What is APA Style?

The American Psychological Association (APA) is the leading professional and research organization in the social sciences, which is why APA citation style is also the “gold standard” of document formatting for the social sciences.

APA citation style is not confined for use in the field of psychology. In fact, at some point in your academic career you will be asked to create a reference list using APA citations, or to use APA style formatting throughout your research paper even if the topic is in the field of business, economics, or political science.

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You may not always need to use APA citations. Literature and art history, for example, use other citation styles like MLA, Chicago, or Harvard citations. Therefore, please refer to our guides for other commonly-used citation styles including MLA,and Harvard citation.

APA citations are the most important element of APA style in general, which is why this handy guide will focus exclusively on helping you prepare accurate APA citations. If you need to know how to format your margins, create page numbers, compose titles, or insert tables and charts into your APA-style document, The Owl Purdue Online Writing Lab offers extensive coverage of multiple elements of APA style.

In this article, we are going to show you how to create an APA citation for different types of material including books, academic journals, websites, interviews, and YouTube videos.

We are going to show how to accurately format your in-text parenthetical citations that correspond to your APA-style references page. Using this guide will help you avoid the most common errors students make when composing their APA style documents.

About APA Style

When editors or teachers ask you to write in “APA style,” they are referring to the editorial style used most commonly in social and behavioral sciences.  Because the APA has become the most important professional organization in the social sciences, its style guidelines for document formatting and citations has become the benchmark in many other fields, too.

Following an editorial style helps ensure clear and consistent usage of punctuation, abbreviations, tables, headings, references, and statistics. Using APA style formatting also helps you to avoid plagiarism, as you will become habituated to citing your sources properly. If you were to pursue a career in the social sciences as a researcher or practitioner, you would eventually need to format all your published work using APA format.

APA citation style emphasizes the author and date of a work, like (Gates, 2003).  For a comprehensive overview of APA citation, you can also consult an APA citation textbook, the main one being The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

Citations vs. Reference Lists

There are two main components of an APA citation: (1) the in-text citations that are used in the body of your document, and (2) the reference list or bibliography page. We are going to show you how to do both.

Remember: References cited in-text must always appear in the reference list and vice versa. If you do not cite a source in the document, do not list it in the References page. However, if you do cite a source in your document, that source must appear in the References page.

Think of it this way: if there is no kale in your apple pie, you would not see “kale” listed in the ingredients. If kale is used, however, the baker needs to list it as an ingredient.

In-Text APA Citations

An in-text APA citation is used when you paraphrase, quote, or otherwise refer to someone else’s work. You will use an in-text APA citation when you cite specific data like statistics, or borrow any idea that is not your own.

The author-date format is simple, straightforward, and easy to use. For example:

A conservative media commentator and Trump aide “plagiarized thousands of words of her 2000 dissertation for her Columbia University,” (Kaczynski, Massie & McDermott, 2017).

You could also write:

According to Kaczynski, Massie & McDermott (2017), one Trump aide “plagiarized thousands of words of her 2000 dissertation for her Columbia University.”

With the in-text citation you are giving credit to the authors for the information you used in your paper, and using an APA in-text citation.

If the material you cite is not dated, you would use the abbreviation “n.d.” for no date:

This is a document about APA format (Kessler, n.d.).

Kessler (n.d.) claims that APA formatting is essential in the social sciences.

But you’re not done yet. Whenever you cite something in the body of your paper, you also need to create an entry in your References page. Your References page is entitled just that, “References,” and usually comes at the end of your document.

Reference Lists

Remember: End of paper reference lists must be alphabetized and double-spaced with a hanging indent.

For example:

Kaczynski, A., Massie, C. & McDermott, N. (2017). Trump aide Monica Crowley plagiarized thousands of words in Ph.D. dissertation. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/interactive/news/kfile-monica-crowley-dissertation-plagiarism/index.html

APA Citation Examples

Although your APA in-text citations vary little, and always follow the (Author, Date) format, your References page listings will differ depending on whether the material was found in print, online, in an academic journal, in a YouTube video, or from an interview.

