Citation styles tend to be somewhat of a shock to students, this includes a lot of international students who’ve never had to do this before. Each citation style has a specified set of rules that pertain to any source you can get your hands on. This post contains my journey on how I learned citation styles quickly and even called teachers out for not knowing the styles as well I do. You will also find out my go-to resources for perfect citations.

Difficult Beginnings

My humble beginnings with citation styles began in high school. My teacher had us write out the citations in pencil, yet she was also old-fashioned in her two-spaces-after-punctuation lectures. It was frustrating to no end that she would mark us down if we hadn’t supplied adequate space after punctuating, in pencil! And then there was this whole point system that didn’t make sense, but anyhow, she was teaching us all wrong. A one hour lecture in an English class was not enough to learn any citation style as I would later find out in college still feeling like I knew nothing.

Citations were not emphasized too much in my bachelor years except for a couple of courses. I remember sweating over it at the library and other students looking smugly at me. Having learned the hard way, I just felt that it was hard… with no easy way out. I would check out Purdue’s OWL all the time, but still come out with a frustrating feeling that I wasn’t able to cite some of my obscure references.

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It wasn’t until I took my master degree that I was expected to use APA citation on every single assignment (yep, even journal writing assignments). At that point, I realized I needed to learn it quickly and perfectly before I encountered a problem with my grades. I decided to purchase myself a writer’s handbook.

In each course, teachers would tell us to get a writer’s handbook to make sure our citations were correct. However, I started to doubt these teachers even owned these books when they would incorrectly mark me wrong. I can’t tell you how much joy it brought me when I could show them in the book that they were wrong!

In the final paper that I wrote for my masters, I had perfected it so well and wanted it known so I cited over 100 references in one single paper – not even a research paper.

My mastery of citation styles rests on the writing handbooks alone. However, I’ve been able to earn a great deal of money tutoring other students and showing them how to properly cite. A twenty-dollar-or-so book got me a huge ROI in the end, and I still keep several copies of writer’s handbooks on my desk for easy referencing.

Why Learn it?

More and more teachers are moving in directions that keep their students accountable for their own work. I’ve seen teachers place a 25% grade or more weight solely on a student’s ability to cite properly. Moreover, if you are hoping to get a career in research or complete a Ph.D., it’s imperative to learn them as you will need to include multiple citations in single sentences.

Best Way to Learn

The best classes that I’ve had is simply giving students some articles to paraphrase and the resources they need to cite them. After that, I would simply point out shortcomings and show how to fix them. So basically, you just need to practice! However, I have some great resources to help you get started. (Keep reading…)

Campus in the City

Source: University of Pennsylvania

My Go-to Resource for Citation Styles

The most fundamental asset is a writer’s handbook. Like I said, this is the one book that NEVER leaves my desk. See some recommendations available on Amazon below.

However, you might ask, why even bother getting a writer’s handbook when it costs as much as a textbook? Firstly, writer’s handbooks are usually assigned college textbooks! If you’ve taken your English 101/102 classes, they usually have a textbook that is suggested or not required. In other cases, the teacher may write it as “required” but tell you later that you won’t use it in class or just never have any activity in class to use it with.

In fact, you may even walk into the campus bookstore, take a look at the book, realize that it’s just a book about grammar and sentence structure. Enough! I’m in college! I know how to write a sentence, you might have thought.

Please! I’m telling you. Re-think that for a minute. Your associates/ bachelor years are the time where you really need to perfect your language. For example, you need to know that a dependent clause is always followed by a comma before an independent clause. You must know that a comma and conjunction must separate two independent full clauses in a compound sentence. These are just an example of common errors I’ve seen even from other writing instructors. It’s not that they don’t know, it’s just that they haven’t proofread or forgot. Nevertheless, they are not going to forget when it comes down to grading your work!

Also, while we are on the topic of textbooks, I have a couple posts on buying textbooks cheap. Check out the one-stop shop post and my personal methods of getting cheap textbooks. This will help you get the best prices.

Get a Citation Fast

For those of you who already have a good feel for citations and know how to get all the formatting done right. You should try Citethisforme, formerly known as Refme. This site has a browser plug in that you can click on to give you a citation in the style of your choosing instantly. You can also use it on a smart phone and scan the book you want to cite from making the process fast and stress-free. I’ve encountered some mistakes here and there with this app, but luckily for me, I have my writer’s handbook that assures me of the exact way to cite references. Nevertheless, I often recommend this resource to students who are learning to cite for the first time. It takes A LOT of the aggravation in the process out.


Even if you have perfect citations, you may still encounter problems with your Grammar which is why I am highly recommending you to try the free version of Grammarly. Check out my post on it by clicking here.

How did you learn citation styles? What would you recommend to others?

If you are headed to buy textbooks, please check out some of my posts to help save you the most money!

Lastly, arm yourself with resources for the college experience! If you are a new to this site, considering subscribing to new posts from College Mamma. I post relevant articles that will guide you through your college/ university studies. You can get started by clicking on my sign up page.

Author: College Mamma

College Mamma is a professor who blogs for students. She is also a mother of two and a lover of coffee.