Improper citing in academic papers can lead to accusations of plagiarism, a lower grade, sanctions from an organisation or institution, and even the loss of one’s reputation as an academic researcher. Therefore, to protect you, your work, and your credibility, a thorough knowledge of how to cite sources is non-negotiable when writing a research paper.
With these important factors in mind, let’s take a look at how to cite using APA Style to ensure your work is always plagiarism-free and all the references you use are properly credited.
APA is one of the most common citation formats that instructors and publishers require. This guide will talk you through the basics of APA Style—by the end, you’ll be citing sources and completing research papers with ease!
What is APA Style?
Developed in 1929 by a team of psychologists, anthropologists, and business managers, the APA Style of citations is the official format used by the American Psychological Association (APA). It is traditionally used in the fields of psychology, education, and social sciences.
Thanks to its structured format, APA Style makes it easier for academics to communicate their ideas about a particular topic. It also ensures that important information is conveyed consistently—enabling the reader to understand the material effortlessly and conduct further research. Thus, the APA Style ultimately helps expand and deepen the field of study even more.
Besides the main body of your essay, research papers written in this style must also contain:
- A title page
- An abstract
- A reference section
- In-text citations
In-text citations and the reference section are both crucial, since the former alerts readers as to whom a particular idea can be attributed. On the other hand, the latter enables them to look up sources for further reading.
How to cite sources in APA Style
Citing Printed Sources
|Author’s Surname, Initial(s). (Year of Publication).
Title of Source. Location of publisher: Publisher.
|Doe, J. (2009). Women in Business: Breaking the
Glass Ceiling. San Francisco, CA: Entrepreneur Press.
Tremblay, S. (2011). The Effects of Global
Warming on the World’s Developing Economies. Sydney, Australia: Sydney University Press.
Note: If the publisher is located in the United States, then the two-letter abbreviation is required. Otherwise, only the city and country should be included.
The format of the title varies depending on the type of source used:
- Books or E-Books: Italicize the title. For the latter, include the link from where it was accessed.
- Print and Digital Articles: Title remains as is. Italicise the name of the journal, newspaper, or magazine where it was published.
- Edited Book: Place (Ed.) after the author’s name to indicate that they were its editor, not the author. The title of the book should also be followed by the edition version, along with its version number. For example, if it’s the third iteration of the material, it will be written as: Book Title (3rd ed.).
In-Text Citations and Reference Section
As previously mentioned, the in-text citation attributes an idea to a specific source, while the reference section contains a list of sources that the reader can use for further research. To format in-text citations, use the following rules:
|Author’s last name and the year of publication||(Smith, 2015).|
|Page number should be included if direct quotations are used||(Smith, 2015, p. 23).|
The reference section of the research paper should also:
- Contain references for all of the in-text citations used
- Have its own page/s at the end of the entire research paper
- Be left-aligned and listed alphabetically according to the names of the authors
- If the author is unknown, then the title of the source is used.
- If there are multiple works by the same author, sources are organised by publication date.
Common mistakes when using APA Style citations
Despite the abundance of guides and instructions online, many researchers make the same mistakes when using the APA style. Below are a few of the most common ones and how to address them.
1. No running head
The running head – also referred to as the “page header” – is at the top of each page and contains both a shortened version of the title in capital letters and the current page number.
Your page header should follow this format:
- Title should be no more than 50 characters long, including spaces
- Title and page number should be in 12-point Times New Roman font
- Title has to be completely capitalised
- Running head should be left-justified
- Page number should be right-justified
2. Incorrect abstract format
The abstract is a concise summary of the entire paper. It should have a brief description of the study background, methodology, and results. It typically contains no more than 200 words, although your instructor or publisher may have their own requirements.
Your abstract should have the following format:
- The word “Abstract” should be centred at the top of the page.
- It should not be bolded, italicised, or underlined.
- It should have the same font size and style as the rest of the document.
3. Mismatched reference section and in-text citations
Unfortunately, it’s quite common for researchers to forget to include a source in the reference section. This could create confusion (at best) or result in your paper getting rejected (at worst). It’s crucial that these two parts match and are consistent with each other.
To prevent this, compare all of your in-text citations with the reference list before submission. This helps you spot and correct any mismatched citations.
4. Improper citing of multiple authors
It’s easy to cite a source written by only one author, but many researchers struggle with references created by multiple people. It’s common to see a missing name or incorrect punctuation in these citations.
To make it easier for you, follow these formatting tips:
|Number of authors||In-text citation||Example||Reference Section||Example|
|2||Use “and” in a signal phrase followed by the year of publication enclosed in parentheses.
If the source will be placed at the end of the sentence, then separate the names with an “&” followed by a comma and the year of publication.
|“In a study conducted by Smith and Jones (2015), it was found that…”
“…came to the conclusion (Smith & Jones 2015).”
|Use “&” to separate the names.||Smith, F. & Jones, R. (2015). Digitization in Clinical Therapy For Kids and Teens. Sydney, Australia: Sydney University Press.|
|3-5||Names should be separated by commas, although the last two will have an “&” in between. This will then be followed by a comma and the year of publication.
In subsequent references, only the first author’s name will be used, followed by “et al.” then a comma and the year of publication.
|“..came to the conclusion (Smith, Jones, Doe & Anderson, 2015).”
“…the report stated (Smith et al., 2015).”
|Names should be separated by a comma, although the last two will have an “&” in between.||Smith, F., Jones, R., Doe J. & Anderson, C. (2015). The Business Landscape of the 21st Century. Boulder, CO: Jameson Press.|
|6 or more||Use only the first author’s surname, followed by “et al.” then a comma and the year of publication.||“…the report stated (Smith et al., 2015).”||Names should be separated by a comma, although the last two will have an “&” in between.||Smith, F., Jones, R., MacFarlane, A., Peterson. H., Doe J. & Anderson, C. (2015). New Paths in Clinical Psychology. Toronto, Canada: Acorn Press.|
The APA Style of citation may be challenging to master, but a thorough understanding of it will help you write academic papers more efficiently and credibly.
However, if you still find it difficult to manage your citations—or if you simply want to free up your time for more important research work—use an academic writing suite like Flowcite. The Flowcite research platform makes it easier to insert sources into the final paper properly.
That’s not all there is to Flowcite. As an all-in-one solution for academic research and writing, it has a whole host of powerful tools that users can take advantage of, including:
- An advanced search engine with access to more than 21 million scholarly articles
- Annotating, highlighting, and commenting tools on PDFs
- Proxy access to university libraries
- A browser extension that can automatically collect a source’s metadata
- An integrated Campus Bookstore to rent textbooks or get considerable discounts for purchasing publications
Want to make citing in APA Style (or any citation style) a breeze? Try Flowcite for free today.
Content Marketing Strategist
Brittany is a Content Marketing Strategist at Flowcite, and an outstanding academic writing expert. She holds a first-class Honours degree in Literae Humaniores from the University of Oxford and has been certified in Digital Marketing Analytics by the MIT Sloan School of Management.