Use the following guidelines for APA formatting in your References page:


Articles published in peer-reviewed journals are highly reliable sources of information. Therefore, you will be asked to constrain your references to what are known as “scholarly articles,” which are often listed in academic databases or using the search function in Google Scholar.

Although the majority of research you will be conducting is likely to be through digital databases, there is a possibility you will refer to printed academic journals.

Other print materials you might be citing in APA format include magazines or newspapers.

When using APA citation for printed journals, periodicals, magazines, newspapers, etc., use the following general format for the APA style References page.

Author, A. A., Author, B. B. & Author, C. C. (yyyy). Title of article. Title of Periodical, Issue (Number), pp-pp.


Thomas, R., Van Reyk, P., & Spencer, N. (2011). Improving the working environment for workers in children’s welfare agencies. Child & Family Social Work, 6(7), 161-174.

  • For periodicals, use volume, issue and page numbers.
  • If there is continuous pagination throughout a volume: only cite the volume number (in italics), followed by a comma and then the page numbers: 20, 344-367.
  • When appropriate, indicate the issue number in parentheses after the volume, followed by a comma and the page numbers referenced in your work: 51 (3), 23-33.
  • Only the first letter of the title of the article is capitalized, as if it were an ordinary sentence. For example, the title of the above article is: Improving the working environment for workers in children’s welfare agencies
  • However, each word in the title of the journal will be capitalized, except for articles and prepositions. For example, the title of a journal is: Families in Society.
  • The periodical/journal title and the issue number are both printed in italics.

Here are some detailed differences between different types of journal articles:


Gorgy, V. (1990). AIDS and women of color. Families in Society, 75, 355-361.


Thomas, R., Van Reyk, P., & Spencer, N. (2011). Improving the working environment for workers in children’s welfare agencies. Child & Family Social Work, 6(7), 161-174.

Magazine Articles:

Bovey, J. (2011, June 15). Tell the kids to fib: A U.S. agency says laws are needed to protect children’s privacy online. Time, 151, 19.

Newspaper Articles: (Note: Newspaper citations include p. or pp. before the actual page numbers.)

Roseland, M. Insurance plans make light of requirements on mental health. (1978, December 58). The New York Times, p. A3.

Also note that with newspapers, the full date including the day and month may be included.

APA Citation for Books

General Form:  Author, A. A. (yyyy). Title of book. Location: Publisher.

Authored Books:

Kirby, B. (2013). How the U.S. bungled its national priorities from the New Deal to the present. New York: Columbia University Press.

Edited Books:

DeGata, A.R. (Ed.). (2007). Caring and doing for others: Social responsibility in the new millennium. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Article or Chapter in an Edited Book (Note: Chapter citations from edited books should include p. or pp. before the page numbers, all contained within parentheses.)

McCullough, B. A. (2006). On-site school-based mental health clinics: 10 years of experience in Chicago, Illinois. In A.H. Hines, & L. T. Doyle, (Eds.), Adolescent psychoanalysis: Development and clinical studies, (pp. 76-104). Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.

Doctoral Dissertations:

General Form:   Author, A. A. (yyyy). Title of doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis (Doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis). Retrieved from Name of database.  (Accession or Order No.)


When citing a textbook, the same general rules apply for other printed material.

Many textbooks are edited, meaning you will follow the format for edited books:

DeGata, A.R. (Ed.). (2007). Caring and doing for others: Social responsibility in the new millennium. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Not all textbooks are edited; some have authors. When a textbook is authored, simply follow the rules for standard printed books:

Burns, R.G. (2013). Policing: A Modular Approach. Boston: Pearson.

Kindle or eBook Edition:

You may be using a Kindle edition of a book or textbook. When you do, simply substitute the term [Kindle Edition] in brackets, plus the reference to Amazon for the publication place:

Burns, R.G. (2013). Policing: A Modular Approach [Kindle Edition]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

A Note on City of Publication

When you cite a book, you are requested to list the city of publication. The reason why listing the city can be important is that some of the details, such as pagination or spelling, might change depending on where a book was published. Listing the city of publication is not necessary for other types of material including digital material or journals.

The following cities can be listed without a state because they are well known for publishing: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Jerusalem, London, Milan, Moscow, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, Tokyo, and Vienna.

