Writing Personal Statements Online

Citing Sources


Although many personal statements will not include any citation of sources, in some cases—particularly if your work is in the sciences and you need to provide a brief literature review—you will need to cite sources at the end of your essay in a “References” section. Chapter 1 discusses the ethical concerns associated with source citation as you write personal essays (see "Student Writing and Ethics" section). To address the more practical problem of citation mechanics, below are ways to address common mechanics challenges:

  • In the simplest terms, the two basic citation styles appropriate for personal essays can be referred to as the number system and author-year system. In the number system, a number is provided in the text corresponding to a numbered source cited fully at the essay’s end. In the author-year system, the writer provides the author and year of the source in parentheses after the corresponding text, then cites the source fully at the end of the essay in a references list alphabetized by authors’ last names.
  • When you use a references section at the end of an essay, provide full bibliographic information for your sources—e.g., author, article title, book or journal title, relevant page numbers, and website address if relevant. Because the mechanics of citation vary slightly from one journal to the next, most writers model their references page on that of a respected journal in their field.
  • For convenience in a personal essay, it is acceptable to cite sources—especially if you use just one or two—in numbered footnote form at the bottom of the page. However, if you have more than a few sources, a separate section entitled “References” at the end of the essay is best.
  • Sometimes, rather than a formal footnote or end citation, a contextual narrative citation will be sufficient if you are using a well-known quote or paraphrase (“Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge”) or attributing authorship and context directly (“As stated in a funding proposal authored by our research group, the hypothesis for my thesis research is . . .”).
  • If you include figures or tables taken or adapted from a published source, cite the source directly in the figure or table caption, using the same citation style employed throughout the essay.

To see the above tips in action, browse through the sample essays in the later chapters of this manual, where you will find ample evidence of how other writers met their source citation challenges. For further detail about source citation practices, you can also go to Chapter 5 of the manual Style for Students Online.