Breakdown of 3 Common Citation Methods Used in College Essays

In this next part , we’re going to give you a breakdown of the 3 most common citation methods: MLA, APA, and Chicago Style (notes and bibliography). We’re going to also show you some examples for some of the most common types of sources you’ll likely use in your paper.


  • What should I do if my source doesn’t have an author?
    • Sometimes a source won’t have an author, like a website or an industry publication. If that’s the case, start your Works Cited entry with the title. A general rule of thumb for in-text citations is to use whatever comes first in the Works Cited entry. For example, if you’ve cited a website without an author, the Works Cited entry will begin with “Title.” You can use a shortened version of the title as long as it still makes sense and clearly indicates which source it is.
  • My source doesn’t have page numbers. How do I cite this in my text?
    • If the source doesn’t have any page numbers, you can use paragraph numbers for in-text citations, so it would look like this: (Smith par. 3). You may need to count them yourself. Alternatively, if the article is written in a news-style and doesn’t have very distinct paragraphs, you can cite it using the author’s last name and a shortened title, like this: (Smith, “Global Warming”).
  • I can’t find a date on my Internet source. How do I cite this?
    • If your source doesn’t have a date and you can’t seem to locate one through Internet research, write “n.d.” to indicate that a publication date is not available.
  • What if my authors have the same last name?
    • List them as you normally would in the Works Cited page. The alphabetical order will be determined by the author’s first initial instead. For your in-text citations, all you need to do is just add the author’s first initial before their last name, like this: (L. Smith 33).
  • What do I do if I have to cite two works by the same author?
    • This might happen from time to time, especially if you’re writing a literary essay or using an author who is well published within a specific field. In this case, list the author’s last name, a shortened title in quotations like this: (Litman, “Global Warming,” 33).

MLA Title Page and Numbering

Papers that are written in MLA format do not require a title page. Instead, at the beginning of your paper, include your first and last name, your professor’s name, the class name, and the date, each on a
separate line in the top left-hand corner. On the next line, write your title and center it. Don’t bold or italicize the title. Your introductory paragraph will begin on the next line under the title.

Page numbers will go in the top right of each page. It should be formatted with your last name, so your first page will look like this: “Last Name 1.” You can make this update when you add in page numbers using your word processor.


  • What should I do if my source doesn’t have an author?
    • If your source doesn’t have an author, for example a website, you can use the title of the article in your in-text citation. It would look like this: (“Title,” Year, Page Number). In very uncommon circumstances, an author may be listed as Anonymous. If you encounter this, use Anonymous as you would the author’s name.
  • My source doesn’t have page numbers. How do I cite this?
    • Whenever you can’t find page numbers, use paragraph numbers instead (you may need to count them yourself). If that’s not really an option either, you can just simplify the in-text citation to include the name and year, like this: (Last Name, Year).
  • I can’t find a date on my Internet source. How do I cite this?
    • Any time you can’t find a date on your source, you can use the abbreviation “n.d.” This goes for both your in-text citations and your References page.
  • What if two of my authors have the same last name?
    • If you are using sources from two different authors who happen to have the same last name, just add their initial to the in-text citations to differentiate. So, it would look like this: (L. Smith, 2018, p. 21) and (H. Smith, 2003, p. 33).
  • What do I do if I have to cite two works by the same author?
    • Since APA requires the date of the publication within the in-text citation, the year will differentiate for you. Therefore, you only need to identify the publication if you’re using multiple publications from the same author from the same year. In that case, use a lower case letter beside the year in the order they appear in the References page. For example, 2018a would refer to the first entry in the References page, while 2018b would be for the next.

APA Title Page and Numbering

APA formatting requires the use of a title page. On the title page, place your paper title on the upper part of the page, centered and capitalized like a regular title. Approximately two lines down from the
title, list your name, your institution name, your course name, your instructor’s name, and the due date in that order, each on its own line.

The page numbers for APA papers are a little bit different because the title page is different than the other pages. There should be a page number at the top right corner of every page, known as a “running head.” On the first page, the title page, your heading should read “Running head: FULL TITLE OF YOUR PAPER” in the left corner, and the page number in the right. Every page after this should include a shortened version of the title, in all caps, on the left and the page number on the right.

Sometimes your APA paper will require an abstract. Most APA papers that require this are professional publications, dissertations, or master’s thesis papers. For your typical undergraduate APA paper, you probably won’t need to write one. However, if your instructions specifically ask for one, begin on the first page after your title page. Type “Abstract” centered in bold at the top of the page. Begin the abstract on the next line, without indenting. On the next line after your abstract paragraph, write out your keywords on an indented line.

Chicago Style FAQs

  • What should I do if my source doesn’t have an author?
    • In this instance, you would just start the bibliography entry with the title of the source and continue from there. The title of the source would then become the start of each footnote as well.
  • My source doesn’t have page numbers. How do I cite this?
    • If your source is an online source that doesn’t have page numbers, you don’t need to include that information and can stick with the last name and shortened article title. Your first footnote will feature the URL of the link.

Chicago Style Title Page and Numbering

A Chicago Style title page is similar to an MLA style title page in terms of formatting. The title of your to format, capitalized properly, is centered in the upper middle section of the page. A few lines down, your name, course name, and the paper due date are listed in that order on their own lines. They should be double-spaced. Page numbers go in the top right corner.