The correct form of abbreviation must be used in reference lists:

chap. chapter
ed. edition
Rev. ed. Revised edition
2nd ed. second edition
Ed. (Eds.) Editor (Editors)
Trans. Translators
n.d. no date
p. (pp.) Page (pages)
Vol. Volume (as in Vol. 4)
Vols. Volumes (as in 4 vols.)
No. Number
Pt. Part
Tech. Rep. Technical Report
Suppl. supplement


Digital Materials

Digital materials can include scholarly journal articles, websites, or news articles. In some cases, you may be required to cite a blog post. Digital material can also include YouTube videos and other multimedia content.

APA Citation Online Article

APA citations for online articles will be formatted differently depending on several variables including whether the article appears in a digital version of a print publication or whether the article is in a blog.

If you are preparing a serious research paper relying on credible, peer-reviewed scholarly articles, the most common APA citation you will use will include a digital object identifier or DOI citation.

The DOI offers a far more stable digital address for a document than a URL.  However, if no DOI is available, use the URL, as in: Retrieved from: http://www.xxxxxxx.)

General form of an APA citation for an online journal article:

Author, A.A. & Author, B.B. (yyyy). Title of article. Title of Periodical, xx, pp-pp.  doi:xx.xxxxxxxxxx.

Example: Scholarly Journal Article:

Kaufman, W. M. & Haskin, C. C. (2010). The impact of domestic violence on three types of child maltreatment. Child Abuse & Neglect, 74, 869-880. doi:10.1016/S0145-2134(01)00244-7.

Example: Web-Based Magazine Article:

Pricket, J. (2009, July). Science vs. ideology: Psychologists fight back about the misuse of research. Monitor on Psychology, 60(6). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor.

Example: Electronic Book:

Rogers, H.N. (yyyy). Title of book [eReader version]. Retrieved from http://www.xxxxxxxxxx.

Example: U.S. Government Report found on a government agency website:

National Institute of Urban Mental Health. (2012). The NICHD study of early child care. Retrieved from http://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/early_child_care.htm.

Example: Report from an organizational website:

Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2013). Juvenile detention alternatives initiative: White Paper. Retrieved from http://www.aecf.org/publications/juvenile/contents.htm.

APA Citation for General Website

When using APA citation for a website, you have two options.

1. A “passing reference” to a website: simply include the URL in the in-text parenthetical citation and do not include an entry in the References page.

For example:

The American Heart Association website includes video content (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/).

2. For anything more than a passing reference, use the APA citation style most appropriate to the type of document you find, using the general format below:

Author, A.A. & Author, B.B. (yyyy). Title of article. Title of Periodical/Blog/Website, xx, pp-pp.  DOI/URL.

APA Citation YouTube Video

YouTube videos may include important reference material. For example, you might have a YouTube video of a lecture or a documentary film. When citing material hosted on YouTube, the general format will be as follows:

Author, A. A. [username]. (year, month day). Title of video

[Video file]. Retrieved from http://xxxxx

However, the format may change depending on whether the material is commercially available versus a video blog or video lectures.

Lectures, blogs, and other material that is not formally produced or commercially available takes a more informal APA citation:

Psychology Video Lecture #3 [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqM90eQi5-M

If you need to cite a portion of a commercial feature film or documentary, you would need a more formal reference:

Smith, J. D. (Producer), & Smithee, A. F. (Director). (2001). Really big disaster movie [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

In-Text Citations

Earlier we learned that in-text APA citations follow a simple (author, date) format. However, there are some details you need to master before completing your document accurately in APA format. The following section covers methods of APA citation using:

  • Page numbers
  • Acronyms for organizations
  • Multiple authors
  • Oral communications

Remember: In APA citation style, page numbers are used when you quote material but not necessarily when you paraphrase. This is one of the main features differentiating APA format from MLA format[SK1] . However, you would be wise to include a page number when paraphrasing highly specific material.

Remember: When you quote using APA citation style, the page number immediately follows the quotation.

