Chapter 5: Using information ethically

5.3 Style manuals

Style manuals are guides that help you write particular types of papers (research reports, technical reports, and theses). They also have rules for how to cite sources properly and consistently. Your professor will usually tell you which style manual you should follow for your papers in their class. If not, you should ask. If no specific style is preferred, the most important thing for you to remember is to choose one style, and follow its rules consistently.

In addition to helping you configure citations, style manuals also help you structure your writing in a way that is understood by an audience of subject experts. For example, chemists might use ACS, the American Chemical Society Style Guide; sociologists typically use ASA, the Style Guide from the American Sociological Association; those in psychology and related fields might use APA, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, and so on. There are also publication styles that are not associated with a specific subject area, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, Turabian, Harvard Style, Elements of Indigenous Style, and others. Take the time to get to know the standards for communicating in your major.

The exact form of citations will vary depending on the style guide used but they all provide most of the same information. As we discussed in Chapter 3, understanding what each part of a citation represents will help you find the cited source, no matter which style is used.

Some styles have quick guides available online. The library also has copies of many different style manuals. To find style manuals in your area of study, talk with your professors or a subject specialist librarian. You can also consult the library’s Citation Style Guide, which covers APA, MLA, Chicago, Harvard, and others.


At the end of your project, you’ll need to compile the sources you used into a bibliography. A bibliography, sometimes called “references” or “works cited,” is a comprehensive list of citations at the end of a project. The rules for organizing and formatting a bibliography differ depending on which style you’re using, but the style manual should provide guidance for how to do this consistently. This is another thing the Writing and Communication Consultations can help you with.

Citation management tools

Bibliographic or citation management tools can make it easier to organize and use sources. These tools help you collect, organize, and store citations and documents as you find them online. They also work with word processors such as Word and Google Docs to automatically insert citations and bibliographies in a document. You pick a style manual, and the tool customizes your citations to match. If you’re working on a group project, you can create a shared folder for your sources that everyone can add to and update.

Always double check that your citations are complete and formatted correctly. Some websites, indexes, and even the source files themselves may contain errors, which then become errors in your citations. These tools are only designed to use the information they’re given, even if that information is incorrect.

The ISU Library provides support for three options: Zotero (free), EndNote (basic version free), and Mendeley (free). If you are new to this, our citation management tools Library Guide can help you get started.


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