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How to Cite a Reference for a Documentary Film in a Research Paper


When writing research papers, your sources are not limited to scholarly books and journal articles. On occasion, you will need to cite documentary films, which fall under the various citation rules for movies. The procedure for citing documentary films within the text and your reference page at the end of your paper differs for each of the four major citation styles: MLA, APA, Chicago and Harvard.

Documentaries in MLA Format

MLA format requires you to write the documentary title first, in italics. Next, you list the director, followed by the performers, the studio that produced the documentary, the year, and the word "documentary."

Example: An Inconvenient Truth. Dir. Davis Guggenheim. Perf. Al Gore. Lawrence Bender Productions and Participant Productions, 2006. Documentary.

Parenthetical citations are a little trickier. If you are quoting a performer, you must place the performer's name in the parenthetical citation instead of the director. For example, if you quote Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, you write the in-text citation as follows:

(Gore)

Documentaries in APA Format

Documentaries are cited as motion pictures when using APA format. First, you must write the producer's last name and first initial, followed by the director's last name and first initial. Adding performers to your reference is suggested but not mandatory. However, if you cite quotes from a performer in your paper, you must include the performer in your reference. Next, you write the documentary's production year in parentheses. Then, you write the documentary title in italics, with only the first letter capitalized unless there is a colon in the title; then you only capitalize the first word after the colon. After writing the documentary title you write the words "motion picture" in brackets. Lastly, you write the country of origin, a colon, and the studio name.

Bender, L., Burns, S.Z., David, L. (Producers), Guggenheim, D. (Director), & Gore, A. (Performer). (2006). An inconvenient truth [Motion picture]. United States: Lawrence Bender Productions & Participant Productions.

If you are quoting a performer, you must write the performer's late name in the parenthetical citation, followed by a comma and the year.

Example: (Gore, 2006).

Chicago Format for Documentaries

Chicago format requires a footnote or endnote along with a bibliography entry at the end of the paper. For the footnote, you write the first and last name of the performer, followed by the documentary title in italics, the word "documentary" and the first and last name of the director (producers are optional). Then you write the documentary production year, city, studio and the medium (film, DVD, etc.).

Example of a footnote: Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth, Documentary, directed by Davis Guggenheim (2006; Los Angeles: Lawrence Bender Productions and Participant Productions), Film.

In the bibliography entry, the performer's last name comes first, and there are no parentheses.

Example: Gore, Al. An Inconvenient Truth. Documentary. Directed by Davis Guggenheim. 2006. Los Angeles: Lawrence Bender Productions and Participant Productions. Film.

Harvard Format for Documentaries

Harvard format classifies most documentaries as videos. Directors, producers and performers are all listed with their last names and initials with no periods between the initials. Each person's title is placed in parentheses next to their name. Then the production year, followed by the documentary title in italics with the first letter and all proper nouns are capitalized. After the title, you write the type of video (in this case, a documentary) in parentheses. Lastly, you write the name of the city where the video was produced and the studio name.

Example: Gore, A (performer), Guggenheim, D (director), Bender, L, Burns, SZ, and David, L (producers) 2006. An inconvenient truth (video recording), Los Angeles, Lawrence Bender Productions and Participant Productions.

If you directly quote a performer, you must write the name of the performer and the year in your parenthetical citation, with no commas.

Example: (Gore 2006).

About the Author

Daniel Pinzow served as an urban science teacher for several years. He has expertise in a variety of subjects, ranging from biology to chemistry to history to sports. In addition, he has worked extensively in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) after-school programs.

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