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Understanding Citations: Identifying Parts of a Citation

How to interpret the parts of a citation, and how to distinguish between types of sources based on citations


This page illustrates how to interpret the parts of an MLA citation for different types of sources. This is important when you have a citation in hand (for example, from the bibliography of a journal article, from a website, or from a professor) and want to track down the original source.

Although citations look different in other styles such as APA and Turabian, the same information is generally present, but with a different order and formatting.

Using the Citation to Find the Item

Identifying the key parts of a citation will help you know how to search for the source. For example:

  • If the item is a book or book chapter, you should search the title of the book or chapter in GeiselCat or WorldCat.
  • If the item is a journal article, you should search the journal's title in the Journal Finder and use the volume, issue, or year of publication to browse to the desired article.


Book citation

Book Chapters

If the entire book was written by the same author(s), including the chapter being cited, there will be no book editor(s) listed in the citation.

Book chater citation

Journal Articles

If the article is available online in a research database, you will often see the database's name and the date of retrieval in the citation, as in the example below. If the article was obtained from a print copy of a magazine or journal, the citation will end with the page numbers.

Journal article citation

Web Sources

If the web document has no author or publication date, its citation will not include this information. The "publisher" refers to the organization, company, or other entity on whose website the article or page resides.

Web Source Citation

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