First, do not confuse research FORM from research FORMAT. The terms are not interchangeable. A FORM is the physical method of presenting the research. For this and most of your classes, your research will take the form of a paper, perhaps an article for the ambitious. For other classes, your research might take the form of a poster, presentation, speech, or work of art.
The correct FORMAT is vital because it lets the reader/audience know what field you are working in. Each discipline has a specific FORMAT that it uses to present scholarly work. The format defines the paper's layout design (margins, numbering, headers), the method of referring to a source within the paper, and the method for documenting all sources used in one list, usually at the end of the paper.
Most students are familiar with MLA (Modern Languages Association) because they used that format in high school English class papers. MLA format requires students to reference sources using in-text citations, either (parenthetical) or integrated, according to Grimaldi (425). The Works Cited at the end of an MLA paper must present each source's information in a specific format, with the author's last name, then first name, the title of the source, and other publication information. MLA is used primarily in English classes, though sometime Modern Language classes might use it.
Not an English or Language major? No problem! Many students will need to understand APA (American Psychological Association) format because their majors require APA format, typically Education, Nursing, Psychology, and Sociology, though sometimes Business or Political Science might use APA. Like MLA, APA requires in-text citations that may be either integrated or (parenthetical); however, unlike MLA, the citations will include the year of publication, usually not the page number (Campbell 2011). Bibliographic entries are similar to MLA also, except that the format requires the author's last name, first initials, date of publication, and then the title and other publication information.
Criminal Justice, History, and Political Science, among others, tend to use CMS (Chicago Manual of Style) for papers. CMS has two different ways to document sources: footnotes and bibliography. The footnote contains almost as much information as the bibliographic entry with the addition of the page number(s). Otherwise, CMS is similar to MLA . . . or MLA is similar to CMS, depending on whom you ask.
Most science majors will write their papers in the CSE (Council of Science Editors) format, which is a very nuts and bolts type of format that uses scant punctuation and presents the crux of the information in the bibliography. One interesting note is that bibliography for the other three formats list sources in alphabetical order, but CSE lists sources in the order of use.
One major point when differentiating and using these sources is that you consult your professor regarding which format she or he wishes you to use. Don't automatically assume that you should use CMS for a History class, just because you read it here. Read your course syllabus for the details; if the syllabus does not contain those details, then ask the professor. Better to ask twice than to misunderstand the first time.