Note: This is an advanced guide to APA, useful for professional editors, academics, and students looking to bump up their grades with flawless referencing! If you’re new to APA and feel a little lost, check out our introduction to APA referencing. For extra help from APA experts, try our student proofreading services for free, or learn more about our editing services for businesses.
The APA approach to referencing involves citing the author and date of another work in parentheses within the text with a corresponding entry in a reference list at the end of the work.
If you’ve been asked to use the APA referencing style, it is vital to be sure which edition to use. This guide deals with the seventh edition (“APA 7”). The previous version of the guide is no longer available on the APA website, but some guides to APA 6 can still be found online.
Some universities have in-house rules for formatting reference lists, even if they use APA citations, so you should check for any particular requirements. If nothing is specified, use this guide to apply APA 7 – but if you’re a proofreader/editor, add a note for the customer to check with their institution.
Also, pay attention to the requested dialect (usually US or UK English) and note:
Essentially, the surname of the author of the work and the year of its publication must be given in the text. If it is not known when a work was published, it must be indicated with “no date” (abbreviated to “n.d.”) in place of the year. Works that have been accepted for publication but not yet published are indicated with “in press” in place of the year.
If a specific part of a work is being cited, that detail should be included within the in-text citation, not in the reference list. The reference list should, however, include page ranges for works within a greater whole (e.g. articles in journals).
“Specific parts” include more than direct quotes and page numbers. The most common types are given in the table below.
The citation is given in parentheses, in the same font as the surrounding text, and separated by commas.
The citation can appear within or at the end of a sentence. If the author is mentioned in the sentence (a “narrative citation”), then the citation (which will then just include the year of publication and potentially the specific part cited) will need to follow directly after the author’s name.
In-text citations can therefore take three basic forms:
APA 7 also allows for other text to appear within the parentheses, and if text within parentheses includes its own citation, the citation should then be separated from the text by a semicolon. You may therefore see:
If the work doesn’t come from an author with a surname – a group, or corporate body, for example – then the name of that organization takes the place of the surname:
And if the name of a group author has an abbreviation, then you should define that abbreviation when the author is first mentioned, and use that abbreviation from that point on (but remember that the reference list at the end must include the full name, not the abbreviation).
Just remember that this rule follows the same principle as for initialisms and acronyms. If the first mention appears in the parenthetical citation (i.e., rather than in the narrative), then the abbreviation will appear in square brackets:
NB: The abbreviation should not be used in the full reference list.
These basic rules will need to be adapted to various circumstances, which we will look at next.
When there are multiple authors of the same work, the main thing to remember is that in-text APA 7 citations name one or two authors. For three or more authors, only the first is mentioned, followed by “et al.” (note that a period is used, because “al.” is an abbreviation). This is the case in every citation, even the first, which is an important change from APA 6 (hence why it is vital to establish which edition is being used at the outset).
NB: In the references, all authors should be listed unless there are 21 or more (see the section Reference List Formatting).
When two authors are named, a narrative citation must spell out “and.” A parenthetical citation, however, should use the ampersand (“&”):
An exception to only giving the author’s surname is if there are authors with the same surname and publications from the same year. In that case, the author’s initials should be added for clarity.
If multiple works are published in the same year by three or more authors and the works share the same first author surname, include as many author surnames as are needed for clarity (remembering, of course, that “et al.” means “and others” (plural), therefore cannot stand for only one name.
More frequently, you may come across citations for more than one work by the same author. If these are from different years but cited together, there is no need for the author’s name to be repeated. The works are listed in chronological order (i.e., the oldest comes first) with the years separated by commas. If any of the works has no date, that one should come first in the list. Any in-press citations should appear last.
If, however, there are multiple works by the same author and from the same year cited, a lowercase letter should be added to the year to differentiate the works. The lettering is assigned based upon the position of the work in the reference list (see later).
NB: If there are multiple undated works by the same author, then the same principle applies, but the lowercase letter will be preceded by a hyphen, instead of a date.
If there is more than one work cited in support of a statement, the citations will need to be cited in alphabetical order and separated by semicolons. If the list includes works by the same author, those should appear in chronological order (as above).
You may see cases where the title of the work is given in place of the author. This is likely because the work has no named author (whether individual or group). In these cases, using the title of the work (the book, article, etc.) is an acceptable variation, but it’s advisable to flag it with a comment to make sure, as quite often customers don’t realize that they can use a group author.
NB: You may see the author given as “Anonymous”, but that should only be the case if the work is actually signed “Anonymous”, so again is worth a comment.
If you’re presented with a reference to a work within a work (i.e., the customer hasn’t read the original but has come across it as a reference in another), this is a secondary citation.
APA 7 requires a full list of all the works that are cited within the text to be provided at the end of the document. The exception to this is where personal communications are cited in the text; these are not included in the reference list.
The principal formatting requirement is to include the list on a new page titled “References.”
Sometimes, a university will require a list of all the works considered within a piece of work, even if they haven’t all been cited. This type of list is called a Bibliography, but it is not an APA 7 requirement.
APA has certain formatting requirements for references. The only ones you need to apply when proofreading are as follows:
The works are listed alphabetically, usually by the author’s surname, but sometimes under a group author or by their title. If a group author or title of a work starts with “The,” “A,” or “An,” it should be listed as if that word weren’t there (e.g., a work from the Open University would appear as “The Open University” but would be listed under “O,” not “T”).
In essence, there are four elements to include in a reference, in this order:
And the punctuation principles are:
NB: Remember that any pointer to a specific part of a work goes in the in-text citation, not the reference list. However, you should be aware that a work that appears within a collection (such as an article within a journal) counts as a work in its own right, and therefore the reference entry does then require further detail so that the reader can locate it.
In general terms, you could use the following as a checklist:
*NB: This is different for journals (including similar publications, such as newspapers and magazines). Here’s how:
Let’s start with the most common types and see how those translate from in-text citations to full reference listings so that you can easily recognize them and, if necessary, fix them.
In this list, “year of publication” is abbreviated to “year.” For particular issues relating to authors and years, please refer to the notes on in-text citations.
If a work has a DOI, then you may see this given in place of the URL.
Here’s where things start to get different, and it’s generally the writer who loses out:
Some additional information is required here, most commonly:
NB: APA 7 contains a specific instruction not to create references or in-text citations for whole websites. Mentions of a website in general (rather than particular information there) should instead simply provide the name and URL of the site in the text.
With a wealth of sources available, the individual components of the four main elements will vary. At the end of this guide is an alphabetical list of some you may come across and how they should appear in APA 7.
The aim of the list is to provide a baseline so that you know the main elements to expect. Consistency of presentation is key, as is the use of the commenting tool to point out where information may be missing – or the format may require checking with the university’s own preferences.
Although APA 7 is quite prescriptive and has been adopted by a number of institutions, those institutions may still have their own style preferences, so here’s what to do when you are presented with a document that differs from what we have covered in this guide:
The main purpose of referencing is for writers to avoid plagiarism. For that same reason, there is a limit on what can be done for a customer. Additionally, some actions might come under our formatting service.
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