Political science is a popular field with students today but handling citations for them in a write up like a report or essay can be challenging. There are many different types of sources needed to support arguments, pose counterpoints and provide key frameworks that can dictate the overall success of the assignment.

We compiled a list of the main citation styles used in the political science field:

#1 Chicago citation style

Chicago citation style

Citations done in the Chicago style usually take one of two forms - footnotes and bibliography or author-date. Let’s talk about footnotes and bibliographies first.

In this style, your Chicago citations will make use of carefully numbered endnotes or footnotes that correspond to their counterparts in the text of the paper itself. The full sources are then cited within the reference list put at the end of the assignment.

The author-date system on the other hand is the one most students are familiar with through their other studies as it appears in multiple citation styles. When the sources are cited in-text, the author’s last name and the year their work was published are placed in parentheses like in this example:

If there are multiple authors to one paper, it's not necessary to list them all in the in-text reference. Instead, the words "et al" are used to refer to the fact that there are multiple authors.

This in-text citation further corresponds to the full citation that is added to the list of references at the end of the paper. In the Chicago style, this would like the following:

Brynjolfsson, Erik, John Horton, Adam Ozimek, Daniel Rock, Garima Sharma, and Hong-Yi TuYe. 2020. “COVID-19 and Remote Work: An Early Look at US Data.” Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Check out these Chicago style resources

🌐 Official Chicago style guidelines

🗂 Chicago style guide

📝 Chicago citation generator

#2 MLA citation style

MLA citation style

Originally used for literature-based studies, MLA has now been adopted by multiple fields as their preferred style of citation.

Like the Chicago style, there are a few key elements that are included when citing sources in-text or in the full reference list in MLA.  Note that the reference list in MLA is actually referred to using the heading “Works Cited”.

The in-text citation has one of the simplest formats for referencing. Take a look at this example:

Administrative development is still taking place in many third world countries (Bonnett).

The date of publication does not need to appear in the in-text citation. What matters most is that the author’s surname is added and that the page number being referred to is added too.

The full details of the reference are added at the end of the assignment, in the “Works Cited” list. This will include more information of the date and place of publication and other details that are not included in the in-text citation.

A complete citation in MLA will feature the author’s details, the title of the source, the version, publication date, and more. Here is an example of one to give you a better idea of what to expect:

Bonnett, Alastair. The Idea of the West: Culture, Politics and History. London, England: Red Globe Press, 2004. Print

Check out these MLA style resources

🌐 Official MLA style guidelines

🗂 MLA style guide

📝 MLA citation generator

#3 APSA citation style

APSA citation style

This citation style is a variation of the Chicago method of citation. The APSA style makes use of the author-date format, but footnotes are allowed within some limitations.

Let's take a closer look at an example of an APSA in-text citation:

The government plays a role in the expansion of the workforce (Bonnett 2004).

Like other citation styles listed in this article. "et al." may be used when there are more than three authors listed on a single research source. In some cases, a page or chapter number can also be added to the in-text citation.

The full-text citations will make use of all the same details as the Chicago style and be listed under the "References" section of the paper.

The full citation format in APSA looks like the following example:

Bonnett, Alastair. 2004. The Idea of the West: Culture, Politics and History. London, England: Red Globe Press.

Check out these APSA style resources

🌐 Official APSA style guidelines

🗂 APSA style guide

📝 APSA citation generator

#4 APA citation style

APA citation style

In political science, you can also cite sources using APA (the publication manual of the American Psychological Association) which is currently in its 7th edition. One of the most commonly used methods of citation, APA has become an indispensable resource in the academic world today.

APA is another author-date format variation that will feel similar to other styles you have used in the past. A typical APA in-text citation will contain the last name of the author and the publishing date in parenthesis, separated by a comma.

This is what it looks like in action:

Inequality may be the biggest political challenge of this age (Phillips, 2017).

A full citation, on the other hand, will include more essential information including the place of publication, journal titles, and more. In practice, this citation will be in this format:

Phillips, N. (2017). Power and inequality in the global political economy. International Affairs, 93(2), 429–444.

Check out these APA style resources

🌐 Official APA style guidelines

🗂 APA style guide

📝 APA citation generator

#5 Turabian citation style

Turabian citation style

Similar to the Chicago style of citation, Turabian is a style primarily used for its footnote or endnote capabilities. The Turabian method is an adapted version of the Chicago manual of style targeted towards students and papers not intended for formal publication.

In-text, the Turabian citation will look somewhat similar to the Chicago and MLA styles:

Trends of inequality can be traced all over the globe through a significant collection of scholarly research (Phillips 2017).

This corresponds to the full-text citation which contains the complete information about the source you have used. The format used in the Turabian style will look like this on paper:

Phillips, Nicola. 2017. “Power and Inequality in the Global Political Economy.” International Affairs 93, no. 2: 429–44.

Check out these Turabian style resources

🌐 Official Turabian style guides

🗂 Turabian style guide

📝 Turabian citation generator

Frequently Asked Questions about citation styles used for political science

✍️ Does political science use MLA or APA?

Between these two options, MLA is used more commonly for political science. However, APA is also suitable provided the use of it has been approved by the local poli-sci department you are studying through.

🔥 Which is better MLA or APA for political science?

There isn’t necessarily a “better” here - it’s more a case of what the college requires. If they have no set requirement, it’s best for students to try both styles and see which they personally prefer. All that matters is that the same style is used consistently throughout your assignments!

📑 What is APSA style in political science?

APSA style follows the sale author-date practice as the Chicago Manual of Style. This type of referencing is more common in political sciences and economics-based fields.

🌱 What citation does political science use?

There are several different kinds of citations used within political science. APSA is one of the most-used methods of referencing within the political sciences.

🕵🏻‍♀️ What is the easiest referencing style for political science?

APA and MLA are commonly considered to be some of the most straightforward citation styles and are both used over a broad range of fields. This is why both these styles are commonly taught to complete beginners.


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