Standard Documentation Formats

Written by Margaret Procter, Writing Support

Different disciplines use their own systems to set out information about sources. Here are samples of common systems, showing the kinds of information needed and some details of punctuation, typeface, and indentation. The examples also demonstrate ways of introducing citations and commenting on sources.

For more detailed advice, consult the manuals mentioned below with each system. Most general writing handbooks have not yet updated their advice to reflect changes in the MLA and APA systems.

(NOTE: The appearance of the examples may be altered by your browser. If in doubt about matters such as line spacing or indentation, check the manuals mentioned. Note also that many of the examples cited are fictional.)

Traditional Endnotes or Footnotes with Superscript Numbers (humanities)

Some humanities and science disciplines use systems with small raised numbers matching footnotes or endnotes, followed by a bibliography, because they do not interrupt the flow of the text. Though the format appears troublesome, your word processor can create the notes automatically for you: e.g., in Word, click on the tab for References, and select Insert Footnote or Insert Endnote. (Readers usually prefer footnotes.) Established scholars also use notes for digressions on tangential points, but in student work that might seem pretentious.

The example below follows the Note-Bibliography system set out in the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, and its student version, Turabian’s Manual for Writers, 7th edition. Our examples use superscript note numbers rather than regular-font numbers for the notes; either is acceptable. For display on this webpage, we use endnotes, and put them under the heading “Notes.” (Footnotes would appear at the bottom of each page after a short dashed line.) Here are some further remarks on particularities of this system:

  • When you refer to a source the second time, you can shorten the note by using only the author’s last name and the page number (e.g., Smith, 435). That’s easier for both you and your reader than the old-fashioned system of Latin abbreviations (formerly italicized) such as “Op. cit.” (“in the same work”) and “Ibid.” (“in the same place”), which are rarely used now. If you are using two books by the same author, include a shortened form of the book title to clarify which book you mean.
  • Notes are indented like paragraphs in the essay (indent the first line, not the subsequent ones). Notes should be single-spaced, but with a blank line between notes. Bibliography entries are given in hanging-indent form (first line flush with the left margin, subsequent lines indented) and are also single-spaced with a blank line between entries.
  • In listing a webpage as a source, include the date you read the page as well as the URL. That information lets your reader judge whether he or she is seeing the same version of the webpage that you did. See also the section on Electronic Sources.
  • In this system, you still use parentheses within your prose to give page or line numbers for texts you refer to repeatedly (e.g. historical documents or works of literature). Use a note for the first such reference so the reader knows which edition you’re using, and state that all subsequent references will be to this edition.

For more detailed advice on formatting in this style, consult the Notes-Bibliography chapters of the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition (Z253 C45 2003); this authoritative reference work on all matters related to editing is now available online in full to U of T students and faculty.


When Hamlet protests to his mother, “Leave wringing of your hands” (3.4.34),1 he is naming a universally recognizable gesture. As Smith says, similar broad physical movements are “still the most direct way of indicating inner turmoil.”2 Zubar confirms their continuing usefulness in contemporary productions of other sixteenth-century plays.3 Renaissance audiences would have recognized hand-wringing as a signal for inner distress,4 specifically for a condition that the Elizabethan author Reynolds named “ague of the spirits.”5 Poor sight lines in Elizabethan theatres also required highly visible body movements.6 In her most recent book, Brown attempts to show that such gestures are related to stylized movements from religious ceremonies.7 She argues that acting methods responded to both the physical conditions of the theatres and the audience’s cultural expectations.8


1 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, in Norton Introduction to Literature, 12th ed., ed. Kelly J. Mays (New York: W.W. Norton, 2016), 1402. Subsequent parenthetical citations will refer to this edition.

2 John Smith, “Renovating Hamlet for Contemporary Audiences,” UTQ 78 (Summer 2009): 964.

3 Alisa Zubar, “Acting Now,” Termagant Society Online,; accessed August 16, 2016.

4 Joan Brown, The Renaissance Stage (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), 111.

5 Peter Reynolds, The Player’s Chapbooke, 1587; quoted in Aline Mahieu, Acting Shakespeare (Toronto: Shaw, 2009), 69.

6 Smith, 964.

7 Joan Brown, Ritual and Drama in the Elizabethan Age (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2014), 90.

8 Brown, Ritual, 14.


Brown, Joan. The Renaissance Stage. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

——-. Ritual and Drama in the Elizabethan Age. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Mahieu, Aline. Acting Shakespeare. Toronto: Shaw, 2009.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. In The Norton Introduction to Literature, 12th ed., ed. Kelly J. Mays. 941-1033. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001.

Smith, John. “Renovating Hamlet for Contemporary Audiences.” UTQ 78 (Summer 2009): 960-69.

Zubar, Alisa. “Acting Now.” Termagant Society Online. (accessed August 16, 2016).

