APA (overview)

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The APA citation and referencing system (from the American Psychological Association) is used for academic writing in the social sciences and education fields, including linguistics, education, psychology, and others. APA style specifies how sources are cited in the text of a paper, by means of in-text citations and end references. The in-text citation consists of the last name(s) of the author(s) and the publication year cited in parentheses in the text. Full bibliographic information appears at the end of the paper in a ‘references’ section for all sources cited in the text.

For more details, see the complete APA style guide.

1 Overview

The in-text citation goes inside the sentence, and if it comes at the end, it still is placed before final punctuation (inside a final period, that is, the period comes after the closing parenthesis of the citation). Multiple references are separated by semi-colons inside the parentheses. In the example below, the names and years can all be inside parentheses, or if the name is directly used in the sentence, then the year immediately follows in parentheses.

Such widely skewed distributions have been noted by several recent surveys (Wolfson, 1998; Wolfson & Johns, 2001). However, some like Flagstaff (1998) argue for a best fit from a logistic distribution, while others (Johns et al., 2001) argue for a binomial distribution. A more recent analysis by Freeman and Skyles (2008) provide experimental support for the logistic distribution.

In the end references section at the end of a paper or article, the full bibliographic information is provided for these citations. Notice that the year appears in parentheses in the final bibliographic citation, in strict APA in formal publications. The titles of books, magazines, and scholarly journals are italicized, followed by the volume number (for journals or other periodicals) and the page numbers. Titles of articles or chapters are not italicized.

Author-surname, A., & Author-surname2, B. (Year). Title of journal article. Name of journal, vol.(issue#), page#s.

Author-surname, A., & Author-surname2, B. (Year). Book title. Location: Publisher.

The section is simply called "References." For each entry, the second line is indented five spaces or one tab space – a hanging indentation format, like below.


En, L.G.W., Brebner, C., & McCormack, P. (2014). A preliminary report on the English phonology of typically developing English–Mandarin bilingual preschool Singaporean children. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 49(3), 317-332.

Yavaş, M. (2011). Applied English Phonology. Malden, Mass.: John Wiley & Sons.

2 In-text citations

Works are cited within the text of a paper with author(s) and year in parentheses, or the author name(s) stated directly in the sentence with years in parentheses. Ampersands (&) are used only inside parentheses for multiple authors.

At least one recent applied phonology text by Yavaş (2011) has addressed this issue …
A recent survey (Nevalainen & Traugott, 2012) notes that ...
A recent survey by Nevalainen and Traugott (2012) notes that ...
One recent study (En, Brebner & McCormack, 2014) reported that ...

For citing multiple sources together, each entry is separated by a semi-colon, and they are ordered alphabetically according to the first author.

Recent studies have shown that East Asian students overuse certain transitional items (Ahn & Lee, 2001; Kim, 2004; Lee & Smith, 2003; Lee et al., 2008) due to …

For several citations by the same author, these are listed in reverse chronological order.

Several studies of unusual intransitive verb syntax in this language have appeared in recent years (Zhou, 2015; Zhou, 2014).

For many authors, in-text citations may use ‘et al.’ (Latin et alia = ‘and others’) instead of writing out all the names. In the older APA style, the rule is to use this for three or more authors. In the newer APA style (particularly used in psychology), this is used for six or more authors (since psychology researchers often publish many multi-author articles, so “Smith et al., 2002” might apply to multiple papers by Smith and colleagues in 2002).

An eye-tracking study on Russian native speakers (Rayner et al., 2015) used a masked priming technique to investigate … Another study with Serbian readers (Svrto, Kalus & Paplovsky, 2013) …

In the older APA style, for three or more authors, it is common practice to list all the authors the first time it is cited in the paper, and et al. for subsequent citations; e.g., “...(Smith, Jones, Troughton & Moffat, 2014)” for the first citation, and “...(Smith et al., 2014)” for subsequent citations.

3 End references

At the end of a paper, a section called 'References' appears (or 'Reference', if only one source is used). For papers in university and graduate school courses, this is usually on a separate sheet of paper; for a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation, it forms a separate section or chapter. The end references are not numbered, but use a hanging indent layout (the first line aligns with the left margin, and the rest of the entry is indented about 1.25 cm to the right)[1] The entries are often double-spaced.

In official APA, the surname (last name or family name) appears first in the end reference, and the author’s given names are initialized, i.e., abbreviated, e.g., the name John Smith is written as “Smith, J.” This can of course become rather annoying, because “Smith, J.” could also be Jennifer Smith, Jack Smith, Jacqueline Smith, etc., and the confusion is worse when East Asian names are abbreviated as APA requires.

Journals are cited as in this example, with the title after the year, and the journal name and volume number are italicized. After the volume number, the issue number is in parentheses (i.e., (2) = issue two of volume 14, or the 14th year of the journal's publications), followed by page numbers. The issue number can be omitted if it is not known.

Surname, A., Surname2, B., & Surname3, C. (Year). Article title. Name of Journal, vol.(issue#), page#s.

Zorg, J., Delitz, K., Regan, R., & Krum, A. (1998). Sociocultural aspects of economic growth in ex-Soviet republics. Journal of European Economic and Policy Studies, 14(2), 556-598.

Popular periodicals
Popular periodicals, such as newspapers and magazines, include the date of the particular issue after the year in parentheses.The date may include a month or month+day, depending on how it is published. Many periodicals may not have a volume number, in which case this can be omitted. For an online periodical, the URL is provided, and page numbers can be omitted if it has no page numbers.

Surname, A. (Year, Date). Article title. Name of Periodical, vol., page#s. Retrieved from URL

Springen, K. (1990, December 31). A 100 mile race? No sweat. Newsweek, p. 84.

Zeit, G. (2017, January 2). The joker loses again. Gotham Daily Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.gothamdgazette.com/20170102/joker-loses-again.html

Books consist of author name(s), year, title, place of publication, and name of publisher.

Surname, A., Surname2, B., & Surname3, C. (Year). Book title. Location: Publisher.

Nevalainen, T., & Traugott, E. C. (2012). The Oxford handbook of the history of English. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Edited volumes
An edited volume is an academic book that consists of original research papers by various authors, often with one or more editors. The page numbers are in parentheses after the book title. The editors' names are initialized and indicated with '(Ed)' or '(Eds.)' for one or more editors.

Surname, A., Surname2, B., & Surname3, C. (Year). Article title. In Surname4, D., & Surname5, E. F. (Eds.), Book title (pp. 000-999). Location: Publisher.

Ringbom, H. (1999). High frequency verbs in the ICLE corpus. In A. Renouf (Ed.), Explorations in corpus linguistics (pp. 191-200). Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Note the capitalization patterns in these examples. The names of journals or periodicals follow traditional capitalization rules, where important words (like all nouns) are capitalized. However, titles of books and articles follow sentence case, where only the following are capitalized: (1) the first word of the title, (2) a word after a colon, semi-colon, or dash, and (3) proper nouns; all other words are not capitalized.

4 See also

  1. Citation systems overview
  2. Complete APA style guide
  3. Citation guide chart from the Purdue OWL (Online Writers Lab) website

4.1 References and notes

  1. In MS Word, right-click for paragraph properties, and for paragraph format, chose handing indent. In LibreOffice, edit the paragraph or text style properties and manually create a 1.25 cm indent and a -1.25 cm reverse indent for the first line.

4.2 Other pages on referencing / citation systems: