Reports of research and its findings are not considered valid and legitimate unless the researcher documents the resources and methods used to conduct that research. For a scientist, this entails a detailed account of materials and methods used in the lab or the field. For the social scientist, it may mean including copies of surveys, questionnaires, observations, or other methods used to gather information. For any researcher using verbal or graphic materials, regardless of the medium--print, Internet, film, photographic, microfiche, etc., it means indicating exactly what materials were used and what information came from which source.
The purpose of this documentation is to allow other persons interested in the subject of the research to verify information or to carry the inquiry further. Accurately and completely documenting the sources of information used in a research report or essay is therefore essential to the scholarly conversation that is the whole purpose of research.
There are many different styles for citing sources, including APA, MLA and Chicago/Turabian and the Citation Guide provides formatting examples for the most common types of print and electronic sources of information. If you need help constructing a citation for a publication type not listed, consult the appropriate style manual, a Reference librarian, or the Writing Center. The Writer's Web can help you with other stages of the writing process.
Styles of Documentation
Different fields of inquiry have developed different styles, or rules, of documentation. Fields in the humanities, like literature, religion, or philosophy, tend to prefer MLA style. History and some social sciences, like education, economics, or political science, prefer Turabian or Chicago style. Other social sciences and some sciences prefer APA.
You should consult with your professor to determine which style you should use for any project. There are whole books devoted to writing and documenting research reports in each of these styles. For details, you should refer to the following publications; there are copies of all of them on Reserve at the Reference Desk at Boatwright Library. To ensure that your citations conform to current practice, you should always use the most recent edition of any style manual. Scientific writing has many different formats, depending on the discipline.