Computer science is one of those subjects that it can be difficult to imagine citing sources for, especially as a budding programmer. Still, students in this field are subject to the same rules of citation as other avenues of academic study and that will include giving credit to other authors where credit is due.

In this complete style guide, we'll be taking a closer look at the citation styles commonly used by computer science students.

#1 The ACM citation style

The ACM citation style

ACM has a few key rules that computer science students would do well to keep in mind when putting together their own bibliographies. Like other general papers or assignments, all references are added to the end of the paper.

Let’s take a look at an example of the format needed for a full citation in the reference list:

[1] Simone Porru, Andrea Pinna, Michele Marchesi, and Roberto Tonelli. 2017. Blockchain-Oriented Software Engineering: Challenges and New Directions. In 2017 IEEE/ACM 39th International Conference on Software Engineering Companion (ICSE-C), IEEE.

In the citation above, you can clearly see the names of authors, the year of publication, the title of the article and the journal as well as other details within the format.

Remember that the reference section will also need to have a clear, separating heading that separates it from the rest of the content. The list of references is always sorted alphabetically.

In-text citations for ACM are more similar to other citation styles that use numbering systems as seen in the sample citation from a scholarly journal below:

Is the state still needed when blockchain technology can create decentralized governance? In recent years, much debate has been stirred regarding the power of peer-to-peer systems [1].

The most important thing to bear in mind is that square brackets are used in the ACM style. This is also present in another citation style we’ll discuss further down.

Check out these ACM style resources

🌐 Official ACM style guide

📝 ACM citation generator

#2 The APA citation style

The APA citation style

The other common citation style used is the APA style. Usually associated with the humanities, APA has now become a prominent citation style within the computer science field.

In terms of what students need to know about APA citing, there are a few things to keep in mind but overall it follows the same structure as many other author-date-based bibliographic citations. This means that factors like the following have to be included in the formatting of the full citation:

  • The author’s initials and surname
  • The date of publication
  • The title of the work
  • The publisher location and name

In practice, this will look like the American Psychology Association Sample reference below:

Wallace, A., Dietz, V., & Cairns, K. L. (2009). Integration of immunization services with other health interventions in the developing world: what works and why? Systematic literature review. Tropical Medicine & International Health, 14(1), 11–19.

An electronic source like a website or e-journal may require a URL or DOI to be added to the end of the reference as seen above.

Just like the ACM style of citation, it’s important to ensure that all the sources cited are sorted alphabetically and clearly separated from the other content of the paper using a clear heading.

The in-text citation for the bibliography citation we just showed you will look like this:

Presence of a strong immunization service prior to integration is considered as one of the two characteristics of success (Wallace et al., 2009).

In papers that have numerous authors, only the first author’s surname is included with the rest being added under the ‘et al.’ descriptor. The full citation will have the complete list of authors included as shown above which is then added to the reference list.

It's important to bear in mind there is no rearrangement of author names needed - the first name listed on the journal article tself is always the first added to the citation.

Check out these APA style resources

🌐 Official APA style guidelines

🗂 APA style guide

📝 APA citation generator

#3 The IEEE citation style

The IEEE citation style

Next, there is the IEEE citation style, also sometimes used in the computer science field when citing different sources and literature. Mainly targeted at engineering, computer science, and information technology, the IEEE method of citation has a few essential steps you need to gain an understanding of.

Let’s start by talking about the bibliographic citation first. Take a closer look at the example we’ve added below:

[9] I. Bashir, Mastering Blockchain: Distributed ledger technology, decentralization, and smart contracts explained, 2nd Edition, 2nd ed. Birmingham, England: Packt Publishing, 2018.

The first notable difference between IEEE and author-date in-text referencing styles is the fact that each reference will start with a number in square brackets. This number corresponds directly to the order in which the references appear in the paper being submitted, similar to the ACM method of citation.

It’s essential for students to remember that IEEE makes use of square brackets when adding parenthetical citations.