MLA System: Parenthetical Author-Page References (humanities)

Used largely in the humanities, the MLA citation format uses parenthetical in-text citations of author and page, with all sources itemized in the Works Cited. In 2016, MLA released the eighth edition of its Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. In-text citations remain largely unaffected, but references in the Works Cited section have changed significantly. Rather than providing a different protocol for each type of source, the eighth edition lists “core elements” that cover the basic constituents of any source: Author, Title of Source. Title of Container, Other Contributors, Version, Number, Publisher, Publication Date, Location. The container is the larger whole in which the work appears. It can be a journal or website or anthology or database. Some sources may be nested in more than one container—e.g., a journal article that you found in an online database. For each container, provide only those core elements that apply to your source. Note that location refers to where in a container your reader can find your source. For an article in a journal, the location is the page range of the article; for a website, it is the URL for the relevant webpage.

Here are a few of the other changes, large and small, that MLA has introduced in the eighth edition:

  • It no longer insists that there is one correct way of constructing a reference. Though it does supply general guidelines and some specific formatting rules, it asks you to consider relevance to your reader in deciding which elements to include in your reference. And, to help you deal with the proliferation of types of media in the the age of the internet, it encourages you to use common sense in formatting sources not obviously covered by the examples in the Handbook.
  • It no longer includes the city of publication or the medium (e.g., print, web, film) in references.
  • It uses commas between most items in a reference. As in the list of core elements above, it requires a period after the author and the title of your source but commas between all of the other elements in a container. If your reference calls for more than one container, you would place a period between them.
  • In the Works Cited, it calls for p. or pp. in front of the page range. This change does not apply to in-text citations.
  • It asks you to provide fuller information in references to journal articles based on what the journals themselves provide: not only volume, year, and page range, but also issue number, month, and season.
  • It recommends that you provide the URL whenever practicable and potentially useful to readers. But it prefers that you provide a digital object identifier (DOI) in place of a URL when possible.

See also the MLA website for a discussion of what’s new in the eighth edition, or download this movie for a step-by-step guide to formatting using the new MLA guidelines.


When Hamlet protests to his mother, “Leave wringing of your hands” (III.iv.35), he is naming a universally recognizable gesture. As Smith notes, similar broad gestures are “still the most direct way of indicating inner turmoil” (964). Contemporary actors still use this body movement (Zubar), and Renaissance audiences would have recognized it as a signal for inner distress (Brown 111), perhaps for a condition the Elizabethan author Reynolds named “ague of the spirits” (qtd. in Mahieu 69). Poor sight lines in Elizabethan theatres also required highly visible body movements (Smith 964). In her most recent book, Brown attempts to show that such gestures are related to stylized movements from religious ceremonies, among other influences (Brown, Ritual 90).

Works Cited

Brown, Joan. The Renaissance Stage. Toronto: University of Toronto P, 2008.

—. Ritual and Drama in the Elizabethan Age.Oxford UP, 2014.

Mahieu, Aline. Acting Shakespeare. Shaw, 2009.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, 12th ed., Norton, 2016, pp. 1350-1445.

Smith, John. “Renovating Hamlet for Contemporary Audiences.” UTQ, vol. 78, no.1, Fall 2009, pp. 960-69. Project Muse, doi: 10.1353/utq.0.0560.

Zubar, Alisa. “Acting Now.” Termagant Society Online,

APA System: Parenthetical Author-Date References (social sciences)

The social sciences, management studies, and many sciences emphasize the author and date as the most important information about a source. The American Psychological Association has developed the most commonly used system. The sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the APA (2009) offers very detailed advice on style, format, and documentation practices.

This system uses only initials for authors’ given names, no quotation marks or angle brackets, minimal capitalization for titles of books and articles, and italics for volume numbers as well as journal titles.The latest edition of the Publication Manual also asks for Digital Object Identifier numbers (DOI), when available, to identify journal articles and other recent publications. DOIs are now supplied as part of publication information by nearly all journals and some book publishers. See the APA Frequently-Asked Questions page for further advice on this and other APA requirements. U of T students may access APA’s online Style Guide to Electronic Resources. Strict APA style, as shown below, gives in-text page numbers only for quotations, not for paraphrases or summaries. However, many instructors prefer a modified system that gives page numbers for all references. Ask your instructor when to include page numbers.

Students using the APA system are usually asked to format their papers as if they were manuscripts being prepared for publication; that’s why the examples here and in the APA Publication Manual don’t look exactly like what you see in journals or books. The example below follows strict APA manuscript format. (Note also that it uses past tense for summarizing sources, unlike the use of present tense in Humanities systems.)


In his classic study, Pinker (1994) summarized the skepticism of current researchers and observers about whether the signs produced in the Washoe project were really American Sign Language. His conclusion was that chimpanzees’ abilities at “anything one would want to call language” were almost nil (p. 339). A group of statisticians (Tannenbaum, Leung, Sudha, & White, 2005) who re-analysed published data argued further that the compound words once claimed as inventions of a particular chimpanzee were the results of repeated random juxtapositions. Even Premack (2007) has now rejected his own past claims for chimpanzee cognition, outlining the key differences between chimpanzees and humans revealed by brain imaging and calling for closer scrutiny of experimental results.


Pinker, S. (1994). The language instinct: How the mind creates language. New York: Morrow.

