Style Guides & Reference Management Online Services


1. Style Guides: MLA, CMS, APA

2. Citation Style Comparison

3. Reference Management Online Services

Citation Style Handbooks and Guides

American Psychology Association (APA)


APA is the citation style for social sciences.  Because date is of primary importance and publications often have multiple authors, initials are used for first names and the date comes immediately after the name.  In terms of content, when writing a piece in APA, past tense verbs are used in referenece to previous research.


American Psychological Association. (2019). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association, (7th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Official Companion Site

The APA doesn’t have an online version of their style manual.  However, they do offer information on the style through quick links, a blog, and searchable text.  They also offer online tutorials and guides.


At Defend & Publish, we’ve found that of all the styles and associated handbooks, the APA Handbook most consistently answers questions specifically associated with formatting a Ph.D. dissertation.


Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)


CMA is the citation style handbook developed by the University of Chicago Press.  Of all the handbooks, this one drills down the deepest to provide formatting guidelines.  This style is used in the humanities and social sciences.  Like MLA, the author’s full first and last name are used.


University of Chicago Press Staff, The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th. ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Style Manual

Turabian, Kate L., A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 8th ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Official Companion Site

A completely searchable online version of both the 15th and 16th editions.  The benefit of this site is that you can search your specific questions, and it stays up to date on new media sources.

You can subscribe as an individual, but chances are you already have access through your university’s library web site.



Modern Language Association (MLA)


MLA is the citation style for humanities.  Because authorship is of primary importance, citations start with the full first and last name of the author.


Modern Language Association, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th Edition, New York: MLA, 2009.

Style Manual

Modern Language Association. MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd EditionNew York: MLA, 2008.

Official Companion Site

If you have a print copy of the book, you can use their complementary Web site that has a full text of the MLA Handbook and hundreds of examples. NOTE:  The website states that access is free throughout the life of the seventh edition.  Unclear as to what happens when a new edition comes out.

Limitations for Use in Dissertation

This style is not ideal when using multiple levels of headings.  If you are using more than four levels of headings, you might want to consider using APA that has defined styles for up to five heading levels.



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Compairing APA, CMS and MLA

Citation Style Comparison Chart

Purdue Owl provides a good comparison of the differences in citation formatting styles between MLA, APA, CMS.
Direct URL to pdf file:


Compairing Heading Formatting


Five Levels of Headings in APA

APA is the only style with formatting guidelines for five levels of headings provided in the official handbook in section 3.03 “Levels of Heading.”

First Level Heading [boldface, centered, Title case capitalization]

Second Level Heading[boldface, flush left, Title case capitalization]

     Third level heading. [boldface, intended five spaces, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.]

     Fourth level heading. [boldface and italicized, intended five spaces, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.]

     Fifth level heading. [italicized, intended five spaces, lowercase paragraph heading ending with a period.]




Five Levels of Headings in CMS

CMS acknowledges the use of subheads but doesn’t offer formatting guidelines other than discouraging use of more than three levels of subheads. Turabian, in her manual for writers based on CMS, offers a formatting plan for five levels of subheads in Appendix A.2 “Format Requirements for Specific Elements.”

First Level Heading [boldface or italicized, centered, headline-style capitalization]

Second Level Heading[regular type, centered, headline-style capitalization]

Third Level Heading [boldface or italicized, flush left, headline-style capitalization]

Fourth level heading[regular type, flush left, sentence-style capitalization]

Fifth level heading. [boldface or italicized, sentence-style capitalization, terminal period, Paragraph begins on same line as heading]



Five Levels of Headings in MLA

The issue of headings is presented in section 4.2.1 “Divisions of the Text.” Basically it advises one to be to be consistent with no direct reference to font size, placement, or formatting. However, Purdue’s OWL offers an example of five levels of headings for MLA. Some have taken this to be the official formatting guidelines, but it is merely a suggestion. These formats can be problematic for use in a dissertation because the 3rd and 4th level heading is centered. Also the example says nothing about capitalization or terminal periods.

First Level Heading [bold, flush left]

Second Level Heading [italics, flush left]

Third Level Heading [bold, centered]

Fourth Level Heading [italics, centered]

Fifth Level Heading [underlined, flush left]




Compairing Figure Caption Formatting

Figures in APA


Figure captions in APA are flush left and appear below the image. The word “Figure” is capitalized and followed by a number and a period, Both “Figure” and the number are italicized. If the caption and legend extend beyond one line, they are single-spaced, flush left. The source is acknowledged at the end of the caption with formatting as presented in section 2.21.


Figures in CMS


Figure captions in CMS are flush left and below the figure. The word figure is spelled out in full, capitalized, and followed by a number and a period. The title is capitalized sentence style. If the title is longer than one line, it is continued flush left, single-spaced. The source information is presented at the end of the caption. The word “Source” is capitalized, italicized, and followed by a colon. A terminal period is placed at the end of the source information. Formatting of source information follows your citation styles: bibliographic or reference list. Example above is as a reference list.


Figures in MLA


Figure captions in MLA are centered and appear below the image. The word Figure is often abbreviated to “Fig.” MLA captions tend to be brief.


Reference Management Online Services


ABOUT: Now a fully web-based product with even an app for the ipad.  In addition to to producing bibliographies, Endnote has the functionality for searching online databases, storing research files, and working collaboratively online.

ACCESS:  You can purchase an individual subscription, but chances are your university already has a subscription to Endnote or one of the web-based services listed here.


ABOUT:  Mendeley marries a reference management tool with social networking to make it easy for researchers to find information, access online databases, and collaborate.

ACCESS: Mendeley is free and tells you every chance it can.  You register online and then download the app for your computer and/or mobile device.


ABOUT: A web-based citation management tool with functionality designed to assist in gathering, managing, and storing information as well as generating in-text citations and bibliographies.

ACCESS:  You can purchase an individual subscription, but chances are your university already has a subscription to this or one of the web-based services listed here.


ABOUT: Invented at George Mason University, Zotero is a seamless browser base app to help you collect, organize, cite and share research.

ACCESS: Available for free.  Download the app that attaches to your browser.

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