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How to Cite a Definition From a Textbook


When you use a definition from a textbook in your writing, you will need to cite the source in the text and in the works cited page, reference list or bibliography at the end of your paper. How you do this will depend on the style that you are using. The most common styles are Modern Language Association style, American Psychological Association style and Chicago Manual of Style. There are other styles, particularly for writing within specialized fields.

MLA Citation

Enclose the author's last name, a comma and the page number from which the definition was taken in parentheses before the period at the end of the sentence in which you use the source. For example: (Smith, 24).

Omit the author's name from your in-text citation if you already mentioned it in an attribution such as "According to Smith . . ." within the sentence. In this case only list the page number. For example: (24).

List the textbook information as an entry on your works cited page in the format of author's last name, comma, author's first name, period, title of book (italicized), period, place of publication, colon, name of publisher, comma, year of publication and period. If the book has more than one author, list the first name following the order above then list all subsequent authors by first name then last name. For example: Doe, Jane and John Smith.

Indent all but the first line of each entry on your works cited page.

APA Citation

Enclose the author's last name, a comma, the textbook's publication year, a comma, "p." and the page number from which the definition was taken in parentheses immediately following any direct quote or at the the end of a passage you have paraphrased. For example: (Smith, 2008, p. 24).

Omit the author's name from your citation if you already mention it in an attribution such as "According to Smith . . ." and put the publication year in parentheses immediately following the name. For example: Smith (2008). Leave "p." and the page number in parentheses at the end of the quote or paraphrase.

List the textbook information as an entry on your reference list page in the format of author's last name, comma, author's first initial, period, year of publication (in parentheses), title (italicized), period, publisher's city, comma, two-letter postal code for publisher's state, colon, name of publisher and period. If the book has more than one author, list them all alphabetically in this same format with last names first.

Indent all but the first line of each entry on your reference list page.

Chicago Manual of Style Citation

Insert a superscript number in the body of your paper directly after the period of the sentence containing a definition from the textbook.

Create a footnote at the bottom of the page that includes the textbook's information in the format of corresponding superscript numeral, period, author's first and last name, comma, title (italicized), open parentheses, publisher's location, colon, publisher's name, comma, year of publication, close parentheses, comma, page number and period.

List the textbook information as an entry in your bibliography in the format of author's last name, comma, author's first name, period, title (italicized), period, publisher's location, colon, publisher's name, comma, year of publication and period.

Indent all but the first line of each entry in the bibliography.

Tips
  • A works cited page (in MLA), reference list (in APA) or bibliography (in Chicago Manual of Style) is a separate section at the end of your paper containing alphabetically listed entries for all of your sources.
  • In MLA and APA style, in-text citations of textbooks with two or three authors should include all of the authors' last names alphabetically, separated by commas. In cases of more than three authors, list the last name of whichever author comes first alphabetically, followed by "et al."
  • In the Chicago Manual of Style, a footnote citing textbooks with multiple authors should list each author's first name and then last name in alphabetical order, with a comma between each entire name. Also, whenever there are two or more consecutive footnotes citing the same source on a single page, create a full footnote for the first citation and substitute the word "ibid." as the footnote for each subsequent citation.
  • Some instructors prefer a variation of the Chical Manual of Style that uses end notes instead of footnotes and a bibliography. Be sure that you clearly understand your assignment guidelines.
  • Direct quotes from a textbook must be enclosed within quotation marks or otherwise properly set apart according the guidelines of the style you are using.
About the Author

Tara Glenn has been writing since 2005. Her work has been published on the website of "National Geographic Traveler Magazine" and in the "Columbia Missourian," "Vox" magazine and the online music and culture magazine Playback:STL. Glenn is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism.

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