Citation Vs Reference – Definition, Comparison and What Are The Key Differences?

Citation and Reference are terms that are often used interchangeably. While for many, both terms have same meaning, the truth is there are key differences between Citation and Reference.

Difference Between Citation and Reference



In the citation, you acknowledge the source of a specific part of the text in the article or assignment. On the other hand, in referencing an entire list of sources which have been referred and backs the argument of the author, is provided at the end of the document or article. It is just a form of credit which the author gives to the person’s whose ideas has been borrowed in the work.

While writing an article, one must quote or refer to the original source of the information, fact or idea, from which it has been taken. It not just to supports your own points, but also to prevent plagiarism and denote that a variety of sources are used to write the piece.

And so, the author provides citations, which are correspondingly mentioned under the head reference, indicating the complete details of the resource. In this article, we are going to talk about the differences between citation and reference.

Content: Citation Vs Reference

  1. Comparison Chart
  2. Definition
  3. Key Differences
  4. Conclusion

Comparison Chart

Meaning Citation is a way of disclosing within the main body, that the quote, image, chart, statistics, etc. are taken from an outside source. Reference is a list which contains all the sources which have been sought or cited while writing the article or assignment.
Use It informs the readers, the basic source of information. It informs the reader, the complete source of information.
Purpose To indicate the source of the material taken. To support or criticize an argument or point.
Placement Presented in the bracket. Presented as endnote or end of the document.
Information It contains information like publication year and last name of the author. It contains information like publication date, title of book/journal, author’s name, page number.

Definition of Citation

In the citation, the author cites or refer to the source in the text to represent that the information is derived from an external source and to mention that source, in brief. Basically, it is an abbreviated reference, which you can find in the main body of the article or assignment, addressing the source of a quote, image, video, paraphrase, chart, table, etc. Due to this very reason, it is also called as “in-text citation”, which includes a set of parenthesis.

Simply put, it is a short notation, within the intellectual work, which points out to a complete notation, at the end of the page, providing full details of the source i.e. all the authors or publications which have been cited, are to be mentioned in the list of references.

Citation is like a credit to the author, editor or publisher, for their work and to help the readers in consulting the same source when they want more information in this regard. While citing the source of information in the document, you indicate the last name of author and year of publication.

Definition of Reference

Reference can be understood as the list of items which you have read and considered in your piece of work. While providing references, the author actually tells its readers about what kind of source he/she has used in the document.

Along with that it also helps the readers to identify the difference between the author’s words, theories and ideas and those of other authors. Further, it helps the reader to refer to the source for further information in that area, whenever required.

You can find references at the end of the document or article (before bibliography), in alphabetical order, by the first or main author’s last name. One should always use a genuine, reliable and authentic source of information, to ensure support, credence and authority, to the information, ideas and arguments stated.

Reference can be given to books, articles from journals, legal documents, webpage, blogs, official report of government departments and agencies, interview transcripts, conference papers, newspaper articles, films, television, video, etc.

Key Differences Between Citation and Reference

The difference between citation and reference can be drawn clearly on the following grounds:

  1. Citation can be understood as a formal abbreviated reference, in the main part of your text, which clearly and uniquely identifies the author and publication year, from which the details are derived. On the other hand, a reference list is nothing but a list of resources which you have used particularly for writing your article or assignment and also while performing the research.
  2. With the help of citation, you inform your readers, about the source, from where the information is extracted. As against, in the case of reference, the reader gets to know about the complete source of information.
  3. Citations are mainly used to show the source of the material taken. Conversely, references are mainly used to support or critique an argument or point.
  4. While reference is found as endnote or at the end of the page, the citation is the bracketed piece of information, which informs the reader about the source of material.
  5. When it comes to information, the reference provides more information than citation. A reference provides all the details of the source, such as author’s name, the title of the book, date of publication and page number, whereas in citation provides a few details only such as year of publication and last name of the author.


Basically, reference and citation are provided to give the user or reader, the source of facts, images, statistics, charts, tables and diagrams, which are a part of the article or assignment. It may also be used when you are talking about a theory, method or model, discovered by or linked to a specific person or writer.

With the help of these two, the author shows acknowledgement to those scholars, whose work or ideas has been used in the article or assignment.



Difference Between Citation and Reference


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