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A style guide or manual of style is a set of standards for the writing, formatting, and design of documents.  All written work has a style.  Style guides are specialized in a variety of ways, from the general use of a broad public audience, to a wide variety of specialized uses, such as for students and scholars of various academic disciplines, medicine, journalism, the law, government, business in general, and specific industries.

When your professor gives you a written assignment, he/she will also include instructions that name the style.  This guide provides basic guidance for the most commonly seen styles, but always follow the professor’s instructions.

An excellent tool for additional information is the Purdue Online Writing Lab, or OWL.  The menus on the right offer an incredible amount of information – just select one item in a drop down to see further options.  The most common styles are toward the bottom:  MLA, APA, Chicago.  

The styles are designed for all levels of writing, from a basic essay paper with a few footnotes to full monographs with indices and tables of contents.  It is unlikely you will need to write a paper of that complexity at Ranger College.  Most of your work will consist of basic research so the guides here (APA, MLA, Chicago) are designed to leave out much of the higher-level information.  Should you need it, you can use the links to the home pages or search for a style yourself in a general internet search.

The most common thing you will use a style for is to format the footnotes and bibliographic notations, with an occasional cover sheet.  Providing information about the sources you used serves many purposes, but the two most important are that it allows readers to evaluate your content based on the reliability of your sources and it allows readers to follow your research backward to fill in additional information.

The most common items listed in a citation are:

  • Author
  • Title
  • Publication name (Journal)
  • Publication date
  • Page information was on
  • Date it was accessed, if an internet source and
  • URL, if it was an internet source

Most material is available through digital resources so it is assumed that all your sources are from the internet, including books that can be found in hard copies.  As a general rule, if your source is NOT from the internet, you need to let your professor know.  Otherwise, you will be expected to include an accessed date and URL.

Each of the main styles will require the same information, but will format it differently.  In Chicago, for example, the date of publication is after the publication name while in APA it goes after the author name, in parenthesis.

Within a specific style, there will still be variations.  Footnotes, for example, go at the end of each page while end notes go at the end of the entire document.  Your professor may specify which to use, but as a general rule, use footnotes.  Another variable you will often encounter is the choice between footnotes or in-text citations.  In an inline citation, the author name, date, and page number appears at the end of the sentence it is supporting (Cozart 1982, 24).  Endnotes and parenthetical notations (in-text citations) are not common because both disrupt the flow of reading.  They do serve specific purposes, though, so you may encounter them.

Best practices, no matter what style:

Do not abbreviate anything.  Put the full journal title; put all of the authors’ names.

Make sure the URL works.  If the instructor can’t get to your source, it will cost you points.

Make sure the page numbers are accurate.  If the information is not where you say it will be, it will cost you points.

Do not use a citation generator.  They are always wrong.  Build it yourself, using a guide.

Footnotes and bibliographic notations are NOT the same thing.  Be sure they are formatted appropriately.

Read the instructions.  Do not use the wrong style.

You may encounter a variety of styles as you move through the general college curriculum, but once you have identified the style you will need for the majority of your career, usually based on profession, it is a good idea to invest in a hard copy so you can make notes on the thing you use most often and access even when you are working offline.

In all instances, when in doubt refer to the instructions or ask your professor.  You will never be wrong to ask, but you may lose points for not asking.

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