and areas of study. Many of these guides are now published on the web.
The rules put forward in each of these style manuals provide writers with a guide for determining the sequence in which components of the citation are to be presented, the print attributes to be used to format the text, and the punctuation to be used to separate different components. These rules are significant, because they are the "code" that helps readers identify the type of work cited (whether it is a an article, a book, etc.), and this information is necessary for the work to be relocated.
Consider, for instance, the following citations:
James, Arthur R. Reading and Righting: politicized research. 3rd ed. New York: Preston, 1999.The sequence, formatting, and punctuation separating the different components of the citations helps readers identify the type of source work being referenced, and, hence, assists readers in relocating the source. Knowing the type of source work is essential to relocating a work, since differing types of source works are housed in different locations, and readers will need to use search strategies peculiar to that type of work to relocate it.
Manners, William. "Chalk and Chess." PMLA 43 (1999): 223-24.
For example: we can deduce that the first citation is for a book, from the print attributes: titles of significant works or collections, such as treatises, books, monographs, journal series and the like, are accented in citations with italics or underscoring, and the year of publication, in legal citations, is the last component in the citation. With the source work type identified, a reader can search a library system (or the Library of Congress catalog) for a book titled Reading and Righting by Arthur James, and find the third edition published by Preston in 1999. It is important to remember that publication information and edition descriptions help readers locate the exact edition of the source work, so that pinpoint cites to material printed on specific pages can be located on the same pages.
Citations of articles in periodicals contain the same sequence of a title, journal name, volume number, year and page. The critical piece of information in each of these citations, however, is the print attributes used for the title - indicating that the work is published in a journal, and that readers will need to search in the serials or periodicals held by the library for the volume containing the cited material. This is actually quite important, since libraries do not list the contents of journals by author or article title.
It is of course true that not all of your readers will need to rush out and find the works you have used as sources. An important part of the purpose of citations in scholarly writing, however, is that your citations should also make this possible for those who do wish to relocate the work. Formatting your citations properly is a signficant part of accomplishing the objectives of citing your source works.
For Citation users, formatting citations properly means, simply, entering the bibliographic information as you are researching an issue, in the appropriately labeled fields on our "notecard forms." An online StyleGuide makes this process easy and straightforward. The book citation above, for instance, would look like this as a Citation record:
Author names, titles, and publication information are entered into clearly labeled fields.