What are APA citations? This guide will give you a comprehensive overview of using this citation style in your writing.
When writing an essay or research paper, using proper citations is essential. APA citations are citations that follow the rules of the American Psychological Association’s style guide. Therefore, if your paper uses APA citations, you will need to know how to include them in your piece and how to write a proper bibliography page that meets this style.
What Are APA Citations?
An APA citation is a citation that shows where your source comes from. APA means it follows the guidelines outlined in the American Psychological Association’s style guide. By including proper APA citations, the writer shows where the idea or quote in the piece came from, so they can give the original author the proper credit and avoid the danger of plagiarism.
APA citations are commonly required for papers written in the social sciences. The APA keeps an online database of citation examples and formats that writers can check to ensure they are using the correct formatting for the particular type of source they have.
With the APA style, you will not use footnotes at the bottom of the page. Instead, all citations are within the text, eliminating the need for these notes. Instead, you will use a list of references at the end of the piece that shows all of your sources.
Within the text, APA requires parenthetical citations. However, it can get confusing because the citations are not always the same. For instance, if you use the author’s last name in the text, the parenthetical citation may only need the year of publication. If you use a direct quote, on the other hand, it will need the page number or paragraph number as well as the name and year.
When to Use APA Citations
When writing academic papers and essays, you will need to use APA citations for any ideas that are not your idea or something that is common knowledge in the field you are writing for. Any ideas you pull from sources, even if you paraphrase them in your own words, require a citation.
You will also use APA citations for quotes in the piece. However, you will indicate that you are making a quote by using quotation marks or indenting a paragraph to offset it from the rest of the work.
APA Citation Examples
APA citations use the author/date method of citation. This means that you will place the author’s last name and publication date within the text. There are several different ways you can do this.
1. Using the Author’s Name in the Writing
If you use the author’s last name within the text, you will follow it with the year of the publication in parentheses. Here is how this looks:
- Smith (2020) studied the results from the survey about mental health. . .
2. No Name Mentioned in the Text
If you do not use the author’s name in the text, then you place the last name, a comma, and the publication year in parenthesis within the sentence. Here is how this looks:
- In a recent mental health survey (Smith, 2020) . . .
3. Both the Author and Name Are Used in the Text
Sometimes, it makes sense to use the author’s name and refer to the date in your writing text. In these instances, you do not need any parenthetical citations. Here is how this might look:
- In a 2020 survey, Smith discovered these facts about mental health:
4. A Work with Two Authors
If the work you cite has two authors, you will use both of their last names every time you use that reference. For example:
- Smith and Jones (2020) studied the results of the survey and found . . .
- The team studied the results of the survey (Smith & Jones, 2020) and found . . .
5. A Work with More than Two Authors but Fewer Than Six
In instances where work has more than two authors but fewer than six, you will cite all of the authors on the first reference. For any subsequent references, you will include one last name followed by the words “et al.” For example:
- Jones, Williams, and Smith (2020) found that. . .
Then in the following situations:
- Jones et al. (2020) also discovered . . .
Quotations get a similar treatment with citations in parentheses, but you will also need to add the page number of the work where you pulled the quotation. You will use the paragraph number for online pieces that do not have page numbers. Indicate page numbers with “p.” and paragraphs with the paragraph symbol or “para.”
- “We discovered a significant trend in our research” (Smith, 2020, p. 48)
The APA Reference List
After the entire piece, you will have a separate ” References ” page that lists all of the sources you used to write the piece. These get arranged in alphabetical order and have a specific format they follow. Again, carefully follow the punctuation and labeling to ensure it is in line with current APA formatting.
1. Books and Printed Reference Materials
Typically, you will cite your references from books and journal articles like this:
- Book with one author: Last name, First initial. Middle initial. (publication year). Title. City: Publisher.
- Book with two authors: Last name, First initial. Middle initial.,& last name, first initial. Middle initial. (publication year). Title. City: Publisher.
- Book with three or more authors: Last name, First initial., Last name, First initial., & Last name, first initial. (publication year). Title. City: Publisher.
- Book with an editor as author: Last name, first initial. (Ed.). (publication year). Title. City: Publisher.
According to the latest version of the APA style guide, you will list all of the last names and initials of all of the authors of a work, including up to 20 authors. If the work has more than 20 authors, you list the first 19 and add an ellipsis in place of the remaining names, ending with the final author’s name without the & sign. While this is cumbersome to write, it is the required format for APA for works with many authors.
2. Periodicals, Journals, Newspapers, and Magazines
If your research paper or essay uses a periodical or magazine as a reference, the APA offers a citation example for you to follow. The basic structure is:
- Last name, First initial. Middle initial., Last name, First initial. Middle initial., & Last name, First initial. Middle initial. (Year). Title of article. Title of Periodical, volume number(issue number), pages. DOI or URL
If the work does not have a DOI or URL, you do not have to include this information. If it does not have a date, use (n.d.) in place of the (year) part of the citation. Other missing parts can simply be left off of the citation.
3. Electronic Sources
You can use websites and other electronic sources in your essays and research papers, and the APA provides a format to use to cite. Here is what you should do:
- Last name. First initial. Middle initial. (year, month, date). Title. Site name. URL.
Sometimes, you will not have an author’s name with online resources. In that case, you will start with the title, as in:
- Title of page. (Year, Month, Date). Site name. Retrieved Month Date, Year, from URL.
If there is no date listed on the piece, replace the date with the abbreviation (n.d.).
For other sources that are not part of this list, consult the official Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. The 7th edition is the most current as of 2020. Students should also consult their instructors about preferences when writing for an academic setting.
If you need help, check out our guide to the best citation manager.
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