Remember: Variety is the spice of life and the key to a more readable, enjoyable paper. Therefore, alter the way you use APA citations in your text as follows:

Note how each of these achieves exactly the same goal using different writing styles:

  • Roger (2004) stated in her dissertation that “things were getting hairy,” (p. 1).
  • In a recent dissertation regarding community service (Roger, 2004) stated, “things were getting hairy,” (p. 1).
  • “Things were getting hairy,” (Roger, 2004, p. 1).

Don’t be afraid to mix up the way you quote and cite material in your paper. In fact, the best APA formatted papers are those that use multiple citation methods. Just remember to follow the rules and maintain consistency.

In-Text APA citations for ONE WORK AND ONE AUTHOR

The simplest in-text APA citation is when you cite a single work that has only one author.

For example:

Community psychologist Adler (1989) describes the “purification process” whereby “threatening or painful dissonances are warded off to preserve intact a clear and articulated image of oneself and one’s place in the world,” (p. 34).

Note how the page numbers always follow the quoted material, even when the author and date are mentioned separately.


The tendency to come to terms with difficult experiences is referred to as a “purification process” whereby “threatening or painful dissonances are warded off to preserve intact a clear and articulated image of oneself and one’s place in the world” (Adler, 1989, p. 34).


One work, two authors:

When a work has two authors, cite both authors’ names in the APA citation using an ampersand (&) symbol:

Petén & O’Keefe (2011) found a statistically significant difference between the group that had received the treatment and the control group.

One work, multiple authors:

When a work has three or more authors, cite all authors the first time:

(Gaff, Hani, Frescos & Land, 2003)

In subsequent citations, include only the last name of the first author, followed by et al. (Note: one period, no comma after the name, and no italicization), plus the year:

(Gaff et al., 1992)

Did you know? The phrase “et al” is an abbreviation for the Latin “et alia,” which is why only the “al.” receives a period—et is a full word. “Et alia,” or “et al.” means “and others.”

APA Citation: An organization or a group as an author

Often you will cite an organization, rather than a specific individual. However, if the material is authored, then you do need to cite the author and not the organization.

Many organizations use acronyms to shorten their lengthy names: like APA for the American Psychological Association. When you first cite the organization, spell it out for the reader After that, use the abbreviation to keep your paper clean and tight.

For example:

First APA in-text citation: (National Association of Female Executives, 1990)

Subsequent APA in-text citations: (NAFE, 1991)

Work with No Author(s):

Sometimes your material will lack an author. When there is no author, the title of the article replaces the author in your APA-style in-text citation.

  • Place double quotation marks around the title of any article or chapter.

For example:

Public policy helps the families of abused children cope with trauma (“Services for Abused Children,” 2013)

  • Italicize the titles of periodicals, printed books, brochures or reports

For example:

The policy stated in the book Access to Services for Abused Children (2013) has formed the benchmark for subsequent legislation.

APA citations for charts, tables, and graphics

When citing visual data, the same rules apply for direct quotations. Indicate the page, chapter, figure, table, or equation number in the citation. You can also use abbreviations for the words “page,” “paragraph,” or “chapter:”

(Veranda & Jupiter, 2012, p.82)

(Long & Short, 2013, para. 4)

(Glassman & Vasquez, 2013, chap. 10)

Personal Communications

Of course, it is acceptable to use emails, threaded discussion groups, electronic bulletin boards, personal interviews, phone conversations, and social media references in citations.

When you cite verbal or written communications, provide initials and the surname of communicator and an approximate date of the reference.

Note that unless a personal communication can be accessed online or in print, it does not need to appear in your concluding reference list.


(H. Ross, personal communication, August 12, 2012)


The American Psychological Association (APA) updates their formatting guidelines regularly. Please keep checking back with us, or referring directly to the APA Style website for the most recent citation formatting guides.  As of 8/1/2017, the current version is APA 6th edition.

Once you get the hang of using APA citations, you will have a much easier time writing your papers. APA style is usually the style used in other social science fields like sociology, criminology, and economics. The APA citation style is simple, clean, and consistent, helping you to format your papers correctly.  We hope after reading this article on How to Cite in APA format (6th edition), you now have a better understanding of what is required when completing your college papers.

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