Understanding APA Citation | Top Reference Guide for Writers

APA Citation

The American Psychological Association (APA) Style of Citation

This quick guide introduces the basic rules of the American Psychology Association (APA) citation style as published in the 6th edition 2009-2010. It is possible to obtain copies of the style manual from various online sources.

This style is mostly used for writing papers in the social sciences fields. The guide deals with most aspects of writing research papers from choosing topics, identifying and evaluating various source materials, and note-taking to the mechanical elements of writing, avoiding plagiarism, citing sources, and formatting papers.   The APA Style Guide to Electronic References is another useful resource.


This quick guide explains and provides examples of the types of cited sources most commonly used by academicians and students. Please refer to the official publication manual for further information.

An Overview of In-Text Citation

It is necessary to cite any source that indirectly refers to another person’s work or for the writer to sum-up that source in their own choice of words. A full reference should be placed in an end-of-paper reference list.

You will find an additional explanation and examples of this in the relevant chapter of the style manual.

Citing the Work of Other Authors

  • Citing a work with a single author. Usually, it is sufficient to include the surname of the author and year of publication. Example: 

Jones (2010) talked about … Within paragraphs, it is not necessary to include the year of publication in later references.

  • Citing two authors. When citing two authors, the surname of each author should be included as well as the year of publication. Example:

as Jones and Finney (2011) showed … as was demonstrated (Jones & Finney, 2011) …

  • Citing three to five authors. Where a work has between three and five authors, each author should be cited in the first reference, but only the surname of the first author needs to be listed in later references followed by the term “et al.” as well as the publication year. Example:

Jones, Finney, Temple, Gregg, and Dean (2009) showed that … Jones et al. (2009) also found that…

  • Citing works authored by groups, agencies, corporate organizations, etc. Where groups such as agencies, government bodies, research groups, associations, or corporations are the authors of a work, the name of the group or organization is usually fully spelled out when it appears in an in-text citation. However, abbreviated names can be used after the fully spelled-out first reference if these are not likely to cause confusion for readers. Example of first and second or subsequent references: 

(North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], 2010) (NATO, 2010).

  • Citing particular pages, paragraphs, sections, and other parts. When citing a particular page, part, or section of a source, include the chapter, page, equation, table, or figure at the relevant point within the text. Example: 

(Jones & Finney, 2010, p. 5) or (Williams, 1979, Chapter 2). 

In the case of electronic materials, where a source does not have a page number, use paragraph numbers if these are available and place the symbol before it or the abbreviation “para.” Where neither of these is available, use the source heading following by the paragraph number to direct readers to the cited material. Example: 

(Jones, 2010,  3) or (Williams, 2009, Introduction section, para. 2).

“The system for managing care that is currently in place and the practice of administering uncertain treatments is unwise” (Williams, 2009, Introductory section,  2).

Citing indirectly

When referring to an article or work used in another text, the name of the original author should be explained in a sentence, followed by the source that was consulted in a parenthetical citation as well as in the reference list at the end, e.g., “Jones believed that … (as cited in Williams, 2009).

Citing quotations

  • Direct quotation

The practice of using direct quotations enables a writer to acknowledge or list sources within their text by including a reference to precisely where source information was found. Then, if desired, readers can look up the full reference in the end-of-text reference list.

  • Citing short quotations (of the direct variety)

Where quotations do not exceed forty (40) words, these should be included within a paper’s text and encased in double quotation marks. The author’s name, year of publication, and page number should also be included. Example:

He said “the ‘whiteness symptoms’ disappeared when this treatment was administered” (Jones, 2010, p. 104), but he did not specify when the treatment was administered. Jones (2010) discovered that “the ‘whiteness symptoms,’ which were recurring daily, disappeared when [only this one patient’s] symptoms were treated this way” (p. 104).

