Documentation is the process of providing formally organized information on sources used in academic writing. There are many different styles that can be used to create consistent citations. Some of the more commonly used styles in colleges and universities are: APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association), CMS (Chicago Manual of Style), Turabian (a simpler form of CMS intended for student use), AMA (American Medical Association), and CSE (Council of Science Editors). Of these, APA, MLA, and CMS are the most frequently utilized at this college. This is not necessarily the case at other colleges or universities.
Sometimes students will be provided with what is known as a style sheet. Colleges, universities, or a department within a college or university, may provide style sheets to be used for consistent documentation in place of the previously mentioned publications.
Students will many times wind up being asked to use different styles in separate classes. The various disciplines tend to favor one style or another, so depending on the class taken, the style used may change. This can be confusing without consulting the printed style manual, or style sheet, and following the format consistently. To find the correct style for a given class, follow the instructor’s instructions. If asked to use a style sheet (even if it is based on MLA or APA), only use the style sheet. If instructed to use the style manual for a specific group, use either the style manual itself, a textbook that supplies the style (e.g. The Bedford Handbook, Everyone’s an Author, etc.), or handouts produced by your institution’s Library. The Library communicates with the faculty in the various departments to make sure the students have access to the correct styles. The problem with searching Google for examples on various styles is: depending on where the examples are coming from, there could be institutional specific differences. One website that provides good, consistent style information is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).
Two quick notes on consistency. There are times when a student may encounter a source that is not covered in the required style. When this happens, there are two possible ways to format the source. Create a citation that follows the rules of the given style, or consult an outside source that specializes in the type of source in question. For example, government publications. Ask the instructor of the course which approach to take. Second, if no style is specified by your instructor, pick one and follow a single source's information on that style (e.g. Bedford Handbook, MLA Handbook, Chicago Manual of Style).
Regardless of the style used in a class, there are certain elements in the sources being documented that are included in the citations. Below are examples of commonly used elements in citations and how to determine the type of source by examining the citations.