Bibliographic Citation - Part 1


Researchers both Staff and Students must at one time or the other engage in Bibliographic Citation. The business of writing Books, Journal Articles, Term Paper, Student Assignments, Dissertation/Thesis and students project work all demand that you must review literature in the area or discipline along which you are writing. The import of this, is based on the fact that there is hardly anybody that is writing/researching on an area that has never been touched or investigated.

 Therefore, no body is doing anything new; what every academic is doing revolves round making your own contribution to the growth of knowledge. That is why researchers, lecturers and students keep reading and making their own contribution to what already existed.

The business of research is an unending one because nothing is new under the sun. What we simply do is to look at the extent of previous work done, look for gaps uncovered by the earlier work and fill them up. Hence there must be a review of related literature at every endeavor aimed at writing a book, publishing an article in any Academic Journal, writing a Thesis/ Dissertation, a Project Work or a Student Writing Class Assignment.

Citation should not therefore be confused with Bibliographic Referencing.

A citation according to Obadan, (2012) is a reference to a published or unpublished source embedded in the body of an intellectual work that denotes an entry in the bibliographic reference section of the work for the purpose of acknowledging the relevance of the works of others to the topic of discussion at the spot where the citation appears.

Wikipedia (2010) defines citation as an abbreviated alphanumeric expression [e.g (Aliu, 2013)]. To that extent, citation is inserted at the very point in a work where a relevant and related work to the one under discussion exists (Creaney, 2009)

The word "Bibliography" has been copiously discussed earlier in this work, suffice to observe some brevity in this regard and to simply reduce Bibliographic Citation to the art involved in the methodical listing of all the sources -- Books, articles, government documents and whatever is relevant to your topic in the course of writing.

In other words, books and Journals you used, or borrowed materials, ideas and opinions from others while writing or making your own contribution to the growth of knowledge must be acknowledged in alphabetical order at the end of the work called ‘References’.

 In this business of writing, no man is an island of knowledge or possesses the monopoly to do it all alone. When authors therefore borrow or draw materials from another author, they acknowledge him/her. This will protect him against accusation of plagiarism which has serious implications (Obadan, 2012).

Most importantly, according to Obadan, it is the demonstration of Intellectual Honesty in terms of attributing to other Authors the ideas they have previously expressed, rather than giving the impression to the work’s reader that that work’s Authors are the original sources of those ideas. So, the essence of this topic is to acquaint writers or Authors on how to methodically cite sources consulted while writing.

At this juncture, it must be emphasized that there are reputable authorities in this regard e.g. Modern language Association (MLA) style, American Psychological Association (APA) style, Harvard and Chicago style. It must be remarked here too, that not all disciplines accept (MLA) or (APA) Harvard or Chicago referencing style. Therefore we need to know which style is accepted and practiced by the very discipline to which one belongs.

The three popular styles of documentation in addition to the MLA Author/Page style are the Author/Year style used in the Social Sciences and also in some science fields, the footnote/endnote style used in a number of humanities field and the number style used in some scientific and technical disciplines.



The Author/Year Style also called the ‘Harvard’ style is commonly used in the Social Sciences, Sciences and Technical Disciplines. It is similar to MLA (Modern Language Association) Style in that it identifies a source in parentheses within the text and then provides complete bibliographic information about each source in an alphabetized list at the end of the paper.

 This Style of documentation gives special emphasis to the year of a source's publication, sometimes followed by a page number e.g (Aliu, 2013, p.19) or (Aliu, 2013:19) hence the label “Author/Year” Style.

The year is included in the In-Text Citation and is usually highlighted in the complete bibliographic citation by its placement after the Author’s surname. The slight difference between Harvard style and MLA is that the year of publication of the cited document is ignored in the MLA style. MLA style has wide usage in the arts and humanities.

Alia, I.M. (2013). Time Series Analysis on Students’ Patronage of an Electronic Library: Case Study of John Harris Library (E-Learning centre), University of Benin


In the APA (American Psychological Association) style In-text citation, sources cited in the body of the work parenthetically, needs a full-blown bibliographic citation at the end of a chapter or at the very end of the entire write-up on a separate page(s) after the text and before any Appendix included in the paper.

Such sources cited are thereafter arranged in alphabetical order and the page is titled “Reference”. In compiling the bibliography, begin each source flush to the left margin and indent second and subsequent lines three spaces. Double-space throughout the list of References. APA style is commonly used in psychology and other Behavioral Sciences and Education.

