Making sense of Citations

See that big black block o’ text above? That’s the official citation for the recent ARRIVE study. It tells you everything you need to find the full text of the study…. if you can make sense of it! There are lots of different ways to do citations, but the one the medical sciences uses most is APA style, so that’s what we’re discussing today.

Within the text of scientific articles, you’ll see short references to articles listed at the end, like the ones highlighted on the right. If you want to learn more about the findings in those studies. you can look to the end of the study you’re currently reading, and match it will the full citation there. The full citations tend to be pretty clunky and hard to read because they are in a standardized format that most people are unfamiliar with.

So let’s break it down into all the parts:

Authors: If there are only a few authors, they’ll all be listed. If there are lots of authors, as in this case, they list a few, then have the three dots (called an ellipsis) showing that some names are not shown, then the last author. Sometimes, like in the ARRIVE case above, both individuals and organizations get author credit. You may occasionally run into the older term “et. al” which just means “and others” as well.
Publication Year: This is especially helpful when you are citing more than one article by the same author in an article.
Title of the Article: Sometimes these can be quite long!
Where published: For scientific studies and research reviews, this will be a peer reviewed journal.
Document numbers: There are several different kinds. Most common is the doi or “digital object identifier” – a unique number assigned to each document. Sometimes you’ll see a PubMed ID or a number specific to a jounrnal, like the NEJM Online Access number here.

Let’s look at a very simple citation, and label all the parts:

Thankfully, reading citations is way easier than navigating all the nitpicky bits of capitalization and punctuation involved in writing them! If you do have to learn to write them , my favorite resource for learning about citations and all other things APA style is the OWL at Purdue