US College Student Writing Guide
Writing at the university level is more than simply grammar, punctuation, and getting ideas across. It is also about following the writing style (or styles) used for your type of major, presenting work in a standard and easy to read format, and clearly and accurately citing sources that you may use.
What is Citation and Citation Style?
Citation is used to clearly define the sources that we use in our writing. This may refer to books, journal articles, newspapers, or even university lectures. An average citation for a journal article includes the name of the article, author(s) name, year in which it was published, and the publication in which it can be found. The citation must also be noted within the writing to clarify what part of your writing is based on what sources. This is usually referred to as an in-text citation and includes the author’s name as well as year of publication, although it may be something as simple as a subscript or superscript (small number or letter that is slightly above or below the rest of the text) referencing a footnote that provides further information on the source.
Types of Citation Styles
APA style refers to the writing and citation style approved by the American Psychological Association. It is primarily used by students and professionals in the behavioral and social sciences. APA style dictates the format of a written work, as well as how numbers, names, citations, tone, verb usage, and other aspects of writing can be presented.
If you were to cite a journal article in APA style, the reference would follow this structure:
Last, F. M. (Date Published). Article title. Journal Title, Volume(Issue), page(s).
To learn more, visit the American Psychological Association.
MLA style is the Modern Language Association style of academic and professional writing. It is often used by professionals and students in the liberal arts and humanities. It includes specific rules for formatting a paper as well as rules on how to create citations.
If you were to cite a journal article in MLA style, the reference would follow this structure:
Last, First. "Article Title." Journal title, Volume, year, page(s).
To learn more, visit the Modern Language Association.
Chicago style, referring to the citation and formatting style found in the Chicago Manual of Style, is primarily used in manuscript preparation and publication by people in literature, history, and the arts. It allows writers to use footnotes or endnotes for the purpose of citing sources.
If you were to cite a journal article in Chicago style, the reference would follow this structure:
Last Name, First Name. “Article Title.” Journal Name Volume number (year published): page numbers.
To learn more, visit the Chicago Manual of Style.
Turabian is based on Kate Turabian's book, Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. It follows the same structure as Chicago style, but with some modifications to make the process easier for student writers.
To learn more, you can visit the University of Chicago’s page on it.
AAA is the American Anthropological documentation style. It also closely follows Chicago style, but with some basic differences in formatting.
To learn more, go to the AAA guide at the University of Vermont website.
CSE style refers to the Council of Science Editors documentation style that is used in the natural in physical sciences. It includes three documentation styles within it. Each one includes references at the end.
If you were to cite a journal article in CSE style, the reference would follow this structure:
Author(s). Year. Article title. Abbreviated journal title. Volume(issue):pages.
For more information, visit the CSE page on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s website.
How to Select a Citation Style
There are a few factors to consider when choosing a style to use. The first is the subject of the paper. Will you be writing about physical sciences, literature, psychology, or something else? Each field tends to have a preference regarding citation style. You should also consider what you are writing and what aspects of clarity or formatting are the most important to you. The styles each come with their own rules, and some may be more suited to your needs. Also, don’t forget to consider class requirements! A professor will often specify that papers should be written in a specific style, so it is best to submit a paper that meets their requirements.
Grammar and Mechanics
It is important to brush up on basic writing skills. The majority of universities offer first-year English writing and literature courses to help with this. Always read over papers when you are done writing them and check for errors. Common errors can be found in the use (or improper use) of:
- Comma splices
- Sentence fragments
- Transitional expressions
- Verb tenses
- Definite and indefinite articles
Point of View and Voice
It is important to be consistent in the point of view and voice that you use, but also to choose those that best fit the requirements of your writing.
Voice is how your words are presented. The reader may not be able to hear you, but they will be able to get a sense of the style of speech that you choose to use. Point of view is a large part of that. The point of view in a paper is determined by the use of pronouns. The first-person point of view may use words such as I, me, or mine. The second-person point of view would use the word “you”. The third-person point of view would use words such as he, she, it, or them.
Being Clear and Concise
It is important to clearly articulate what you are saying, and to do it in a concise manner, to avoid confusion and to make sure that your ideas are coming across in a manner that can be easily understood. Here are some ways to increase the clarity of your writing:
- Limit prepositional phrases
- Use the active voice
- Avoid the use of wordy phrases and verbs
- Avoid using inflated words
- Limit expletive constructions
- IEEE Professional Communication Society: Write clearly and concisely
- Texas A&M University: Clear and concise writing
It is important to avoid bias in academic and professional writing. This level of writing requires objectivity and the ability to present information without obvious error. Here are some tips that may help:
- Instead of being descriptive, be specific
- Know sexual identity terminology
- Use person-first identifiers
- Do not make assumptions regarding demographics
- Auburn University: Avoiding bias in writing
Selecting the Best Choice of Words
Try to be precise and sensitive in your word choices. Make sure that they get your thoughts across without being misunderstood by others. Reread a paper before submitting it. If you are still unsure, have someone else look at it to check for anything that you may have missed.
- San Jose State University: Choosing precise words
Plagiarism occurs when we use the ideas of another person without giving them credit. This can happen intentionally, but it can also happen by accident if we improperly cite something. Even using a direct quote and citing the source but failing to use quotes is a form of plagiarism. Without the quotes, it cannot be known that those were the exact words of another author.