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What Is APA Format for References?

APA format is one of the most commonly used citation formats in professional writing and college. APA format is an abbreviation for the American Psychological Association, which issues the style guide, and is used to give credit to sources used in a paper or presentation. APA format can be used in a variety of fields, but it is most commonly found in medical fields, education fields, and social sciences.

In all major citation formats (APA, MLA, and Chicago), the author is the first part of each citation and reference. What is most unique about APA is that the year is listed immediately after the author in in-text citations and in references. Since APA is used in data-driven fields, it is important that the year of the source be listed in citations. As such, APA usually follows the general format of author, year, title, and publication information.

APA Format In-Text Citations

In-text citations, which are citations usually found in or partially in parentheses to attribute information in the body of the paper, follow a standard format in APA. The format is always:

  • author(s),
  • year,
  • then page number.

If the author is mentioned in the body of a sentence, the year should be in parentheses directly after the author with the page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence. If the author is not mentioned in the body of a sentence, all information should be in parentheses, separated by commas, at the end of the sentence. Here is a standard APA citation format example of each:

  • Smith (2021) writes, ”Every source should be cited” (p. 12).
  • ”Every source should be cited” (Smith, 2021, p. 12).

There are a few scenarios that change the format of the author, year, and page number in in-text citations, but they always follow the standard author, year, page number format. Below are more APA citation examples that detail these different scenarios:

Scenario In-Text Citation Parenthetical Citation
Two authors Smith and Jones (2021) write, ”Every source should be cited” (p. 12). (Smith & Jones, 2021, p. 12)
Three or more authors Smith et al. (2021) write, ”Every source should be cited” (p. 12). (Smith et al., 2021, p. 12)
No author, using title instead According to ”Citation Guidelines” (2021), ”Every source should be cited” (p. 12). (”Citation Guidelines,” 2021, p. 12)
Unknown year Smith (n.d.) writes, ”Every source should be cited” (p. 12). (Smith, n.d., p. 12)
Multiple pages Smith (2021) writes, ”Every source should be cited” (pp. 12-14). Smith, 2021, pp. 12-14)

APA Citation Examples

In any citation style including APA, there are two main components to a citation: an in-text citation, which appears in the body of the paper to briefly let the reader know where the information came from while they are reading, and a reference, which appears on the reference page at the end of the paper with detailed information about where the information came from. Each in-text citation must have a corresponding reference and vice versa.

In APA, titles follow specific capitalization rules in the references: titles of books and articles use sentence-style capitalization with only the first word, words after colons and semicolons as well as ending punctuation, and proper nouns capitalized. Article titles are not italicized, but book titles and journal titles should be italicized (as well as journal volume numbers while the issue number should be in parentheses).

There are also rules for formatting author names in all references. The last name of an author should be listed first with a comma after it followed by the first and middle initials of the author. If there is more than one author, a comma is used after the initials to separate it from the next author, using the same format. An ampersand is used before the final author in a list. While only two authors should be listed in in-text citations, up to 20 authors. There are several things not to do when listing authors in APA references:

  • do not spell out first or middle names of authors;
  • do not include titles or suffixes, like Ph.D. or Jr.;
  • and do not list authors in alphabetical order within each reference–follow the order the authors are listed in on the source.

Journal Citation

One of the most common types of sources used in APA papers is journals, which are scholarly periodicals published in volumes with issues. The standard in-text citation format is used for journal citations, but the reference page for a journal reference includes specific information for the journal:

  • author(s) of the article,
  • year of publication,
  • title of journal article,
  • title of journal,
  • volume number and issue number of journal,
  • page range for journal article,
  • and URL, if an online journal (in APA 7th edition, a DOI should be listed in URL format).

A standard journal article reference would look like this:

Smith, J.W. (2021). Title of article: Continued title of American article. Title of Journal, 4(10), 312-338.

Magazines and newspapers follow the same format as journal articles, except the month of the magazine or newspaper is usually included in the parentheses after the year:

Jones, K.M. (2021, July). Title of article: Continued title. Title of Magazine, 34(7), 13-20.

Labels for each part of a journal reference

Breakdown of a journal reference format with all parts labeled

Website Citation

Website references include some of the same information as a journal reference:

  • author(s) of the webpage,
  • year of publication,
  • title of webpage,
  • title of site,
  • and URL.

For some websites, this information is easily available, and all fields can be easily filled in. One notable difference with website references is that the title of the webpage is italicized like a book or journal title would be:

Wilson, A.R. (2021). Title of webpage. Title of website.

However, many websites do not have a known author, and others have information that might change over time, like blogs or wikis. If there is no known author, the organization or website name should be used. If the information might change over time, including a retrieval date lets the reader know when the information in the source is from:

American Psychological Association. (2021). Citation guidelines. Retrieved July 1, 2021.

Book Citation

The other common type of reference is book citations. For a book reference, the following information should be included:

  • author(s) of the book,
  • year of publication,
  • title of the book,
  • name of the publisher,
  • and DOI, if available.

A standard book reference with one author, assuming no DOI is available, would look like this:

Philips, W.P. (2021). Title of book. Publisher.

Some books have multiple authors, however, or multiple editions. If a book has three authors and there is more than one edition, the reference would look like this:

Green, M.R., White, M.S., & Plum, P.R. (2021). Title of book (2nd ed.). Publisher.

APA Citation Reference Page Format

Each individual reference in APA format will follow the above or similar rules for formatting, letting the author know where to place each part of the publication information in the reference to follow standard formatting. The references must then be organized on a reference page, one of the last pages of the paper where all references are contained. Every source you cite in your paper must appear in your reference list, and every source in the reference list must have an in-text citation in the text of the paper. There are a few requirements for how the reference page should be formatted:

  • ”References” should be bolded and centered at the top of the page in APA 7th edition,
  • references should be alphabetized by the author’s last name,
  • and the first line of each reference should be left-aligned while subsequent lines in each entry should be indented one tab or half an inch from the left margin.

Example reference page in APA 7th edition format

Reference page example with a book reference, journal reference, and website reference

Lesson Summary

APA format is a citation style created by the American Psychological Association that is usually used in social sciences, medical fields, and educational fields for citing sources. In APA, there are two necessary parts for citing each source:

  • in-text citations, which briefly provide source information in the body of the paper,
  • and references, which provide detailed source information at the end of the paper.

A standard APA in-text citation follows the format of author, year, and page number. On the reference page, which organizes all of the references alphabetically by the authors’ last names at the end of the paper, formatting varies depending on whether the source is a journal article, a website, or a book. Most references follow the general format of:

  • author(s),
  • year,
  • title of article/book/website,
  • publication information (journal name, volume, and issue or book publisher),
  • and URL or DOI.
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