• 5-minute read
  • 20th January 2019

How to Format APA Citations (8 Top Tips)

APA referencing – developed by the American Psychological Association – is used to cite sources in academic writing. But how does this system work? In this post, we take a look at APA citations according to the rules set out in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Seventh Edition.

1. Basic APA Citations

APA uses author–date citations (a form of parenthetical referencing). This means that you cite a source by giving the surname of its author and the date of publication in brackets:

Many people use APA citations (Schreiber, 2001).

As shown above, APA citations place a comma between the author’s name and the year. If the author is already named in the text, meanwhile, you only need to give the year in brackets:

Schreiber (2001) states that many people use APA citations.

This is the basic APA citation format for all sources with a single author.

2. Sources with More than One Author

For sources with two authors, include both surnames in citations. The names should be joined by an ampersand if they are cited in brackets, but not when they appear in the main text:

Two is company (Schreiber & Harkin, 2011).

According to Schreiber and Harkin (2011), two is company.

When a source has three or more authors, use the first name plus ‘et al.’:

Three or more is a crowd (Schreiber et al., 2014).

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

3. Organisational Authors

Some sources, such as a company website, won’t have a named individual as an author. When this occurs, however, you can name a company or organisation as a creator instead:

Missing citations can affect your grades (ProofreadMyDocument, 2018).

This is known as citing an ‘organisational author’. If there is no organisational author available either, though, you may have to cite the title of the source instead of an author.

4. Quoting Sources

If you are quoting a source directly, you will need to give a pinpoint citation. This typically means citing the page number(s) of the quoted passage as well as a name and year:

It is important to ‘provide evidence in essays’ (Schreiber, 2001, p. 24).

As shown, page numbers are given after a comma and ‘p.’ when the author’s name is part of the citation. However, the page number is cited separately when the author is named in the text:

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Schreiber (2001) says that we must ‘provide evidence in essays’ (p. 24).

The key is that page numbers always appear after the quotation.

5. Audiovisual Sources

To quote an audiovisual source in your writing, you need to cite a timestamp:

The interviewee claimed that ‘video is the future’ (Harkin, 2017, 21:34).

Here, for example, the ’21:34’ in the citation shows that the quote comes from 21 minutes and 34 seconds into the recording. This replaces the page numbers cited when quoting a print source.

6. Multiple Sources in One Citation

You can, if required, cite more than one source in a single set of brackets. All you need to do is place a semicolon between the citations, which should be ordered alphabetically by author surname:

There is strong agreement on this issue among experts (Harkin, 2001; Ptaszynski, 1998; Schreiber, 2010).

Citing more than one source like this can be useful for showing that multiple sources support the same argument.

7. Multiple Sources by the Same Author from the Same Year

For most sources, the author’s surname and year of publication will be enough for the reader to find them in the reference list. However, if you are citing more than one source by the same author from the same year, you will need to provide extra information to help the reader.

APA referencing does this by placing a letter after the year of publication:

Publishing success can vary by year (Harkin, 2001a). Some years may see an author release multiple works, whereas other years may see them publish nothing at all (Harkin, 2001b).

Here, we have two sources by Harkin from 2001. As such, we label these ‘2001a’ and ‘2001b’ in citations and in the reference list so readers can tell which citation points to which source.

The letter used depends on the position of the source in the reference list, with sources from the same year ordered alphabetically by title. So, if we had two sources by Harkin from 2001, one called Analysing APA and another called Zapping Myths of Referencing, the former would come first in the reference list and be cited as ‘2001a’, and the latter would come second and be cited as ‘2001b’.

8. More than One Author with the Same Surname

Finally, if you cite separate sources by two authors who happen to have the same surname, you should add a first initial to citations so that your reader can tell the authors apart:

Some surnames are very common (A. Smith, 1984). This can lead to confusion between people with the same surname (B. Smith, 2004).

Adding these initials will help readers find sources in the reference list.

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