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When and how to cite ChatGPT and AI in MLA / APA formats

Laura Young
Laura Young
Content Marketing Specialist
Mike McLean
Mike McLean
Content Writer






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"Do I need to cite ChatGPT?” is a question on the minds of many students, as AI writing tools become increasingly accessible and popular within the education sphere, creating a sense of both opportunity and risk in equal measure.

Although some students have reported using ChatGPT and other AI tools for less than ethical purposes, many are looking to embrace it as a supplementary learning tool. However, without clear direction, balancing the use of generative AI to aid studies without crossing the boundary into academic misconduct can be a challenging task.

If students have institutional or instructor approval to use ChatGPT as part of their studies, how can they develop the knowledge and resources they need to use these tools appropriately and be transparent about the non-human sources they've used to complete their work?

In this blog, we will cover how to cite ChatGPT in both MLA and APA formats, with some background information on the importance of citing generative AI tools

Why is it important to cite ChatGPT and AI?

Being able to cite ChatGPT and other AI tools is just as important as citing textbooks, websites, and journal articles: giving credit to the creator of a source. Citing your sources is an essential part of ethical and professional writing, and is an integral step toward upholding the values of academic integrity.

Academic integrity can be a challenging concept to define, especially when different cultures have varying attitudes toward academic integrity, applying differing levels of severity when it comes to misconduct. However, there are some important tenets to keep in mind.

Academic integrity, according to the ICAI, involves a commitment to honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage. These fundamental values can be applied to many circumstances in the learning environment, including how to improve our academic writing skills to avoid plagiarism.

However, academic integrity goes beyond simply avoiding cheating or plagiarizing; it involves moving towards fostering impeccable research processes, giving credit to someone else’s or thing’s words, and taking a stand when we see others engaging in misconduct. Academic integrity is about maintaining excellent academic standards in teaching and setting students up for success in the education setting and beyond.

Learning how to use AI properly, including how to cite ChatGPT and other tools, is important to pursuing and achieving academic integrity.

When should you cite ChatGPT and AI?

In a recent survey of 203 teachers, 26% reported having caught a student using ChatGPT to “cheat.” According to Forbes, 43% of students reported using AI tools, and 51% believe that using them to complete assignments and exams is cheating. As artificial intelligence takes a more prominent seat in educational spaces, students and educators must navigate the differing attitudes around the use of generative AI tools in academic writing, and establish clear ground rules for appropriate use to avoid cases of academic misconduct.

Speaking to the Times, Matt Glanville, the IB’s head of assessment principles and practice, said, “The clear line between using ChatGPT and providing original work is the same as using ideas taken from other people or the internet. As with any quote or material adapted from another source, it must be credited in the body of the text and appropriately referenced in the bibliography.”

Similarly, if using ChatGPT or other AI tools for research purposes, it is important to clearly record this, whether it be in the footnotes, method section, or any other comparable section of your writing. The citation should highlight the prompt you used to elicit the AI tool’s response.

For example, if you are citing an AI-generated response to a prompt or question, you should lead with the fact that the tool was used:

“When given a prompt of “How do I cite AI?” the ChatGPT generated text indicated that…”

In this way, you are not only making a concerted effort to cite ChatGPT or generative AI as a source but you are actively revealing your research methodology by way of your prompt. Citing AI is not as simple as giving credit to the original author; it’s much more involved and requires us to “show our work."

The consequences for not properly citing AI are the same as if an author isn’t cited at all: your work may be investigated for potential academic misconduct. But while the rules around citing AI are new, it is safer to apply the same rules to AI that we would for using the work of someone or something else: if you didn’t write it, you should cite it.

What is the difference between MLA and APA format?

While there are many different citation formats across the globe, in this post, we’ll dig into the specifics of how to cite ChatGPT in MLA (Modern Language Association) and APA (American Psychological Association).

But why should we opt to choose one citation format over the other? Why are there different citation styles? Why do they have different names? Why are there different rules? And why should you care?

