• 4-minute read
  • 13th December 2020

Understanding the Citation Tools in Microsoft Word

The citation tools in Microsoft Word make it easy to add references to your work. But how do these citation tools work? This post will look at the basics.

Adding a Citation in Microsoft Word

The citation tools in Microsoft Word are designed for use with systems that use in-text citations and a reference list, like APA or MLA. And if you’re using one of these systems, these tools make it easy to manage references in your work (for information on using footnotes in your work, see this post).

The first thing we’ll look at is how to add an in-text citation for a source:

  1. Place your cursor where you want to add a citation.
  2. Go to the References on the ribbon.
  3. Select a referencing system from the drop-down Style list (e.g., APA).
  4. Click Insert Citation and then Add New Source.
Adding a citation via the citation tools in Microsoft Word.

This will open a new dialog box where you can fill in the source details.

Adding source details.

The options here should be clear enough, but there is also an “Example” shown at the bottom of the window when you click on each of the fields. This can help you format the source information (e.g., it will show that you need to add a semicolon between author names when a source has more than one author).

For extra options, you can also select Show All Bibliography Fields. This gives you plenty of scope to customize the source information, such as adding volume and issue numbers of a journal when citing an article.

When you are done, click OK to add a citation to your work. This will appear in the place selected and use the format of your chosen referencing system.

An APA style citation added via the Microsoft Word tools.

Cited sources will also appear in the Insert Citation list. To cite a source more than once, then, all you need to do is place the cursor where you want the new citation, click Insert Citation, and select the source from the list.

Editing Citations

After entering a citation, you can edit it to add page numbers or remove certain details. To do this, you’ll need to:

  1. Click on the citation you want to edit.
  2. Via the drop-down menu, select Edit Citation.
  3. Add any page numbers required or tick any elements you want to leave out of the citation (e.g., the author’s surname).
Editing a citation in Microsoft Word.

Suppressing part of a citation can be useful, for example, if you have mentioned the name of the author in the text already, as you can then leave it out of the citation to prevent unnecessary repetition.

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Managing Sources

If you click the Manage Sources button on the ribbon, a new window will open showing two lists of sources:

  • Current List – A list of all sources cited in the current document.
  • Master List – A list of every source you’ve added to Microsoft Word’s library. This lets you cite the same sources in multiple documents.

You can move sources between these lists by selecting them and clicking the Copy button. Once added to the current list, you’ll be able to quickly add citations via the Insert Citation list, as described above.

Managing sources in Microsoft Word.

You can also edit source details from this area, as well as add new sources or delete them. However, you will not be able to delete any sources you have cited in any document you are currently working on.

Generating a Reference List or Bibliography

Generating a reference list is easy if you have used these citation tools:

  1. Place your cursor where you want your list to go.
  2. Go to References > Bibliography.
  3. In the drop-down, select a list and heading (or just click Insert Bibliography at the bottom if you prefer to add your own a heading).

Your reference list will then appear in the place selected, with the entries formatted according to your chosen system.

And if you add any sources to your work after creating your bibliography, simply click anywhere on the list and you will see an option to Update Citations and Bibliography. This will integrate any new citations into your list.

Editing a bibliography.

Proofreading Citations and References

While the citation tools in Microsoft Word are useful, be careful when using them! Unless you know the reference system you’re using well, it is easy to miss out information from reference or format citations incorrectly.

In addition, some referencing styles, such as Harvard, have many variations. As such, you need to be sure your references match your college’s requirements. This makes it important to check your citations carefully.

Remember, though, that if you need any help using citations, you can ask our referencing experts to look at your work! You can even get a 500-word trial document checked for free today to find out more.

Comments (6)
8th February 2022 at 23:56
How to write multiple authors at References in APA style? I tried comma, "and", and "&" between the names. It did not work. Thank you
    10th February 2022 at 09:34
    Hi, Simona. You need to separate authors with a semicolon in the "Author" field when adding or editing a source. For example, if you enter the author as "Smith, Jim; Jones, Laurence" and then add a citation based on that source, it will come out in APA style as "Smith & Jones" (you can also see an example at the bottom of the window where you add/edit source details when you click on the "Author" field).
20th September 2022 at 10:00
Hi, I've been using word references for a long time, but suddenly the drop-down menu next to the in-text references disappeared (where one can suppress the author, add page number). This makes the tool kind of useless to me. Does anybody know how to fix this? Thanks a lot!
    23rd September 2022 at 17:15
    Hi, Johanna! Thanks for your question. Do you mean the drop-down arrow to the right of the in-text citation itself? If the drop-down arrow has disappeared, you can still right-click in the citation box itself and select Edit Citation, and the same dialog box will appear. Does this help?
23rd November 2022 at 02:03
Hi, how can I add a narrative citation in MS Word using the insert citation feature? Thanks!
    25th November 2022 at 18:32
    Hi, Patty! The section Editing Citations in this article explains how to suppress various parts of the citation, so for example, if you only want the year to appear in your text as you’ve already used the author’s name, you can check various boxes to suppress the author name, title, etc., of your cited source.

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