  • Citing long quotations (of the indirect variety)

Where quotations exceed forty (40) words, you should use a “standalone” block quotation. This should be in a paragraph of its own, indented by five key spaces and without quotation marks. Example:

Jones (2010) found this: The “whiteness symptoms,” which were confirmed in earlier research, were no longer evident after the treatment was administered. Moreover, the symptoms did not reoccur afterwards. It is obvious that the research into the problem was effective in finding a long-term solution for this particular symptom. (p. 105) You will find additional explanations and examples in the APA style manual.  

See also: “MLA formatting style”

Overview of Creating Reference Lists

The reference list at the end of a paper should be in alphabetical order and it should provide additional information about every source used so that readers can check them as required. The following rules apply to a reference list:   

  1. Use a new page to begin a reference list at the end of a text.
  2. Place the title ‘References’ in the top center of the first page.
  3. Entries should be in alphabetic order under surname of author or by a work’s title where author is unknown.
  4. Italicize the titles of bulkier works, e.g., books, encyclopedias, and journals.
  5. Use double-spacing for entries.
  6. The first line of each entry should be aligned to the left-hand margin with the following lines indented by a few spaces i.e. “hanging” indent.

The following are a few examples of common source types including sources of the online variety i.e. database and web sources. Please note the information in these examples is fictional:

Book Sources

  • Books with a single author

Carr, T. L. (1995). The effective writer: A guide to using modern English (3rd ed.). California, CA: West Coast Publishing.

  • Electronic version books

The place of publication and information about the publisher should be replaced with digital object identifier (DOI) information. Coyle, A.C., Peterson, C.D., & Green, J.D. (2010). The effects of violent video games on children and young people: Research, theory, and government policy. doi:11.2011/adprof:oso/9570194307826.002.0002

  • Citing a work authored by two people

Grimes, P. D. L., & Gadd, A. M. (2009). Mediation in families: Facts versus myths. New York, NY: Associated Family Press.

  • Two works or more authored by same person:

List by publication year showing earliest publication first. White, T. (1982). The art of teaching. Orlando, FL: Temple Press. White, T. (1990). Human entertainments over the ages: Public debate on cultural entertainments. Orlando, FL: Norman and Green.

If two or more works are authored by the same person and have the same year of publication, these should be listed in alphabetic order according to title with a lowercase letter added to the year as shown in the following fictional example:

Murray, P. (1969a). Modern business culture. Dallas, TX: Steele Publishing. Murray, P. (1980b). Avoiding clichés. Dallas, TX: McMannon.

  • Citing books written by agencies, corporations, etc.

Authors can be considered to be agencies, associations, corporations, and government bodies, etc. where no specific author exits. American Aircraft Association. (1982). Safety standards for flying. Sacramento, CA: American Aircraft Association.Anthologies, Dictionaries & Encyclopedias.

Anthologies and compilations

  1. Nolan, W. J., & Thomas, M. E. (Eds.). (2001). Children’s well-being: Psychological needs of young people. New York, NY: Green & White.
  2. Anthology and essays in book form Bisson, T. A. (1999). The human brain and retrieval mechanisms. In P. L. Hollande III, & G. A. P. Dunne (Eds.), Variations in human memory & awareness (pp. 211-221). Sansdale, AC: Hughes. Citing from course packs.
  3. Hoffman, J. (2010). What makes good leaders? In C. Dampers (Ed.), ASHC 240: Relationships and communicating at interpersonal level (pp. 36-55). Charleston, SC: Callard’s College Bookstore. (Reprinted from Yale Business Journal, 85(4), pp.82-99, 2009).

Citing from dictionaries

  1. When citing several types of words, it should be indicated whether they are adjectives, nouns, verbs, and so on. The citation within the text would appear as (Strike, 1975). Strike, v. (1981). Oxford English dictionary compact edition (Vol. 3, p. 2456). Oxford: Oxford Press.
  2. Citing articles from reference books or encyclopedia entries Where an article or entry has a signature, the name of the author should be included. If not, the citation should start with the article or entry title.
  3. Gross, J. T. (1988). Extremism. In P. White (Ed.), Lynn’s philosophy encyclopedia (Vol. 4, pp. 361-412). Oxford, England: Lynn.

