• 5-minute read
  • 2nd April 2019

How to Format APA Citations

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 you cite a source by giving the surname of its author and the date of its 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 is a crowd (Schreiber et al., 2014).

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

3. Organizational Authors

Some sources, such as the website of a business, won’t have a named individual as an author. When this occurs, you can name a company or organization as the author:

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

This is known as citing an “organizational author.” If there is no organizational author available either, though, you may have to give the title of the source in the citation instead of an author.

4. Quoting Sources

If you are quoting a source, you need to give a pinpoint citation. This means citing the page number(s) of the quoted passage:

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

As shown above, you should give the page number(s) after a comma and “p.” when the author’s name is part of the citation. However, you should cite the page number separately when the author has been named in the text instead:

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Schreiber (2001) says we must “provide evidence in essays” (p. 24).

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

5. Audiovisual Sources

If you want to quote an audiovisual source, 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 at the same time like this can be useful if you need to show 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 it 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 have two sources by Harkin from 2001, one called Analyzing APA and another called Myths of Referencing, the former would come first in the reference list and be cited as ‘2001a’, while 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 them apart:

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

Adding this initial will help readers find the sources in your reference list.

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