The Purpose of Documentation

The word “cite” means to locate, and “citing your source” means you are describing the original location of the information you used in your research. Each individual entry that cites a source is called a "citation."


There are sets of rules for spelling words, or driving a car, and there are rules that describe the correct way to write citations. But just as the rules for spelling and driving are sometimes different, perhaps in different countries, there are several different sets of rules for writing citations. These sets of rules are called stylesheets. When you are writing your citations, whether in high school or college or even when writing an article to be published in a magazine, you always need to make sure that you’re using the stylesheet that’s required in that particular place. (A stylebook, like this one, is a set of rules that covers many different aspects of writing and doing research, including the stylesheets used for documentation.)

Why? This can sometimes seem like a lot of bother over something that doesn’t seem very important. The best reason is that this is the way it’s done in colleges, and this is the way you have to do it. All of your teachers had to do this when they went to college, too. Every student needs to find out which stylesheet is required, and then use that one. Sometimes, each different department at the same college will require a different stylesheet.

Although there are many stylesheets available, and no one can say which one the college you go to will ask for, there are two stylesheets that are more commonly used in the United States than any other. One of these was developed by an organization called the Modern Language Association; their stylesheet is always called MLA. The other most popular stylesheet was developed by the American Psychiatric Association, and is always called APA.

What’s the difference? You’ll see in the following pages that there are several differences between the two. Which one should you use?

In Fair Lawn High School, you will always use MLA unless your teacher specifically tells you to use APA.

The only teachers who may require APA will be in upper-level science courses and in AP Psychology. At the college and university level, all science and psychology programs use APA. But here at the high school, we want everyone to use MLA for everything (except those upper-level science classes and AP Psychology) so that you can develop the skills for writing citations without having to learn two separate systems. If you’re a junior or a senior in an honors or AP class, you should be able to handle learning a second stylesheet; that’s why APA is included along with MLA in the high school’s stylebook. But remember,

In Fair Lawn High School, you will always use MLA unless your teacher specifically tells you to use APA.

Please note: The teaching guides contained in this Stylebook are based on the MLA and APA formats as presented in these two books:

Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research

Papers, Sixth edition. New York: The Modern Language

Association, 2003.

Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.)

(2001). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

This is a teaching guide only. All examples and explanations in this Stylebook are based on MLA and APA style, but were created by staff members in our school district for the instruction of our own students.

We are indebted to Ms. Kristin Roura, A.P. Psychology teacher, for providing the the information that formed the basis of our school's APA stylesheet.

There are two parts to the documentation process:

Works Cited

Works Cited (in APA, References) is a list of all the sources you have used in your research, each source listed one time. This page will appear at the end of your paper, after all the written text in the body.

There are very specific rules for writing the entries (that is, the descriptions of each source). The specific rules are what make MLA and APA different from each other, and from every other stylesheet that is available.

Click here for the MLA stylesheet.

References in Text

As you write your paper, you will need to show where all your information is coming from, not once at the end, but each time you show information from any source. The best way to do this is to include a very brief reference to the exact source you've just used, in parentheses, at the end of every paragraph. Each reference is called a citation; each citation is citing a source, which means to show the source's location. (These references within the text are also known as inline citations.)

Remember the warning about avoiding plagiarism! You are expected to use ideas and information that you've found in your sources; what you must do is show where each of these facts and ideas came from.

REFERENCES IN TEXT ARE NOT FOR QUOTATIONS ONLY! Everything that you learned from someplace else, including everything that you are paraphrasing, MUST be followed by a Reference in Text.

How often should you include a Reference in Text?

  1. If all the information in a single paragraph came from a single source, you may include a single Reference in Text at the end of the paragraph.

  2. If the information in the beginning of a paragraph came from one source, and then you are changing to a second source, put in a Reference in Text where the first source ends, and another one at the end of the paragraph.

Look at the Sample Paper to see exactly how References in Text will look in the body of your work.

Although you will need many more References in Text than Works Cited entries, they are simpler to write. The directions and samples are included at the end of each of the stylesheets.