Citing journal articles

See the below fictional example for citing a journal article in the case of an electronic article retrieved from an online source:  

  • Bellows, A. B. (2010). Choices and consequences. Bulletin of psychology, 135, 821-915.

NB: Only the publication’s volume number should be listed where volumes have continuous page numbers. Where each new issue starts on Page 1, then the issue number should also be listed. Barrett, J., & Stone, T. (1984). Best hiring practices in business. Journal of Psychology and Consulting: Research Practices, 37(1), 11-37.

  • Citing magazine and newspaper articles:

Duval, A. (1983, September 17). Recreating the comforts of home: Government abandons traditional customs. Washington Gazette, p. B5.

Lamb, B. T. (1984, June 7). Divorce and the aftermath. Humanities Journal, 202(27), 27-31.

See also: “Harvard essay sample: Your guide in academic writing”

Citing articles from electronic media

These citations should include the same details as a print article with retrieval information added to identify the informational source. Generally, according to the APA style manual, there is no need to include information on sources retrieved from databases. Sources can be identified by adding one element from the following list:

Digital Object Identifier (DOI) The DOI method is a standard mechanism for identifying electronic objects. The identifier would roughly appear as follows: doi:11.1107/j.cab.2010.04.014.

A DOI is frequently placed in an article’s abstract or citation or at the top or bottom of the article’s first page. Here is a fictional example of a DOI:

Weil, T., Hastings, P., & Jones, B. (2014). Facebook construction identity: The power of digital media for maintaining friendships. Human Interaction with Technology, 15(4), 1706-1720. doi:11.1015/j.cab.2014.05.016

Citing URLs for online periodicals. If an article has no obvious DOI, then the URL for the publication’s home page may be used. Grayson, S., & Mallin, N. (2011). Why uncertainty is worse than knowing: The availability of information to help with decision-making. Electronic Journal of Human Psychology, 3(2). Retrieved from http://obs.lib.swan.edu.au/index.php/ejhp/ NB: If required, additional information on citing electronic sources can be found in the APA style manual.

Citing multimedia sources

  • Radio and television programs (fictional examples):

Mullins, C. (Reporter). (2010, February 16). The century’s greatest scandal [Television program episode]. In P. Green (Producer), The ultimate bribe. Vancouver, Canada: Vancouver Broadcasting Company. Citing film, DVD and video recordings

Lippman, V. (Director). (1979). The Moonshine [Motion picture]. United States: US Movies Ltd. Citing YouTube clips/videos (Please refer to APA style guide for more information)

  • With name of author name and screen name:

Chapman, C. [charleschapman]. (2009, August 8). Spooky ghost captured on Video Tape 13 [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6byGDbxD708

  • With screen name:

Dunbar. (2011, June 3). Surveillance cameras capture spooky ghost [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v =Dp1ms2RhYCG&feature=related, Citing Notes from Online Lecture and Presentational Slides (e.g., Moodle)

LaCross, D. E. (2010). Effective strategies for study and success [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://www.vtcampusorlando.org/2010/TCL_post/presenter_powerpoints/Daphne%20Lacross%20-%20Study%20Strategies.ppt

Citing website pages

NB: You will find additional information about citing e-sources in the APA style manual. Website pages and non-periodical Internet-based documents:

The author’s name and document title should be included as well as the date the materials were posted uploaded (if available). Where a page may have moved or changed, the date of retrieval should be included, as should the URL of the cited document. Use document title in place of author where author name is unknown or unavailable.

In the absence of a date, use “n.d.” to indicate this fact. Provide a description of the cited source after the article’s title and in square brackets where this is needed to clarify the source type, e.g., presentation slides, bibliography, etc.

Archives and Libraries New York. (2010). A celebration of one woman’s art achievements: Female artists in New York. Retrieved from http://www.collectionsnewyork.gov.usa/women/002016-400-e.html

Retrieval date should be added where source materials are likely to change with time (e.g., wiki entries).

Geographical Data for California. (2011, July 18). In Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. Retrieved August 10, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_California