Top 5 Academic Style Guides for Research Papers

Becoming familiar with the more common academic styles for writing and publishing academic papers is a necessary task of any writer-researcher. If you want to enter the conversation of academic discourse and be taken seriously as a researcher, it’s vital that you are acquainted with the important style and reference guides for your discipline.

Style guides are essential sources of information for how to organize and present your academic paper, thesis, grant proposal, or any other scientific written work. They give insight into topics such as formatting manuscripts, preferred word choices, grammar, typography, and perhaps most importantly, the style you should use for citing and referencing the sources you use in your scientific study. Some style guides also give insight into preparing, submitting, and publishing your work. Most guides are written and published by professional organizations, but some, like The Chicago Manual of Style , are written and published by publishers.

Although there are programs available that will automatically put your sources into the citation style you specify, it’s important to be aware of the main requirements for the reference style(s) most common in your discipline. In addition, keep in mind that different journals and publishers may use different styles. Thus, check the submission requirements for each publisher and journal.

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Below are some of the more common styles used, according to discipline.

ACS: American Chemical Society

AIP: American Institute of Physics

APA: American Psychological Association (social sciences)

Chicago/Turabian (various disciplines)

CSE: Council of Science Editors (various sciences)

Some additional styles to be aware of, which will not be covered here, include: AMA (American Medical Association), AMS (American Mathematical Society), and MLA (Modern Language Association). We will cover these in a future article, so be sure to sign up for our e-mail updates!

Below are the main citation styles used in scientific research and some important points for using them. For more information, use the style book indicated. You can often find abbreviated resources online that give you the most commonly searched information for each guide. The library is also a good resource for style guides and guidance on documentation. You can also view university library resources on their websites, which often give examples and links to more information about these style guides.

Check out our related article on this topic:

Top 7 US/UK University Websites that Provide Academic Publishing Resources and Advice

Important terms to know: When citing sources in academic papers, most guides call for either the author-date style (Harvard) or author-number style (Vancouver) . The author-date style places the reference’s author and date in parentheses in the text. The author-number style assigns a number to each unique reference that is placed in the text, and the reference is then provided in a numbered list at the end of the journal article. Alternatively, footnotes or endnotes might be used.

Note: The examples provided below are for academic journal references . See the specific guide for guidance on other types of sources, such as books, magazines, theses, etc. Notice that different styles have differences in formatting and sequence of information. Some styles require the use of abbreviations for journal titles. Abbreviations can be found in the List of Title Word Abbreviations (LTWA) available at the International Standard Serial Number Website .

1. ACS: The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information , 3 rd ed.

Edited by Anne M. Coghill and Lorrin Garson. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, 2006.

This guide gives guidelines and chapters on the ethics of scientific publishing and the editorial process. The ACS Style Guide is used by all ACS Journals.

Reference style: Author-date style; superscript or italicized numbers can alternatively be used. Use abbreviations for journal names.

Example reference entry:

Robichaud, P.P.; Poirier, S.; Boudreau, L.H; Doiron, J.; Barnett, D.A.; Boilard, E; and Surette, M.E. On the Cellular Metabolism of the Click Chemistry Probe 19-Alkyne Arachidonic Acid. J. Lipid Res . 2016 , 57 , 1821-1830.

2. AIP: The AIP Style Manual , 4th ed . New York: American Institute of Physics, 1990.

The American Institute of Physics, which also publishes a collection of journals, has specific guidelines for manuscript submission on their website. Manuscripts can be submitted in Word or in TeX. The grammar section of this manual gives specific instructions for handling scientific data. It also guides writers in presenting mathematical expressions, such as using italics for Latin letters as mathematical symbols, to distinguish them from Roman type.

Reference style: Numbered style is preferred, but author-date in-text references may also be used depending on journal preference. Journal names are abbreviated. The article title does not always need to be included.

Example reference entry:

1 N. N. Solorzano, J. N. Thomas, M. L. Hutchins, and R. H. Holzworth. WWLLN lightning and satellite microwave radiometrics at 37 to 183 GHz: Thunderstorms in the broad tropics, J Geophys Res Atmos 121, 366-374 (2016).

3. APA: Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association , 6th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2010.

The APA manual is generally used for social sciences and has specific guidelines for format, such as running heads on each page.

Reference style : Uses an in-text citation style, usually by author and date (unless otherwise provided in the text). For journal citations found online, include the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) and URL.

Example reference entry:

Fuentes, A. (2006). Human culture and monkey behavior: Assessing the contexts of potential pathogen transmission between macaques and humans. American Journal of Primatology. 68 (9). 880-896. .

4. Chicago/Turabian: The Chicago Manual of Style , 16th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

The guide is also available in an online format. This manual is used for non-academic as well as academic publishing.

Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers . 8th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Turabian’s book adapts the style guidelines in Chicago (CMS) specifically for an academic audience, so this book is the one we’ll discuss here.

Reference style: There are two options for citation and documentation: the notes-bibliography system and the author-date system. The latter system is preferred for the sciences and social sciences. As in APA, journals should include the DOI when available and the date of access.

Example reference entry:

Wang, Wangxia, Basia Vincour and Arie Altman. “Plant Responses to Drought, Salinity and Extreme Temperatures: Towards Genetic Engineering for Stress Tolerance.” Planta 218, no 1 (November 2003): 1-14.  Accessed October 26, 2016.

5. CSE : Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers , 8th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.

This guide includes chapters for various fields, including physics, biology, chemistry, genetics, and astronomy.  Note that you can purchase an online subscription to both The CSE Manual and CMS together, which is very useful for interdisciplinary scientists who may publish in various fields.

Reference style: CSE also uses the author-date style for in-text references and bibliographies (see Chicago/Turabian and APA). Journal titles should be abbreviated.

Example reference entry:

Ryan, P. (1987). The effects of ingested plastic on seabirds: Correlations between plastic load and body condition. Environ Pollut 46 (2): 119-125.

So, there you have it – examples and details on some of the most important English academic style guides!

Learning your field’s preferred style for preparing manuscripts is one step toward professionalization in your field. It’s a good idea to purchase the guide to get to know the style most commonly used in your discipline and to learn as much as you can about it. Plenty of sources are also available online; just be sure your source has the most current information on your style.

You are also welcome to contact the Falcon Scientific Editing team with questions about what style to use for your particular journal article. Contact Falcon Scientific Editing Today!

Falcon Scientific Editing can also help you prepare your manuscript for publication via editing , translation , formatting , and illustration services! Their PhD team of experts can also specifically format your citations/references according to your particle journal’s guidelines. Please view a formatting sample here !

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About the Author:

Top 5 Academic Style Guides for Research Papers Dr. Alyssa Colton has a Ph.D. in English from the University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY). She has taught and worked with students of all levels and backgrounds on writing skills for 20 years. She is a freelance writer and editor specializing in science, health, productivity and career development.

Topics : Style Guides
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