Reference vs Citation: Difference and Comparison

As a university student or a researcher, there is a standard procedure you need to follow for report writing. This grants your reports or paper the credibility and professionalism it needs to be accepted in the academic world.


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Apart from this, there are a few minor things you need to take care of that can make you stand out among your peers.

They say that the devil is in the details. So, some critical elements in writing can catch your audience’s attention and make you a respected researcher or student. These elements are reference and citation.

Chances might be that you never got to know about those elements or did not pay enough attention to them, but knowing the difference between them and when to use these is equally necessary as a writer.

Key Takeaways

  1. A reference is a source of information used to support a writer’s claims, ideas, or arguments in a piece of writing. At the same time, a citation is the formal acknowledgment of a reference within the text.
  2. Citations follow specific formatting guidelines (e.g., APA, MLA, or Chicago style) and include the author’s name, publication date, and work title.
  3. Proper citation of references ensures intellectual honesty, gives credit to the original author, and allows readers to locate and verify the sources used in a written work.

Reference vs Citation

Reference is the source of information. When a writer uses the text or work of another writer, he/she must give reference to it. Reference is listed at the end of the document. Endnotes are used to mention a reference. When a writer mentions a source within a text, he/she then uses citation. Brackets are used to mention a citation.

Reference vs Citation

Citations are all the sources you mention in the body of your writing. The information could be in direct quotes or paraphrased in your reports.

The reference table below shows the other features that differentiate between reference and citation.


Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonReferenceCitation
DefinitionList of sources you gained information from in your writings.The sources you mention inside the body of the text.
Place in textMentioned at the end of the writing.You mentioned this in the body of your writings.
Manner in textThey are mentioned as endnotes.They are mentioned in the brackets.
IncludesName of author, the title of the publication or book, and the page number.Name of author, page number, or publication date.
ObjectiveTo support your point or argument in your article.To indicate the resource, you have taken the information from.


What is Reference?

References are a list of sources at the end of your writing that supports your point and arguments.

You may need to list your references in your articles, research papers, lab reports, publications, books, blogs, academic assignments, conference papers, etc.

It has a unique format which needs to be followed and can be different for different institutions. Generally, it would be best to mention them as endnotes containing every resource containing the author’s name, the article’s title or publication, and the page number.

The sources in the engineering documents are listed in the order of the cited sources in your work. However, references may also follow an alphabetical number system.

That means you list the references in your reports alphabetically and cite the sources according to the number in the references list.

One trendy format is the APA (American Psychological Association) format. But there are other styles, like the Modern Language Association (MLA).

They may also use a different name for the heading of references. For example, it may be “Works cited” or” Bibliography”.

It tells the readers that you read these items, consulted, and considered them in your writing pieces. The readers can further refer to those sources if they need more information.

It is advised to writers to use reliable and genuine resources in their references as it lends credibility to their work. It further supports your ideas well.


What is Citation?

Citations are the sources you mention in your writings that tell the readers where the information has been taken.

Whenever you talk about a theory or model in your work, you mention the author’s name and publication date to inform the readers about the authenticity of the information provided in the article.

It is mentioned in brackets. You may also need to write the page number in your citation if you say a direct quote.

So, a particular format is followed, which was developed by the American Psychological Association (APA) and is called the APA format. However, different associations have created their unique formats too.

Writing with citations increases the quality of your work, and people perceive you as a respected writer or researcher.

Citing your work also saves you from plagiarism allegations because you are writing the source you have taken the information. You are not taking credit for those ideas.

It also distinguishes your original ideas and thoughts in your paper from the other authors you have cited. This can tell readers what arguments the other authors have vs what is your point of view.


Main Differences Between Reference and Citation

Some of the features that differentiate between reference and citation are given below:

  1. References are a list of sources you gained information from in your writings, while citations are the sources you mention inside the body of the text.
  2. References are mentioned at the end of the writings, while citations are mentioned in the body of your reports.
  3. References are mentioned as endnotes in writing, whereas citations are mentioned in the brackets inside the text.
  4. Writing a reference includes the name of the author, the title of the publication or book, and the page number. A citation contains the author’s name, page number, or publication date.
  5. The purpose of a reference is to support your point or argument in your article. In contrast, the purpose of a citation is to indicate the resource you have taken the information from.
Difference Between Reference and Citation
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