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APA CITATION: How APA citation works

An expanded guide to APA Citation

How APA citation works




Citation means giving credit to the sources (websites, publications, movies, etc.) from which you obtained the information you use in a paper. A citation style is a set of rules for how to cite sources. APA style is created by the APA, the American Psychological Association. In APA style, you give credit to your sources using very short citations in the sentence or paragraph where you use the information. Add a citation right after you use any information that you found in any kind of source. These can be either parenthetical citations or narrative (AKA in-text) citations in the body of the paper. Finally, you also always have to have a reference list at the end of the paper.




Parenthetical citations are one of the two ways, along with narrative (or in-text) citations, that you credit sources in the body of a paper, right within a paragraph, after you write something that uses information you obtained from a particular source. When you use information from a source in a sentence or group of sentences, you put parentheses— those curved ( ) marks—at the end with the author’s or authors’ last name(s) and the year of publication. A comma goes after the name.

Here’s an example of a sentence with a parenthetical citation in it. The author’s last name is Ndiaye and the year of publication is 2019:

Researchers have found that students can easily learn APA style (Ndiaye, 2019).




Narrative (or in-text) citations are one of the two ways, along with parenthetical citations, that you credit sources in the body of a paper, right within a paragraph, after you write something that uses information you obtained from a particular source.With narrative citations, you mention the name(s) of the author(s) of the source directly in a sentence in your paper, not in parentheses. It is common practice to only use the last name of the author(s) in such citations. When you do this, you put the year when the source was published in parentheses, right after the author’s name, as in this example:

Ndiaye (2019) found that students can easily learn APA style.

You can also use an apostrophe on the author’s name, like this:

Ndiaye’s (2019) study found that students can easily learn APA style.




A reference list is commonly also called a bibliography or works cited list, but in APA style it is known as a reference list. It is an alphabetized list of full versions of all of the citations (both narrative and parenthetical) used in a paper. It allows the reader to see what the short references in the body of the paper are referring to. The idea is that when readers see a parenthetical or narrative citation when reading the body of the paper, they can look at the reference list in the back to see the entire reference, matching the authors' names and year of publication to what is found in the reference list. Each reference is unique to each source, like a mailing address, so that the reader can then look up that exact source either for more information or to verify that it actually does say what you, in your paper, said that it says.

In reference lists, the author’s last name goes first, then a comma, then the author’s first (and/or middle) initial, followed by a period. The rest depends on the type of source. Here are two alphabetized examples of reference-list entries for a journal article and a book:

Lopez, B. (2018). How to cite using APA. Journal of Citation, 59(2), 39-41.

Perez, W. (2016). The Best Way to Cite. Yale University Press.




Always include publication dates. In reference entries, they are put in parentheses after the author’s name (or after the title if no author’s name is available). Most sources have only the year; some, like magazines, have the month and the year; others, such as newspaper articles and social media posts, have the exact day. If no publication date is shown, put “n.d.” (without quotation marks).




You can cite more than one source at a time. Let's say that you found the same information or type of example in more than one source. It could make your argument stronger to show the reader that more than one source has said the same thing. In a parenthetical citation, include more than one item and separate them with semicolons. Put them in alphabetical order by the authors’ names. Here’s an example with four sources cited:

Numerous authors have shown that students find APA citation relatively easy to learn (Lopez, 2018; Ndiaye, 2010; Ndiaye and Lopez, 2019; Perez, 2016).