4.14 What are Citations?

A citation contains information that identifies the author, article/chapter title, journal/book title, volume number, issue number, page(s), column (in newspapers), date, publisher, and/or place of publication for an item. Some of these elements should look familiar based on the work we’ve already done with field searching.

You will primarily find citations in the works cited or reference section of a paper or book. They may also appear on websites, your course syllabus, or other materials provided by your instructor.

Interpreting Citations

Understanding the parts of a citation can help you search for items you want to find more effectively.

Each type of citation has unique features that can help you determine whether a citation describes a book, a chapter in a book, a journal or magazine article, or a newspaper article. Knowing what you’ve found and being able to recognize its parts helps you find the item the citation is referring to.

Be aware that different citation styles (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.) will have different rules or ways of representing common elements of citations, such as author name, title of article or book, and so on. For the examples below, we’re using APA Style just for the purpose of illustration. What’s important here is to focus on recognizing these citation elements rather than specific details of APA Style.

Below, we’ve listed some citation examples for common resource types you may encounter in college.

Journal article or magazine article

Common elements of a journal or magazine article citation include:

  • author(s),
  • publication date,
  • article title,
  • journal title,
  • volume and issue number,
  • page numbers,
  • online index (for some citation styles),
  • doi or URL (for online articles),
  • access date (for online articles in some citation styles)

Journal article citation example

Upadhyay, R. & J.M. Rao. (2012). Microwave-assisted extraction of chlorogenic acids from green coffee beans. Food Chemistry, 130(1), 184-188.

  • authors – Upadhyay, R. & J.M. Rao.
  • publication date – 2012
  • article title – Microwave-assisted extraction of chlorogenic acids from green coffee beans
  • journal title – Food Chemistry
  • volume number – 130
  • issue number – 1
  • page numbers – 184-188

How would you find this item?

There are several ways to find a journal article from a citation. The best starting place for finding out if the library owns a copy is usually Quick Search. First, identify the title of the journal in which the article was published. Then use Quick Search’s Advanced Search feature to find out whether the library owns this journal. Choose Journal from the Material Type drop-down menu and enter the journal title. If the library subscribes to the journal, check the record details to see which years are available and in what format. Compare the article’s date to the years available to see where or whether you can access it. The article might be available in one, zero, or multiple formats.


Journal search in Quick Search

Journal record
This journal is available in a digital format.

You can also search for a journal article by searching for the article title in Google Scholar. If you take this approach, be sure that you have chosen Iowa State University as your institution in your Google Scholar Settings so you can see whether you can access the article. If you don’t remember how to do this, review Chapter 2.

Finally, some citations include a web address at the end. This may be a URL or it may be a DOI (Digital Object Identifier), a persistent, unique identifier for an item, such as a journal article or book chapter. This should retrieve the article if you are on campus or if the article is open access.

Online article citation example

Searleman, A. and Carter, H. (1988). The effectiveness of different types of pragmatic implications found in commercials to mislead subjects. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2: 265-272. doi:10.1002/acp.2350020404

Book (i.e., an entire book)

Common elements of a book citation include:

  • author(s),
  • publication date,
  • book title,
  • place of publication,
  • publisher

Book citation example

Crowdy, D. (2016). Hearing the future: The music and magic of the Sanguma band. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.

  • author – Crowdy, D.
  • publication date – 2016
  • book title – Hearing the future: The music and magic of the Sanguma band
  • place of publication – Honolulu
  • publisher – University of Hawaiʻi Press

How would you find this item?

To find out if the Library owns this book, enter the book’s title and the author’s last name into Quick Search. In most cases, this simple search will retrieve your book. If you need to get more specific, you can perform a field search in Quick Search’s Advanced Search or limit your Material Type to Books.

Book chapter

Common elements of a book chapter citation include:

  • chapter author(s),
  • publication date,
  • chapter title,
  • editor(s),
  • book title,
  • page numbers,
  • place of publication,
  • publisher

All of the citation elements for a book are here, along with some extras that let you know the citation is for only part of a book. Note the information for an editor, an additional title for the chapter level, and page numbers for the chapter being cited.

Book chapter citation example

Costley, C.L., & Brucks, M. (2013). The roles of product knowledge and age on children’s responses to deceptive advertising. In P.N. Bloom (Ed.), Advances in marketing and public policy (pp. 41-63). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

  • chapter authors – Costley, C.L., & Brucks, M.
  • publication date – 2013
  • chapter title – The roles of product knowledge and age on children’s responses to deceptive advertising
  • editor – P.N. Bloom
  • book title – Advances in Marketing and Public Policy
  • page numbers – 41-63
  • place of publication – Greenwich, CT
  • publisher – JAI Press

How would you find this item?

Unlike a book, you cannot reliably search for a book chapter by the chapter author’s name or the chapter title. Quick Search does not list chapter titles and authors for every book in the library, so your best option is to find out if the library owns the book. To find the book that contains your chapter, enter the book’s title (not the chapter title) and the editor’s last name (not the chapter author’s name) into Quick Search to find your book.

Other common citation types


Websites used in your research must be cited like any other resource. The obvious hallmark of a website citation is the inclusion of a web address, usually as a URL. URLs may change over time as websites reorganize their content. Because of this, many citation styles require you to list the specific date that you viewed or accessed the resource.

Website citation example

Iowa Board of Educational Examiners. (n.d.). Apply for a license. Retrieved from https://boee.iowa.gov/apply-license

Conference proceedings paper

Citation elements for a conference presentation or paper look similar to journal article citations. However, you can distinguish these citations by the “paper presented at” information that is often included.

Conference proceedings citation example

Dorrie, J.W., Kohlhause, M., & Linsen, L. (2013, January 9-10). OpenMathMap: Accessing math via interactive maps. Paper presented at the Joint Mathematics Meeting, Special Session of the American Mathematical Society and Mathematical Association of America: Topics and Issues in Electronic Publishing, San Diego. Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen, Germany: FIZ Karlsruhe. Retrieved from http://www.emis.de/proceedings/TIEP2013/06kohlhase.pdf

How would you find this?

Different organizations handle their proceedings differently. You may be able to find the paper you’re looking for by searching Quick Search or Google Scholar–try both the paper title and the conference name. If you need help, ask a librarian.

Newspaper articles

The citation elements for a typical newspaper article include a specific date, and often specific pages or columns (“col2” means column 2). Even if you didn’t recognize the name of The New York Times as a newspaper, these elements are hallmarks of a newspaper article citation.

Newspaper article citation example

Reynolds, G. (2019, May 1). How exercise affects our memory. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/section/well/move

How would you find this?

To find a newspaper article using Quick Search, first search for the title of the newspaper. If the library has access to the newspaper, open the record to see which dates are covered and in which format(s). If it is available online, click on the Online access link to the newspaper and search for the title or browse by the date of the article. If the newspaper is not available online, ask a librarian for help.

Check your understanding


LIB 160: Information Literacy Copyright © 2019 by Iowa State University Library Instruction Services. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book