There are at least 4000 styles for citing source materials!

Different fields of research have different conventions for citation. This is especially true as areas of research become more specific. For example, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists has its own citation style. And so does American Society of Mechanical Engineers. And the Journal of Wildlife Management. And the Agronomy Journal. And the...

You get the idea. 

There are thousands of these, and most of them apply to small numbers of scholars in very specific, advanced areas of research. It’s essential that a resource citation manager includes all of these styles for the benefit of the widest variety of researchers. 

But typically the majority of students at an institution will be using more common citation systems that are conventional in broader areas of study. 

What are the most popular citation styles?*

1. APA 6th – American Psychological Association, 6th Edition 40% of citations
2. MLA 7th – Modern Languages Association, 7th Edition 9%
3. AMA – American Medical Association, 10th Edition 9%
4. Harvard – British Standard 8%
5. Vancouver 6%


Here are the top 5 most commonly used citation styles by students and researchers to compile a bibliography. For context, it is interesting to note how these numbers compared to the number of citations when using a Google Docs add-in (which provides a more collaborative writing environment for researchers): 

1. APA 6th – American Psychological Association, 6th Edition 36% of citations
2. MLA 7th – Modern Languages Association, 7th Edition 3%
3. AMA – American Medical Association, 10th Edition 19%
4. Harvard – British Standard 6%
5. Vancouver 6%


We wondered about the dip in usage of the MLA style when researchers use the Google Docs add-in. A deeper dive into the data revealed that significantly more advanced researchers, such as graduate students, faculty, alumni and clinicians, are using the Google Docs add-in, and these are the same groups of people who are using the more specialized citation styles, including the AMA style, which has more relative usage in Google add-in than on the site.

For example, many of the styles used in the veterinary field, such as Veterinary Parasitology, the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation and the American Journal of Veterinary Research, are used exclusively with Google Docs add-in. On the other hand, undergraduate students, who are less likely to be using the Google Docs add-in, are more likely to use the MLA style for their basic studies classes in English and other subjects in the humanities. 

Essentially, the MLA style will likely be used by all undergrad students and not many advanced researchers in more specialized fields. 

*Based on data collected from RefWorks, August 2014-June 2016.

Each style has its own quirks and quibbles

Because different citation styles are applicable to different fields, they organize and emphasize specific bibliographical information accordingly. For example, in the sciences, dates and data are featured more prominently than author names. 

There are also A LOT of nit-picky characteristics in each style, such as how commas are used, what words in a title are capitalized, whether titles are italicized or underlined, etc. 

Here are some key characteristics of the most popular citation styles:

APA 6th – The most common style in social and behavioral sciences, as well as education, dates are featured prominently in this style. The source page is called “References” and for in-text citations, the last name of the author is used along with the year of the cited material, separated by a comma. 

MLA 7th – This style is traditionally used in English papers as well as other fields in the humanities. The source page is called “Works Cited.” In-text citations include the author’s name and the page number of the reference, with no comma.  

AMA 10th – Used in medicine, health and biological sciences, one of the unique features of AMA citation style is that on the “References” pages, sources are listed numerically in the order they appear in a paper, not in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.

Harvard - British Standard – The most commonly used citation style in the U.K. and Australia, it is often also traditionally used in humanities research. Conventions of Harvard style are very similar to APA in regard to emphasis on author names and dates. 

Vancouver –This is a numbered reference system, meaning that citations are indicated by a number in-text, with “Resources” listed at the end of the document in the order they are mentioned in the paper. This style is commonly used in medicine and the sciences. 

Find out more about how RefWorks can help manage resource citations. 

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