Let's say I have at my disposal some kind of searchable content with all the references from many books and papers. How would a source reference would be typically written/formatted? Is it dependent of the subject? If yes, how?

Some clarification: I want to know what kind of format I should expect so it would make my search for a particular reference easier.

  • You will find a list of common style manuals (which contain citation guidelines) at this question. That should help.
    – justkt
    Dec 22, 2010 at 14:02

4 Answers 4


As others have mentioned, various institutions prefer different formats. On a broader scale, a particular style is often favored by specific disciplines or groups. (For example, APA is popular in the social sciences, while CSE is used in the physical sciences.)

In general, if there are only a few sources to cite, it's done in footnotes or parenthetical citations.

For more numerous citations, an in-text marker is typically used, which references a bibliography at the end of the work.

  • 1
    Note that Chicago supports a mixed notes-with-reflist style. I think that Chicago is more common than CSE in physical science and engineering. Biomed is something else again. Dec 22, 2010 at 19:28
  • Thanks for expanding on that and taking your time to find the links.
    – pHneuma
    Dec 23, 2010 at 7:32

It depends on what you are referencing, and quite importantly, where as well. There are several different systems (APA, MLA...) for quotations and references. If it is a paper you are writing, find out which of these does your university, college, institution etc. recommend or require.

If you are writing a book, it can be worth checking whether your publisher uses one specific referencing system or if you can choose one at your own leisure (or create your own).

Most of these systems have extensive guidelines (when to use a footnote, as opposed to an end note, how to format these etc.) that can be found online.


Depends how many sources we are talking about. The most standard procedure is to have an alphabetical list at the end of the book, possibly organized per chapter with letter tags or number tags for each source. These tags are then placed in the text whenever it is needed to refer to the source material.

If you don't have too many source references and it doesn't disrupt the page lay-out too much, you can place the sources in footnotes.

  • I would be more interested on the format of said reference. See my edit.
    – Eldros
    Dec 22, 2010 at 13:38

Just take a look at any book that cites references in the manner you want to study--that is, just open the book and observe how the author has done it and copy the format. Otherwise, you can purchase a style manual that will give you loads of examples and answer all your questions.

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