MLA vs. APA: The disciplines

In 1929, the American Psychological Association (APA) style was first established for the social sciences, and two years later, in 1931, the Modern Language Association soon recognized the need for a style guide that fit the needs of the humanities, including the study of languages, literature, the arts, history, philosophy, and more.

The belief was, and remains today, that the style, formatting, and referential styles of each complement and amplify the utility of the scholarly articles that employ them.

For example, when citing in APA for in-text citations, writers are asked to reference an author’s last name and the year of publication. This is important, as the more current your research material, the better, assuring your reader that an extensive literature review was undertaken and all information is up to date. This is particularly crucial when it comes to modern sciences and related disciplines.

In MLA format, however, writers are asked to use the author’s last name and page number for the material they are citing. This is because, in the humanities, when researched material was written is arguably less important when citing in-text. Materials don’t necessarily need to be current to amplify your argument, especially if your research focuses on more dated material.

MLA vs. APA: The references

Beyond using a citation format to complement the discipline in which you are working, there are many technical differences when referencing research materials in MLA and APA styles.

Though we mentioned it briefly, there is a difference between in-text and indexed citations.

In-text citations refer to the reference of a resource or author at the point that they are mentioned in a piece of text. The main difference between MLA and APA is that either the publication date (APA) or the page number (MLA) is referenced.

For example:

  • APA: (Turnitin, 2023).
  • MLA: (Turnitin, 8).

The most important thing to consider for both styles is the referential index. This is the final page of any academic article or report that outlines the in-text resources used throughout a paper. In MLA style, this page is called a “Works Cited,” and in APA, it is a “References” page.

While the function of both pages is the same, the formatting is slightly different. To illustrate this difference more clearly, let’s use the very article you’re reading:

  • APA: Mclean, M. (2023, December 20). When and how to cite ChatGPT and AI in MLA / APA formats. Turnitin.
  • MLA: McLean, Mike. “When and how to cite ChatGPT and AI in MLA / APA formats.” Turnitin. December 20, 2023.

In APA style, the author’s first name isn’t written out fully, but abbreviated. In addition, the date is listed second, as this is the most important aspect of a scientific resource. Meanwhile, in MLA format, the date comes last.

While all the same information is found in both styles, the formatting fits the respective discipline more naturally. These differences have helped students, scholars, and professors alike to standardize their research for easier comprehension for nearly one hundred years.

How do you cite ChatGPT and AI in MLA format?

To cite ChatGPT and AI in MLA format, you must remember the two referential points mentioned above: in-text and Works Cited. As with other referenced resources, it is important to note where in the text the source is being referenced and document the full citation in the reference or works cited list so the reader can access that source themselves.

The Modern Language Association’s official Style Guide offers specific guidelines for how to cite ChatGPT and AI tools. A couple of important notes to consider:

Acknowledge all functional uses of ChatGPT or your choice of AI tool. For example, specifically note whether the tool helped with editing, translation, research, etc. as an introduction to the reference.

Review and vet the sources used by the AI tool (if available). Even though you are acknowledging the use of an AI tool for your research, you are still responsible for the result. If the resources used aren’t reputable, or wouldn’t be accepted in your research, the same rules apply to AI tools.

Paraphrasing ChatGPT or AI in MLA

When paraphrasing the results from generative AI, MLA Style asks writers to reference the Works-Cited-List Entry briefly, to be sure that there is no risk of academic integrity violation. At the end of the paraphrased section, simply reference the source, which should look something like this:

This is the end of the section (“Brief reference to my ChatGPT prompt”).

Quoting direct text from ChatGPT or AI in MLA

If quoting text directly, it’s important to introduce the prompt and tool used, similar to the way you might reference an author. ChatGPT generated the following example:

When prompted to describe how to cite ChatGPT in MLA style, ChatGPT provided a list of critical citation points, as well as an example of a possible citation: "ChatGPT, version GPT-3.5, accessed on [date], generated responses that contributed to the content of this paper."

