The difference between a citation and a reference can be tricky because different styles use different words to describe citations and other related elements.
Unfortunately, there is more than one type of citation and also several ways that the word “references” is used when talking about citing or reporting sources. Let’s break them each down to clear things up for you.
As we discussed previously, there are two types of citations: full and in-text citations.
Full citations are listed on a page that comes at the end of your paper, and they contain everything someone would need to find a particular source.
In-text citations are parenthetical, condensed versions of the full citation that are found within your work whenever you discuss the ideas or information you pulled from a source.
A reference is a term used in APA format when talking about a full citation. So, a full citation in APA format is a reference, and the terms are used interchangeably if you’re working in that style. Calling full citations “references” is shorter and easier, though, so it’s usually preferred.
In the Author-Date system of Chicago style, you may also hear another term that has “reference” in it because full citations in this style system are often called “reference list entries”.
For both APA format and the Author-Date system of Chicago style, the list of full citations/references/reference list entries are contained on a special page at the end of your work that is always titled “References” in APA format and can sometimes be titled this for Author-Date Chicago style.
The word “reference” might also pop up when you’re planning, writing, or discussing your work. But, when it’s a verb, “to reference” means only “to mention, refer to, or to cite”. It might look the same as a reference that is a noun and actually means a full citation in APA format, but it isn’t the same, and you can pick it out by how it functions in a sentence, if you’re ever confused.
Lastly, sources are sometimes called “reference materials”, but rest assured that term is only interchangeable with “sources”and “source materials” and like terms that essentially mean “the thing you used information from”.
However, you also have the option in Author-Date to title this page “Works Cited”, if you prefer; either title is correct if you’re working in that system of Chicago Style.