Due to the numbering system used in the IEEE method of citation, there is no need to add the author’s name or the publishing date in-text. Instead, a corresponding number is given for the in-text citation which connects to the reference list. Take a look at this example of an in-text citation from a book:

Blockchain is an emerging technology holding significant promise [9].

The benefit of the IEEE citation style is that it allows the writer to skip out on the bulky in-text citations that can come with other citation methods. At the same time, it can be a potential pitfall. This method requires careful proofreading and editing to ensure that all the numbers match up to the correct citation in the reference list.

Check out these IEEE style resources

🌐 Official IEEE style guidelines

🗂 IEEE style guide

📝 IEEE citation generator

#4 The Chicago citation style

The Chicago citation style

The Chicago citation style is another method used when referencing within the computer science field. In the 17th edition, there are two distinct styles of referencing: notes and bibliography, and author-date. We'll be focussing on author-date in this guide.

The formatting used in a Chicago in-text citation will briefly describe the source used by adding the author's last name and date of publication. This shorter in-text citation then corresponds to a separate full citation added to the 'References' section.

In Chicago, your in-text citation will look like this:

Artificial intelligence will soon be an internal part of our digital lives (Chassignol et al. 2018).

You can see like many other citation styles, the in-text citation in Chicago will appear in parentheses and feature the author's last name and the date of publication.

Using the same example from above, let's take a closer look at the corresponding full citation. In the Reference list, you'll want to add the citation as follows:

Chassignol, Maud, Aleksandr Khoroshavin, Alexandra Klimova, and Anna Bilyatdinova. 2018. “Artificial Intelligence Trends in Education: A Narrative Overview.” Procedia Computer Science 136: 16–24.

Check out these Chicago style resources

🌐 Official Chicago style guidelines

🗂 Chicago style guide

📝 Chicago citation generator

#5 The CSE citation style

The CSE citation style

Last but not least, there is the CSE citation style. Short for Council of Science Editors, this method of citation uses a name-year system similar to the other approaches listed in this guide.

Diving deeper into the in-text citation format used in CSE, you'll notice it looks very similar to APA or Chicago. Take a closer look:

Artificial intelligence is becoming more prominent in health care innovation (Maddox et al. 2019).

The full text citation formatting follows the same streamlined approach to adding the authors' information about the source. The same example in full CSE citation will look like this example:

Maddox TM, Rumsfeld JS, Payne PRO. 2019. Questions for artificial intelligence in health care. JAMA. 321(1):31–32.

Check out these CSE style resources

🌐 Official CSE style guidelines

🗂 CSE style guide

📝 CSE citation generator

Frequently Asked Questions about citation styles used in computer science

💾 Does computer science use MLA or APA?

APA is the more commonly used of these two options, but ACM and IEEE are often considered better suited to computer science. If you're writing lengthy citations, IEEE is arguably the easiest to use since it cuts down on the bulk of the in-text citation. IEEE is also one of the most widely accepted formats for computer science-based papers.

🔬 What are the two main types of citations accepted in computer science?

APA is typically used in the sciences and humanities. Take a look at this complete guide to APA referencing for detailed information on how to get started.

Other accepted types of referencing for computer science include ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

📊 What are the four elements of a reference in computer science?

Every citation style used for computer science will have to include the author's name, the date of publication, the title of the work, and where it was published as a foundation. Other information can be added or removed, but these four elements are always present in full citations.

📇 How do you cite a computer program in APA for computer science?

When referencing computer software, games, or apps in APA, the author's name, the year of publishing, the name of the software, the version number, and the publisher will need to be included.

🤓 How do you make a reference list in computer science?

What your reference list in computer science looks like depends on the citation style you use. The fastest and easiest way to create your reference list in computer science is to use the BibGuru citation generator. It's completely free, extremely fast and accurate, and will save you time and worries.


Make your life easier with our productivity and writing resources.

For students and teachers.


Follow us