What is the Difference Between Reference and Citation?

Two things are crucial when writing a research paper or any other academic assignment: citing and referencing the sources you used in your work. Both terms have distinct meanings. They have different meanings in most cases, but in some, they are synonyms. Both are linked with academic texts and serve as references to information sources. 

These two can also be used when discussing a theory, approach, or model developed by or associated with a particular individual or author. The difference between reference and citation is that citation is a precise term while reference is a broader term.

Let’s learn the basic difference between reference and citation below:

What is Citation?

What Is Citation

A citation serves as a symbol of the information source that was used in your study. An in-text citation is required if you clearly quote, paraphrase, or summarize an idea that belongs to someone else in your work.

A brief citation that points the reader to a longer citation or end-of-paper citation that includes all the critical info about the source of information is known as an in-text citation.

Citations assist readers to consult the same source when they need additional information about a topic and serve as a way to give credit to the author, editor, or publisher for their effort. You must include the author’s last name and the year of publication when citing a source in a document.

What is Reference?

What Is Reference

A reference is used to indicate to the reader where concepts from other sources were included in the study. Correctly referencing is vital for a variety of reasons such as,it demonstrates to the reader your ability to gather and apply evidence to develop a convincing case.

It also correctly acknowledges the authors of ideas, theories, and research findings. Finally, it shows the reader how your argument links to the larger context. A research paper or essay prepared in APA style must have a references page on its last page. 

So that readers can quickly locate the sources you cited in your project, it includes a list of all the sources you utilize. Reference can be thought of as a list of things you’ve read and considered when writing your essay. The author informs the reader of the source used in the document while providing references.

Usability Difference Between Reference and Citation

Usability of Citation

Citations are used with direct quotes and paraphrases in the body of the work to attribute the author and publication of the information you have utilized. Citations are used to indicate which references support a specific claim.

  • For direct quotes occur when you reproduce a passage verbatim from a text in your work.
  • When you summarize, you rephrase the meaning of a piece in your homework using your own words.
  • The most crucial thing to remember is that every citation must match an entry in your reference list.

Usability of References

Usability Of References

A reference is a list of the sources you considered while researching or writing your essay. Some examples of these resources include electronic books, periodicals (both online and on paper), websites, blogs, and forums.

  • Personal communications; speeches
  • Conference papers
  • Other information sources, including movies, TV shows, videos, etc.

A reference list appears after the assignment and is alphabetized, typically by the author or editor. The title is used in the absence of an author.

Citation vs Reference | Citation | Referencing for Beginners

Difference Between Reference and Citation

The primary difference between reference and citation is below:

The main difference between reference and citation is that citations are given in-text while the reference lists the source and appears at the end of the essay. Each adheres to a certain formatting standard or style, such as APA or MLA.

Another difference between reference and citation is that a citation identifies the source of information for the readers. You cite or otherwise make mention of the information’s source in your text.

On the other hand, a reference provides information about the source so that readers can identify the source type and, if necessary, locate it on their own.

Another comparison between citation vs reference is that citations are primarily used to identify the original location of quoted material. In contrast, references are widely utilized to bolster or refute a claim or idea.

Reference Vs Citation

The main comparison between reference vs citation is given below:

Location Comparison

Location Comparison

If we compare citation vs reference in terms of location, citations are located within the body of the text, while references are supplied as a list at the end.

Amount of Information Comparison

Citations provide only limited information, whereas references give all the specifics.

Lengthwise Comparison

As a result, citations are brief, usually consisting only of the authors’ last names and the year of publication or appearing as footnotes. On the other hand, references are lengthy and frequently span multiple lines.

Similarities Between Reference and Citation

The original source that was used is what both the in-text citation and the full reference refer to. A brief reference that the author can insert into the flow of the text to let the reader know that the original source of that information can be tracked down at the conclusion is how the in-text citation starts.

Additionally, by citing the original author, both of them assist the writer in avoiding plagiarism. The authors’ name, which is the most crucial information shared by all of them, is another similarity.

What is the Difference Between Reference and Citation?

Highlighting the main difference between reference and citation in the following table:

A reference is a list of all the sources that were searched or used to complete an assignment or article.Citations are a technique to identify that a quote, picture, graph, statistic, etc. came from an outside source within the main body of the text.
It provides the reader with complete information.It provides readers with basic knowledge by informing them.
References are used to either support or dispute a claim or idea.Indicating the source of a piece of work is the goal of citation.


In essence, references and citations are given to the user or reader to provide the source of any data, including facts, graphics, statistics, charts, tables, and diagrams, that are included in the text of an article or assignment. These two let the author give credit to the academics whose research or ideas were utilized in the essay or project.

The difference between reference and citation is that citations provide scant information because they only list the author’s name and the date of publication, whereas references list all relevant information, including the author’s name, the work’s title, the publisher, the date of publication, and the page number.

Read more: What is the Difference Between the Differential and Derivative?

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