• 3-minute read
  • 24th May 2016

APA Referencing – What You Need to Know

APA referencing – created by the American Psychological Association – is a system for citing sources in academic writing. It is particularly common in the social and behavioural sciences, but it’s also used by journals and universities around the world. As such, it helps to know the basics of this system.

What Is APA Referencing?

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Seventh Edition sets out various stylistic guidelines for academic writing, including for citing sources. The rules for citations are known as ‘APA referencing’.

How Do APA Citations Work?

APA referencing uses parenthetical citations, which means you give basic source details in the main body of your work. Typically, this will be the author’s surname and a year of publication (along with page numbers if relevant):

Music is said to have ‘the greatest practical and theoretical importance’ (Sacks, 1985, p. 176).

If the author is named in the text, you don’t need to duplicate this information in the citation. Instead, give the year of publication in parentheses immediately after the author is named, followed by page numbers after the quoted text:

Sacks (1985) describes his patient as ‘a genial soul’ (p. 23).

What If a Source Has Multiple Authors?

When a source has two named authors, they should be joined by an ampersand in the citation:

Too many cooks spoil the broth (Smith & Jones, 2015).

However, if the authors are named in the text, use the word ‘and’ instead:

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Smith and Jones (2015) argue that too many cooks spoil the broth.

For sources with three or more authors, though, just give the first name plus ‘et al.’:

Two is company, three is a crowd (Smith et al., 1985).

You would then give the names of all authors in the reference list.

OK, Got It. But What on Earth Is a Reference List?

A reference list is what it sounds like: a list of all the sources you reference in your work. You will then add this at the end of your document, with sources listed alphabetically by author surname.

The main thing when composing your reference list is to use a clear and consistent style throughout. There are, however, some specific requirements for an APA-style reference list:

  • List all (and only) sources cited in your document
  • Invert author names (surname first, followed by initials)
  • List multiple works by the same author chronologically, earliest first
  • Italicise all journal and book titles
  • Begin each line after the first in an entry with a half-inch hanging indent
  • Name all authors for texts with up to 20 authors; for sources with more than 20 authors, provide the first 19 then the final author after an ellipsis
  • Only capitalise the first word and proper nouns in titles and subtitles

The exact information required for each source will depend on its format, but this usually includes the author name(s), the source title and publication information. We would list the book cited above, for instance, as follows:

Sacks, O. (1985). The man who mistook his wife for a hat. Macmillan Publishers.

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