Anatomy of a Journal Citation

last modified 2018-10-29T11:08:28-04:00

A citation is the information that is used to help people to locate an article1. When you write an article, you cite your sources in a bibliography or works cited list at the end, so that others can find those sources in the future. Various style guides call for slightly different citation layouts, but the same basic elements are usually there. Below are two examples of different citation styles so you can see how the same information might look in different styles:

Comparison Citation Styles

1. Authors
Some articles only have one author and others have several. You may see multiple authors listed in a citation, but at other times you might see the Latin abbreviation et al. which means "and others." This usually means that five or more people contributed to the final product.

2. Year
The year listed in a citation is the year in which the article was published.

3. Article Title
The title of the article is the main piece of information which distinguishes it from other articles in the same journal. It is usually descriptive and gives the reader some idea of what subject area the article covers.

4. Journal Title
The journal (or periodical) title is the name of the publication in which the article was published. When you look at a bibliography you may see journal titles written out in full or you may see them abbreviated, as in one of the examples above. The abbreviation Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. refers to the publication Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

If you encounter an abbreviated journal title and you can't figure out what the full title is, the following resource may help. Otherwise, try contacting a librarian for assistance.

    5. Volume, Issue and Page Numbers
    One of the examples above shows only the volume number and page numbers, the other shows volume, issue, year, and page numbers in the same section of the citation.

    • The volume number, 97 and 42 in the above examples, refers to the editions of the journal published in a particular year. Volume 97 of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America contains the issues, or editions, of that journal published in the year 2000; the 97th year of the journal's existence.
    • The issue number is often presented immediately following the volume number. For example, 42.3 refers to the 3rd issue of the 42nd volume. Journals may be published weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, or even semi-annually. Thus, a full volume may contain 52, 26, 12, six, four, or even only two issues.
    • The page numbers are simply the numbers on the pages. The above articles are found on pages 8151-8156 and 379-407. This gives the impression that the journals are enormous! Actually, many journals use cumulative pagination which means that the first issue of a volume begins with page number one and the next issue keeps counting where the previous one left off. The last issue in the volume will have high page numbers. The first issue in the next volume will start at page one again. Some journals, however, start renumbering from page one in every issue.

    If you have any questions about citations or any other aspect of your library research, please don't hesitate to Ask Us.

    1 Citations can refer to any source of information, but the most commonly used at the University level are journal articles, so we have chosen to focus on those here.