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September 2007 Site of the Month

Citing Your Sources: APA and MLA Citation Styles

Authors: Ielleen R. Miller and Jonathan D. Grubb
Institution: Eastern Washington University

Interviewer: Anne Driscoll

This flash tutorial teaches students how to compose basic bibliographic citations in MLA and APA formats. Explanation includes a rollover feature which provides additional information about the various parts of a citation (i.e. title). Students practice creating citations using a drag and drop format and click feature which gives immediate feedback on whether or not the citation was completed correctly.

Q. How long did it take you to construct the tutorial? What made you decide on this format?
Ielleen. It was a summer project. Not sure exactly how many hours Jon put in to author it. Writing the content didn’t take very long, maybe 20 hours spread out over a couple weeks. It’s hard to remember since I didn’t try to write it up all at once.

Jon. I put many hours into creating the tutorial, which is understandable because it was a learning process and because I was on my own, whereas there might normally be a small team of designers for such a task. I did enjoy the project, though.
The Flash format was chosen primarily for its ability to be interactive, though other strengths it boasts are the ability for content to be animated and very small file size, which allows quick loading even for users with lower internet connection speeds. Also, the Flash Player is already installed on most computers in libraries and educational institutions, so most users will not have to download anything to view the tutorial.

Q. I really like the rollover and drag and drop features which you incorporated into the explanation entries and the practice. Was it difficult to build this into the tutorial? What software/programs were used to build it?
Ielleen. Jon used Flash to author it. Jon? ……..

Jon. The entire tutorial was done in a single Flash document, which can be linked to as its own website, or embedded into an already existing website, like a picture or video. Rollover effects are very simple in Flash, though the drag-and-drop features that I included required a bit of ActionScript programming within Flash to constrain them to specific parts of the stage.

It is entirely possible with Flash to have users type in a citation within a text box, and then click a button to have their answer checked against the correct one through ActionScript programming. However, this technique was decided against because of my limited ActionScript knowledge at the time, and because their answer would either have to be exactly correct down to every space, period, and capitalized letter (which may actually be desirable, but also may frustrate users), or it would require much more ActionScript.

Q. How have you publicized the tutorial?
Ielleen. On our website, it’s on the same page as RefWorks and all our “how to cite” resources. And we link to it in our Developing Research Skills online tutorial. (It’s a modified version of NCSU’s LOBO.) When it was new, it was in the What’s New section of our website.

I demo it to the composition instructors, as well as any other opportunities that present themselves when I discuss citing sources. We’ll have an article about it in our upcoming newsletter to faculty, touting that it was chosen to be featured as the PRIMO Site of the Month.

But we haven’t made a concerted effort to publicize it [sigh]. Marketing our resources is an ongoing issue.

Q. Are there any plans to create tutorials like this for other citation styles?
Ielleen.No. The vast majority of the questions we get are for APA and MLA. But if we get asked by biology or history to do a CBE or Chicago/Turabian, we certainly would. (We have a project this academic year to work with both of these departments on incorporating information literacy in their departmental curriculum, so it may in fact come up.)

Q. If you were to begin creating this tutorial again, would you change anything about it or the way it was developed?
Ielleen. I think it turned out very nice. I suppose if we had more time to develop it, it might have been nice if the “magnetic poetry” part had self-checked itself. Meaning if you didn’t put it in the correct spot, you’d be prompted that you were wrong. But with the time constraints of the summer, Jon and I decided that just having users check their own answer was fine.

Jon. Yes, it is possible with Flash to check the location into which a user drops a specific drag-and-drop piece, but in order to do so, the pieces would have to “click into place” if dropped near the correct location, which may encourage trial-and-error by dragging and dropping, rather than by actually thinking about the answer. This was also beyond my ActionScript capabilities when I created this tutorial.

Q. Were there any problems or technical difficulties during the creation of “Citing Your Sources: APA and MLA Citation Styles” that you did not expect, and if so, how did you solve them?
Jon. There were relatively few difficulties that I encountered while creating the tutorial. Communication between developer and client was important, and was not too frequent, nor too sparse. Occasionally I was limited in my creativity by both the relatively serious subject matter, and from trying to maintain visual unity with a previous, related tutorial that had been made for the EWU Library, but it also provided a challenge and I am content with the final product.

Also, as is to be expected, there may occasionally be human error, content that changes or needs to be updated and small revisions even after the ‘final’ product, but I feel that Ielleen did an excellent job of providing me with a complete and thorough range of content, which should even help users to gain an understanding of what to do when they encounter ‘special cases.’

Q. Is there any advice or recommendations that you would make to someone interested in creating a similar tutorial?
Ielleen. If you don’t have the talent in-house to create something truly engaging and interactive, talk with your computer science faculty about having their students do service-learning projects.

Jon. I feel that it is an excellent idea to use service-learning projects. Students learn best by doing, and a real-world project is their best chance to encounter and then overcome difficulties, become self-motivated, create valuable portfolio pieces and enhance their resumés.

For creating websites, DVDs, tutorials, etc., make arrangements with the Computer Science or Visual Communication Design departments, or better yet, use a team that has students from both. The C.S. students will have the logic and the object-oriented programming knowledge, and the Design students will have the creativity and visual communication skills.

Q. Did you conduct usability testing, if so what was the result?
Ielleen. I didn’t do anything formal at the time, nothing beyond showing it to some people in the library, which did catch the few bugs that Jon then fixed. But with the timeframe of just the summer, we weren’t able to truly do a mock-up, test it out, revise, etc. (Yes, I know. That makes me a bad person.) Jon, did you have others test it out as you were authoring it?

Jon. I had several people test it, and the primary complaint was that it wasn’t always 100% clear where to go or what to do without actually reading the text on the page, because the buttons or links to check an answer or navigate to the index were often just text that changed appearance upon rollover. That decision was made to help maintain visual unity with the previously made tutorial, and to reduce clutter as much as possible. I am very thorough and detail-oriented by nature, so I also tested the entire tutorial multiple times myself.

IelleenOne of my current summer projects is to have some English Composition students formally evaluate four different online library research tutorials, one of which was ours. This tutorial is part of ours, but since there weren’t any questions specifically about this one part of the larger tutorial, no one mentioned any issues they had with it.

Q. Who is the target of this tutorial? How is it being used by them?
Ielleen. Anyone who wants a refresher on APA or MLA. We advertise it along with the traditional “here are some examples” guides on the website. I encourage the composition faculty to incorporate it in their English 101 and 201 classes.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add or point out about this tutorial?
Ielleen. It was great working with Jon! EWU Libraries will certainly seek out more opportunities to offer our students service-learning projects. We’ll be revising our all-encompassing library research tutorial this academic year, and we’ll definitely need students like Jon to help with that. Everyone gets something positive out of the experience. The students have real-world projects to add to their resumes, and the library gets engaging instructional materials.


In June 2007, the American Psychological Association style guidelines for citing electronic resources were changed (see: for additional information). We found it interesting to note that such events could thwart the creators of a tutorial such as this one – despite careful planning in creating the tutorial.

After the interview above was completed, we had a brief conversation with the tutorial developer to discuss how these changes – specifically the guideline that electronic articles with DOIs no longer require the database name in the citation ( – might affect the tutorial. Ielleen acknowledged that the next revision of the tutorial would need to reflect this change.

September 2007 PRIMO Site of the Month