How to format an academic paper

2. Citations


Citations are one of the most important issues in formatting. It is important for writers to acknowledge the source of their information—especially any quotes. As a rule of thumb, whenever you copy more than five words in a row (and sometimes when you copy less), you should enclose those words in quote marks and name your source.

There are two widely accepted ways of citing sources: parentheses and footnotes. For a master’s thesis, you should use the more formal style: footnotes. It is therefore a good idea to learn to use footnotes in your earlier papers, too. We prefer the format described in Kate Turabian’s Manual[1] and Nancy Vyhmeister’s book for religious writings.[2] “If a work includes a bibliography, which is typically preferred, then it is not necessary to provide full publication details in notes…. The note only needs to include the surname of the author, a shortened form of the title (if more than four words), and the page number(s).”[3]

Even when you use footnotes, biblical citations are normally given in parentheses—for example: (Luke 2:32, NIV).[4] Translations done by a committee are usually preferred, rather than the paraphrases that present one person’s interpretation.

Quotes do not speak for themselves, and your paper should be more than a series of quotes—the paper is to reflect your own thought. You are welcome to paraphrase what another author says (and if you have paraphrased, it is still appropriate to give a citation), but sometimes the author said it so well that you would like to quote it.

If your quote is longer than four lines, it should be formatted as a separate paragraph. You should indent the paragraph ½ inch on the left and ½ inch on the right. This is called a “block quote.” Since the formatting indicates that it is a quote, quote marks are not needed. If there is a quote inside of the quote, you should alternate double and single quote marks.[5]

When you quote, you should quote exactly. Do not change words, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, or meaning. If you leave any words out in the middle of the quote, put in an ellipsis (three periods). If you add anything, put the additions inside of square brackets [sample].[6] You may make the following alterations:

  • You may change the capitalization of the first word. For example, if you start quoting in the middle of a sentence, you may capitalize the first word, because it is the first word of your sentence.
  • You may omit footnote numbers from inside of a quote.
  • You may change quote marks to single or double, so that they alternate in your quote.
  • When Bible dictionaries capitalize key words or add an asterisk to refer readers to other dictionary articles, you do not need to keep the capitalization or asterisk.
  • If you add or remove italics, your footnote should say what you have done.
  • Most quotes need some introduction, such as: Smith says, “This is an example.” Use a comma after a short introductory phrase, a colon after a long one.
  • You need to indicate whether you agree with the quote, and how it is relevant to your point. For long quotes, you need to pinpoint what part of the quote is most relevant.

For punctuation at the end of a quote, put periods and commas inside of the quote marks, then the closing quote marks,[7] then the footnote number. If you are quoting a scripture, do not put a period at the end of the quote – use closing quote marks, the citation in parentheses, and then the end-of-sentence punctuation. In a block quote, put the end-of-sentence punctuation, then the citation in parentheses.

[1] Kate L. Turabian et al., A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers (9th ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018). You may also use other recent editions. This is based on the Chicago Manual of Style, adapted slightly for academic writing.

[2] Nancy Jean Vyhmeister and Terry Dwain Robertson, Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology (3rd ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 2014.

[4] If all biblical quotations come from the same translation, use a footnote on the first quote, such as: “All biblical quotes, unless noted, are from the New International Version.” The biblical citation is not part of the quote itself, so should not be inside the quote marks. For example: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35, NIV).

[5] This formatting is particularly helpful when the quote contains quote marks inside of it. When there are quotes within quotes, sometimes it is hard for the reader to know exactly where the larger quote stops. The block quotation style helps group it together. It may also alert the instructor if you are overly reliant on long quotes from other people, and not including enough thoughts of your own. American style is to start with double quotes; British style is to start with single quote marks.

[6] If the quote already uses square brackets, your footnote can let your readers know that the material in square brackets was from the first author, not from you. If you omit the first part of the original sentence, you do not need to begin the quote with an ellipsis.

[7] Commonwealth students may use the British style of putting punctuation after the closing quote marks.