Premack, D. (2007). Human and animal cognition: Continuity and discontinuity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 194, 13861-13867. doi:10.1073/pnas.0706147104

Tannenbaum, R. V., Leung, K., Sudha, J. R., & White, M. A. (2005). A re-examination of the record: Pitty Sing’s creation of compound words. Journal of Biostatistics, 20, 368-396.

Numbered Note Systems (sciences)

Many sciences and applied sciences use a citation-sequence system. They give numbered notes in the text of the paper that match a numbered list of sources at the end–given in the sequence the sources were mentioned, not in alphabetical order as in most other systems. Look at copies of journals in your discipline to see formatting details, including distinctive punctuation, compressed spacing, and lack of underlining or italics. Your professor may ask you to imitate the format used in a specific journal.

The system worked out by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is often used in Computer Science and Engineering. Consult the handy IEEE Citation Style Guide.

Another very compressed system was created at a 1978 meeting of international medical-journal editors (ICMJE) in Vancouver. These Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals are widely used (with variations) in the life sciences and medical sciences. Model your entries on what you see in journal articles in those fields, or consult the detailed guide prepared by the National Institutes of Health. The Council of Science Editors includes this system among others in its manual, Scientific Style and Format. The example below uses the system developed by the ICMJE.


Gastrointestinal symptoms in some patients have been found to be related to specific life crises (1, 2) such as marriage, retirement, or bereavement. Nausea in particular often lacks an organic cause (1, 3), but can be correlated with stressful events. A recent large-scale study of Danish medical records (4) found that 84% of cases of reported nausea were not resolved by medical treatment.


(1) You CH, Lee KY, Chey RY, Menguy R. Electrogastrographic study of patients with unexplained nausea, bloating and vomiting. Gastroenterology 2006;79:311-4.

(2) Dauphin J, Colomba J. Nausea as symptom in school-entering children. Sodeman WA, editor. Stress-related illness. Copenhagen: Munksgaard; 2009.

(3) Seaman WB. The case of the pancreatic pseudocyst. Hospital Practice 2008 Sept;16(9):24-5.

(4) Sodeman WA. Most reported nausea not medically resolved. Family practice research updates [serial online] 2011 Aug (cited 2012 Jul 11];7(8):[6 screens]. Available from: http://www.hosp.da/res/vol7/aug.html

Electronic Sources

To refer to sources such as films, DVDs, or Internet documents, follow your chosen system as far as possible in giving author, title, and date, though you may not be able to give the equivalent of publisher or page numbers. You may have to improvise for some details. To confirm the reliability of your source and help your reader find the item, for instance, it may be helpful to name a publishing body (perhaps a professional organization) or to give the title of the entire site. Note that MLA now does not require URLs because they tend to be unreliable as well as unwieldy, and APA advises giving them only where the content of the webpage is likely to change over time.

For further advice, check the manuals mentioned above for each system.

The following examples show ways to include the necessary information in various citation formats–thus the different types of indentation, and abbreviation. See also the electronic references included on previous screens as examples of the different systems.

e.g. [film on laser disc, listed by director: note in endnote/footnote system]:

7Alfred Hitchcock, dir. Suspicion. Perf. Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. 1941. Laser disc. Turner, 1995.

e.g. [e-mail message: MLA system, item in Works Cited]: N.B. Medium is not required; include the receiver under the category Other Contributors.

Sills, Paige. “Did It Again!” Received by Margaret Procter,  21 Sept. 2011.

e.g. [e-mail message: APA system, reference in text] N.B. Don’t cite personal communications such as email in the reference list of an APA document, because they cannot be consulted by other readers. Just give basic information in your text, like this:

The most recent experiments in walking also use this method (P. Sills, personal communication, Sept. 21, 2011).

e.g. [Web document: MLA system, item in Works Cited] N.B. This entry follows the MLA requirement to provide the URL. The date of access is not required, but you may add it as an optional element if useful to your reader. 

Procter, Margaret. “Standard Documentation Formats.” Writing at the University of Toronto,

e.g. [Web document: APA system, item in References list]: APA requires n.d. in parentheses when no publication date is available. The retrieval date and URL help establish the version used, since this is a file that may change over time. .

Procter, M. (n.d.) Effective admissions letters. Retrieved July 11, 2012 from

e.g., [article in print journal read online through database service: MLA system, item in Works Cited list]:

Smith, John. “Renovating Hamlet for Contemporary Audiences.” UTQ, vol. 78, no.1, Fall 2009, pp. 960-69. Project Muse, doi: 10.1353/utq.0.0560.

e.g. [article in journal published only online: MLA system, item in Works Cited list]: N.B. No DOI available so URL supplied instead; date of access not required.

Horning, Alice S. “Where to Put the Manicules: A Theory of Expert Reading.” Across the Disciplines, vol. 8, no. 2,  6 Oct. 2011,

e.g. [article in journal published only online, no DOI: APA system, item in References list]:

Horning, A. S. (2011, October 6). Where to put the manicules: A theory of expert reading. Across the Disciplines 8(6). Retrieved June 20, 2012, from

e.g. [posting to newsgroup, numbered-note system, item in References list]:

(1) Sills A. Are blue stragglers still in the running? [online posting] 13 Nov. 2011.