8 Common College Essay Formats and Their Citation Styles
As a college student, you will be required to write dozens of papers on different topics. Depending on the subject you’re studying, you will use some essay styles more than others. This article gives a short description of the most commonly used forms of college essays and the citation styles that you will need to use for each.
1. The Expository Essay
The expository essay explains something, or describes, or presents information and is used to inform the reader. Your professors will ask you to write this type of essay to help you learn more about the subject, to test your ability to research your topic effectively, and to prove your understanding of the subject. When you write an expository essay, remember that it is an impersonal style of writing and that while you may refer to the audience as ‘you’, you may not refer to yourself as ‘I’. It’s a factual essay, so your opinion is not required. Expository essays require citation. The typical citation styles for these essays are MLA or APA formatting or Harvard modes.
2. The Persuasive Essay
As the name implies, a persuasive essay “persuades” the reader to a point of view. Not only will you need to understand the subject, but you must take a position on it, too. You prove your point by using logical, well-founded reasoning. To accomplish this you must choose a side, as well as discuss alternative opinions. Persuasive essays require citation. Most persuasive essays use the MLA formatting style unless otherwise requested by your professors.
3. The Informal Essay
Compared with the other forms of essay writing, the informal essay is written more for the enjoyment of personal expression. It is written to communicate subjectively in a more relaxed, conversational and expressive style than other types of essay. It can be informative or persuasive and can include personal opinion. However, it must still have a strong structure. No citation styles are required.
4. The Review
The aim of a review is to analyze and present a piece of work, such as a book or a film, and evaluate its overall effects and validity. Though your subjective opinion does play a significant part, a review must still maintain certain objective standards. You will be required to prove any assertions you may make. How formal your review is depends on how much of it is analysis, how much is summary, and how much of it is your opinion. The more you include your opinion, the less formal the review will be. You will use citations if you include any reference material, and will likely need to use the MLA formatting guidelines.
5. The Research Essay
The purpose of a research essay is to analyze a perspective or argue a point of view about a narrow topic. It involves locating or creating extensive quantities of objective source material and sifting through it to find appropriate research that supports your ideas. This will lead you to a greater understanding of your subject, which you will demonstrate in your essay as you interpret and evaluate the material and make your point. Normally a research essay must utilize either footnotes or endnotes or a reference list and may also require a bibliography. Citations are almost always required when writing a research essay. The usual forms of citation styles for research papers are MLA or APA formatting.
6. The Comparison and Contrast Essay
The object of a comparison and contrast essay is to explore and expose the similarities and dissimilarities between two or more ideas or things. You will be expected to use your critical faculties and your powers of analysis to describe what the ideas or things have in common and what makes them different to each other. Scholarly research and specific referencing is not normally required for this type of essay so citation is not required.
7. The Literary Essay
There are similarities between a review and a literary essay insofar as they are both evaluative. However, a literary essay goes into the structure of the subject being reviewed in more depth than a review. The literary essay is used to explore the meaning and construction of a piece and evaluate specifics such as theme, character, style, tone and subtext. You must take a viewpoint on the work you are writing about and use critical analysis to demonstrate how the details of the work support your viewpoint. You may use your own interpretation of the piece or a mixture of opinions and references to other people’s critiques of the work. In such cases, you will include citations, applying either MLA or APA formatting.
8. The Cause and Effect Essay
Cause and effect essays are concerned with how and why things happen, and the effects that happen as a result, such as the causes of water pollution and its effects on the community, or the effects of children eating too much refined sugar and its effects on health. A cause and effect essay must be written in a factual tone and be impersonal. Removing the first person gives more authority to the essay. Your choice of sources will have a bearing on the validity of your paper, so choose them carefully. You will include citations, following the MLA or APA formatting styles.
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Citation styles differ mostly in the location, order, and syntax of information about references. The number and diversity of citation styles reflect different priorities with respect to concision, readability, dates, authors, publications, and, of course, style.
There are also two major divisions within most citation styles: documentary-note style and parenthetical style. Documentary-note style is the standard form of documenting sources. It involves using either footnotes or endnotes, so that information about your sources is readily available to your readers but does not interfere with their reading of your work.
Professor Scott asserts that “environmental reform in Alaska in the 1970s accelerated rapidly as a pipeline expansion.”: (Scott 1999,23)
This is generally considered an abbreviated form of citation, and it does not require footnotes or endnotes, although it does require the equivalent of a "Works Cited" page at the end of the paper. It is easier to write, but might interfere with how smoothly your work reads.
With so many different citation styles, how do you know which one is right for your paper? First, we strongly recommend asking your instructor. There are several factors which go into determining the appropriate citation style, including discipline (priorities in an English class might differ from those of a Psychology class, for example), academic expectations (papers intended for publication might be subject to different standards than mid-term papers), the research aims of an assignment, and the individual preference of your instructor.
If you are a teacher or instructor, you may also wish to distribute examples of plagiarism and legitimate citation, and then go over the differences together with your classes. This will clarify some of the common misconceptions about plagiarism and reduce the likelihood of "honest mistakes," while at the same time showing how serious you are about the issue.
If you want to learn more about using a particular citation style, we have provided links to more specific resources below.
MLA (Modern Language Association)
ACS (American Chemical Society)
IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)
NLM (National Library of Medicine)
Vancouver (Biological Sciences)
AAA (American Anthropological Association)
[Note: the AAA style is based on the Chicago style, so for specific questions not addressed in any of the AAA style guides, please use the links above or consult The Chicago Manual of Style (14th edition, 1993)]