Difference Wiki

Citation vs. Reference: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on November 15, 2023
A citation is the in-text acknowledgment of a source, while a reference provides full bibliographic details of the source.

Key Differences

A citation is an abbreviated mention of a source within the body of a text, often signifying a quote or paraphrase. This mention allows readers to know where the information or quote originated. In contrast, a reference is a detailed account of the source from which the information was derived, usually found at the end of a document in a designated section such as "References" or "Bibliography."
The main purpose of a citation is to give credit to the original author while also guiding readers to the complete source details if they wish to explore further. On the other hand, a reference aims to provide readers with all the necessary details to locate the original source, including author, title, publisher, date of publication, and more.
Citations are crucial in academic and professional writing to uphold the integrity of one's work. They prevent instances of plagiarism by signifying which parts of the work are borrowed from other sources. References complement citations by providing a thorough list of all the sources cited, ensuring readers can verify and review the original content if needed.
Different styles and formats exist for both citations and references, depending on the specific field or publication in question. For instance, the American Psychological Association (APA) format will differ from the Modern Language Association (MLA) format in terms of how citations and references are presented. Both citations and references work hand in hand to ensure proper attribution and authenticity in written works.

Comparison Chart

Location in Text

Found within the body of the text
Located at the end of a document in a dedicated section

Detail Level

Brief mention, often author's name and year of publication
Detailed information: author, title, publisher, date, etc.


Attribute original source and guide readers to the full source information
Provide full details to locate the original source

Appearance in Different Styles

Varies (e.g., (Smith, 2020) in APA or Smith (2020) in MLA)
Format varies based on style guide (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago)

Connection to Other Elements

Relates to the specific information taken from a source in the text
Connects to the citations within the text to provide comprehensive source info

Citation and Reference Definitions


A citation acknowledges the original author or source of information.
Without proper citation, the author risks committing plagiarism.


A reference provides complete bibliographic details of a source.
The reference included the author's name, book title, publisher, and year of publication.


A citation signifies where specific information or quotes originated.
The professor emphasized the importance of accurate citation in research papers.


A reference is a detailed account of a source used in a piece of writing.
At the end of her thesis, she provided a comprehensive reference list.


A citation is a tool used in writing to uphold the integrity of one's work.
The journal had strict citation guidelines for submitted manuscripts.


A reference allows readers to locate the original source of information.
Without a proper reference, it would be challenging to verify the original content.


A citation is a brief reference that directs readers to the complete source details.
His essay had several citations, ensuring transparency in his writing.


A reference is typically found in a designated section of a document.
He organized the reference section alphabetically by the author's last name.


A citation is the mention of a source within the body of a text.
She included a citation every time she quoted from an external source.


A reference complements in-text citations by listing all sources cited.
Every citation in her article had a corresponding entry in the reference section.


The act of citing.


The act of referring to something
Filed away the article for future reference.


A quotation of or explicit reference to a source for substantiation, as in a scholarly paper.


Significance for a specified matter; relation or relationship
Her speeches have special reference to environmental policy.


What is a citation?

An in-text acknowledgment of a source.

Where is a citation typically found?

Within the body of the text.

What is a reference?

A detailed account of a source, providing full bibliographic details.

Where is a reference typically found?

At the end of a document in a designated section.

Why is citation important?

To give credit to the original author and prevent plagiarism.

Why is reference important?

To provide readers with details to locate the original source.

Can I have a citation without a reference?

Typically no, as citations should always point to a detailed source entry in the references.

How do reference styles differ?

The arrangement and specific details included can vary based on style guides.

What happens if I don't cite properly?

It can lead to plagiarism, affecting credibility and possibly leading to academic or professional repercussions.

Which comes first, citation or reference?

In writing, you'll usually cite a source first, then ensure it's listed in the references.

Can I mix citation styles in a paper?

It's best to stick to one consistent style throughout a document.

Do online sources need both citations and references?

Yes, both online and offline sources should be properly cited and referenced.

How do citation styles differ?

Formats and details can vary based on academic disciplines and publications.

How many citations should a paper have?

It varies based on the topic and depth of research; every borrowed idea or quote should be cited.

Why are there different citation styles?

Different academic disciplines and publications have developed their own preferences over time.

Is citation only used in academic writing?

No, citations are used in various forms of writing, including articles, books, and reports.

Do citations and references always match in number?

Ideally, yes. Every citation should have a corresponding reference.

Do all style guides format citations and references the same way?

No, different style guides (like APA, MLA, and Chicago) have distinct formatting rules.

Is referencing only for books and articles?

No, references can include websites, videos, interviews, and more.

How detailed should a reference be?

Detailed enough for readers to locate the original source.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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