When references are made in parenthesis, they can presented in one of three ways:

(a) One of such ways is to put the year of publication of the document in parenthesis after the Author’s Surname e.g. Citation Analysis has been used in many libraries as quantitative measure. According to Sandism (1989), when an Author cites a document he is trying to show that relationship exists between his/her own study and the document being cited. Alabi (1989) applied citation analysis to study the citation patterns of Nigerian Scientists.

 Ikhizama (1988) analyzed Agricultural Theses. Omekwu and Atimo (1998) studied the Citation Patterns of Agricultural Communication Scientists.

It is necessary to draw attention to the fact that, if within the same paragraph, another Reference to the same Author as it is made understandable that the reference is drawn from the same source e.g.

Aina (1991) used citation analysis to rank Library and Information Science (LIS) Journals regularly used for research in Africa. Also, Aina used the same method to compare Author characteristics of Local and foreign-based journals in Library and Information Science (LIS).

(b) If the Author is not mentioned in the text, place the Author’s last/surname followed by a comma and the year of publication within parentheses after the borrowed information e.g. An official request, on a masthead paper, with all due stamps, approvals and clearances, will influence access, availability and response rate in private, governmental, Non-Govemmental Orgnisation (NGO) or corporate set-up (Menou, 1998; Duncombe, 1998).

(C) Under the American Psychological Association (APA) In-text citations; when quotations are made you should cite the specific passage by providing the page, chapter, or figure number following the quote or the borrowed material. In that case, specific page of the quoted material must be made e.g.

As Menou name in one study,

“a significant portion of subscribers covered in the first phase had vanished or had become out of reach for the second phase while many new users had stepped in” (1998, p.29). 

(Remember to indent a block quotation five spaces from the left margin and double-space throughout. To show a new paragraph within the block quotation, indent the first line of the new paragraph and additional five spaces. Note the placing of the year after the Author’s name and the page number at the end of the direct quotation.)


The footnote/endnote Style also called Chicago Referencing system is widely used in the Arts and Humanities while its Author-Date Referencing Provisions are widely used in the natural sciences and social sciences.

This pattern of documentation differs from other documentation styles in that no bibliographic information is provided parenthetically in the text. Instead, a raised (superscript) numeral e.g. (1 or 2 or 3) is placed after each reference to a source and then complete bibliographic information is thereafter given, followed by a definite page reference to borrowed or cited material, either at the “foot” of the page on which the reference to the source occurs or at the “end” of the text in a listing of all notes in the order in which the References appear in the text. The format for presenting information is the same in footnotes and endnotes; the only difference is location.


This requires that each source used must be given a number as it is referred to and that only the number appears, in parentheses within the text, whenever reference is made to the source.

The researcher who adopts this style will at the end of his work make a list of all the references, thereafter give complete bibliographic information that is usually organized in the order in which the sources were referred to in the text. On the other hand the references can be arranged in alphabetical order.


This style is mainly used in the Physical Sciences e.g. Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science etc. It uses numbered references and in-text referencing; that means, references are numbered in the text as well as in the reference list.


This style of referencing is mainly used by medical practitioners and students of the Medical Sciences.

 The American Medical Association (AMA) Style is a note system as observed by Obadan (2012) in which citations in the text are numbered in the order in which they appear using a superscript Arabic numeral as in: “This Act may be cited as the National Library Act 1964" and “shall apply to the Federal Territory only...” This is followed by full citation [“References”] which are numbered in the order they appear in the text.

In these six Referencing Style described above, differences in the presentation of information about sources exist. Various disciplines have their own style e.g. Modern Language Association (MLA) have the Author/ Year Pattern, so some disciplines that are in the Humanities and partially in the Social Sciences (Government and/or Political Sciences) are examples of disciplines that sometimes use Footnotes/Endnotes, sometimes the Author/Year Style. Some disciplines that have not strictly adhered to a particular style can adopt and use any style as individual may choose to.

However, it is advisable that students/scholars doing research and preparing papers in different disciplines need to adhere to the style recommended by their Lecturers, Project Supervisor or Department.

It is against the above premise that some Lecturers expect their students to use the Author/Year Style as presented in the Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA Style) which appear to be more popular among academics in tertiary Institutions.

In conclusion, if your project supervisor/lecturer has not expressly stated which style to adopt, you are advised therefore to adopt a particular pattern of referencing and stick to it consistently.

This series shall be continued in the next post. Don't forget to stay glued. Thanks for reading.

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