Works Cited references from ChatGPT or AI in MLA

When citing ChatGPT or AI tools in your Works Cited list, ensure that you make note of the prompt, the tool used, the date the tool was accessed, who developed the tool, the date of your citation, and the URL for the tool. These are standard practices for citing other, more traditional web-based resources in MLA style, so make sure to follow them closely.

For example:

“Describe how to cite ChatGPT in MLA style” prompt. ChatGPT, 31 Oct. version, OpenAI, 31 Oct. 2023.

One final note for how to cite ChatGPT or AI tools in MLA style: these rules are flexible. According to the MLA Style website, “The MLA template of core elements is meant to provide flexibility in citation. So if you find a rationale to modify these recommendations in your citations, we encourage you to do so” (MLA, 2023). Given the nature of this new and evolving technology, today’s citation rules may change quickly. In fact, your writing may even contribute to the shifting rules around how to cite ChatGPT and AI tools.

How do you cite ChatGPT and AI in APA format?

As with MLA format, citing ChatGPT and AI in APA format requires both in-text and indexed citations on your References page. Also, just like MLA, APA Style offers a guide for citing ChatGPT and AI tools. However, this guide, as with MLA’s, is evolving. These technologies are new, and APA themselves acknowledge this in their article:

“We’ve also been gathering feedback about the use and citation of ChatGPT. Thank you to everyone who has contributed and shared ideas, opinions, research, and feedback…we know instructors have differing opinions about how or even whether students should use ChatGPT, and we’ll be continuing to collect feedback about instructor and student questions.”

With this in mind, there are current guidelines that, while subject to change, are important to follow.

In-text citations for ChatGPT and AI in APA

Unlike MLA, APA’s Style Guide does not give specific guidance for paraphrasing. So, we recommend adding an in-text citation wherever an AI-generated response is used: note the prompt that was given and describe what the AI tool generated from your prompt.

For the citation itself, APA Style is very simple: reference the name of the company who created the AI tool, and the year the response was accessed. For example:

When prompted with ‘How to cite ChatGPT in APA style,’ the ChatGPT-generated text indicated that the tool should be ‘referenced [as] computer software’ (OpenAI, 2023).

The main difference between MLA and APA in-text citations for ChatGPT and AI is that, in APA style, writers can add the full transcript of their AI response into the index of their article. If you choose to do so, you can indicate that choice in your citation. For example:

(OpenAI, 2023; see Appendix A for the full transcript)

Some writers will choose this option because, unlike traditional resource materials, the same or similar prompts may elicit different responses from AI tools. In this case, especially for articles written for the sciences, it’s important to speak with your instructor or editor to determine the best path forward.

Reference page entries for ChatGPT in APA Style

APA Reference Page entries for ChatGPT differ slightly from MLA. In MLA, writers are asked to record the prompt used to generate the response cited. In APA, that is not required. All that you’ll need is:

  • The name of the company that created the AI tool
  • The year the AI tool was accessed
  • The name of the AI tool
  • The version of the AI tool used
  • The nature of the technology
  • The core URL for the tool

The main difference here is “the nature of the technology.” APA Style, in an attempt to use similar formatting for other generative AI tools, asks that writers note the type of generative AI tool they are referencing. In this case, ChatGPT would be known as a “large language model.”

So, the Reference Page citation for ChatGPT would look like this:

OpenAI. (2023). ChatGPT (Oct 31 version) [Large language model].

Conclusion: When and how to cite ChatGPT and AI in MLA/APA formats

Standards for citing ChatGPT and AI tools are keeping pace with advancing technology. While there are standards and rules today, they may evolve to accommodate new rules and uses for these tools.

APA and MLA are making strides in establishing those standards while acknowledging their flexible nature as the academic world comes to terms with new technologies. But, for now, learning to cite ChatGPT and other AI tools according to the rules in place today is a must to avoid any inadvertent cases of academic misconduct and to uphold academic integrity.