APA College Guide: Format, Style, and In-Text Citations

Learning how to use APA effectively may be a challenge at first, but life's greatest successes often come from challenges, so don't be discouraged!
Learning how to use APA effectively may be a challenge at first, but life's greatest successes often come from challenges, so don't be discouraged!

APA, the American Psychological Associate, is the format used in research papers and in some essays in the social sciences, such as psychology, sociology, and political science. APA is more technical than MLA, but over the years it has become more popular. Previously, the MLA style was used for all research papers in high schools and universities. Now, there are universities and graduate programs that require all term papers and essays to be written in the APA style. If you are most familiar with the MLA style, which is a bit easier to learn, learning the details of APA may help you come out ahead, whether it be in school or just life in general.

Basic APA Guidelines and Style

  • Double space
  • 1” margins
  • 12 point font in New Times Roman or Ariel
  • Capitalize proper nouns
  • You can use first person, but it is typically only pertinent in research papers where you did an experiment. For example, “I interpreted the results…”
  • In APA papers, clarity is crucial when reporting on research papers involving experiments. Do not confuse readers with too many unnecessary words. Be concise. For clarity, be specific rather than vague in descriptions and explanations. Condense as much information as you can.
  • Word choice is important in APA papers since they are within the social sciences. Research the field you are writing on to see what the proper terminology is. Commonly used words take on various meanings, but can have a profound effect on how those who read your report interpret your reported conclusions, findings, implications, and claims.
  • Avoid creative writing in APA papers. Otherwise, you may not illustrate your information clearly. Minimize figurative and poetic language. Avoid verses and rhymes. Use simple, descriptive plain language that is not confusing to your readers.
  • Headings are important in APA papers, because they separate sections and show a good flow of your information.

There are two types of types of APA papers: the literature review and experimental report. Each type of paper has a specific list of sections.

Type 1: Literature Review

The main type of APA paper is a literature review. It is a summary of what literature says about your topic. It involves research amongst many sources. There are four sections to an APA paper: the title page, an abstract, the main body, and references. Additionally, appendices may be necessary at the end of the paper.

(1) The Title Page – The title page cannot exceed 50 characters, but can be up to two lines long. However, there should be no more than 12 words in the title. The page header (running head) should be left aligned. (Please read more about the header at the end of the Hubpage). The running head should be at the top of each page as a shortened version of your title. The page number should be right aligned at the top of each page. It should be a shortened version of your title in all capitalized letters and left aligned. On the title page, the information should be centered both vertically and horizontally. The items that should be included in the title page are:

  • The Title
  • Your Name (First Name, Middle Initial, Last Name) – Do not include abbreviations (Dr., DDS, Ph.D., etc.)
  • The Institution (School) You Are Writing For
  • The Location of the Institution (School) You Are Writing For

(2) The Abstract – The abstract should be a summary of your research paper with approximately 100 to 150 words. The word Abstract should be centered horizontally with no special formatting. The abstract should be a single, double-spaced, paragraph in block style. Each page, including the abstract, should have the page number and your running header. Other things that can be included in the abstract include: the key points of the paper, research questions you answered, data analysis completed, topics covered, participants, methods, results, conclusions, and future work connected with your findings. At the bottom of the abstract (indented), you may list key words from your paper. This helps readers search for your paper in a large database.

(3) The Main Body of the Paper

(4) References: Requires all in-text citations to be included on the “References” page, and all references on the “References” page to be cited in the paper somewhere.

(5) Optional: Add appendices for any charts, graphs, figures, etc.

Which type of paper have you had to use the APA style on?

  • An Experiment Report
  • A Literature Review
  • Other
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Type 2: An Experimental Report

The second type of APA paper is an experimental report. This involves doing your own research, using the scientific method. The experimental report typically consists of the following sections:

  1. Title Page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Method
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Appendices (if needed)
  9. Tables, charts, or figures (if needed)

The APA In-text Citations

This article accounts for all situations that are involved in an APA paper, even specialized ones. If you find that you are unsure about a source and how to properly cite it, consider asking your teacher. He or she may appreciate the honesty.
This article accounts for all situations that are involved in an APA paper, even specialized ones. If you find that you are unsure about a source and how to properly cite it, consider asking your teacher. He or she may appreciate the honesty.
  1. If there is one author with a complete work: The stones were not to be touched (Carter, 2000). Final punctuation should be placed outside the parentheses. Five million men go swimming yearly, according to a 2004 article by Monica Kale Johnson. According to a recent article by Monica Kale Johnson (2004), five million men go swimming yearly. According to a recent article (Johnson, 2004), five million men go swimming yearly.
  2. If there is one author, citing part of work: Women suggested that cellular phones “may be the revolution” (Darning, 1999, p.13). Always give the page number.
  3. If there is only one author with more than one publication: Even though mice did not cure cancer, scientists continue to have hope (Penneys, 2003a, 2003b). The references in the “References” section will be: Pennys, A. (2003a). A Cancer Project Involving Mice. Science Daily, 145, 199. Pennys, A. (2003b). Solving Cancer with Experiments. Science Daily, 145, 388. If the same author has published two or more articles in the same year, avoid confusion by placing a smaller letter “a” after the first work listed in the “References” list, “b” after the next one, and so on.
  4. If there are two to five authors: Oklahoma’s population has risen (Jones, Jacobs, Candor, West, & Wilshire, 1999). All authors, up to as many as five, must be mentioned in the text citation. For works with more than two, but less than six authors, list all the authors the first time; after that, use only the name of the first author followed by “et al.” both for the first work cited in the text and all works cited after that. List all authors on your “References” page. Owners planned with a “SWOT Analysis” (Jones, et al., 1999).
  5. Indirect Source: If you want to cite a source in your report that is part of another source already mentioned in your report, cite the indirect source, using the words “as cited in.” This was a study by Gueirmo (as cited in Gober, 2007).
  6. Anonymous Work: Accountants affected the field (“Accountant Life,” 2010). Accountant Life is the name of the article.
  7. Long Quotations: Type quotations of 40 or more words block style flushed left, five spaces from the left-hand margin. Indent the first line of additional paragraphs in the long quotation five spaces from the opening quotation mark.
  8. Two or more works in a parenthetical reference: Today, there are more unmarried men (Smith, 2001; Kelsey, 2005). Two or more works with different authors with the same last name: Today, there are more unmarried men (K. Thompson, 2002; E. Thompson, 2000).
  9. Personal Communication (personal letters, phone calls, memos, and interviews): The company is dying according to M. A. Jessep (personal communication, May 22, 2012). The company is dying (M. A. Jessep, personal communication, May 22, 2012).
  10. Organizations: According to the American Psychological Association (2003), Bipolar is genetic. First citation: (American Psychological Association [APA], 2003). Second and the rest of the citations: (APA, 2003).
  11. Unknown author and unknown date: Use the title of a phrase or the first few words of the title in parentheses. School had unlimited supplies (“School Life,” n.d.).
  12. Internet: When a source, such as one on the Internet, lacks page numbers, you need to refer them to the paragraph. Acting as coordinator, Yates (2011),….(Management section, para. 3).

The APA In-text Examples

  • They are the set of values (Ivancevich & Duening, 2006) and applied to corporate behavior.
  • An accountant must consider the welfare of others (Smith, 2003).
  • The employee may choose to work (Atkinson, Banker, Kaplan, & Young, 1997).
  • “The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) adopted an ethical code for accountants” (Garrison, Noreen, & Brewer, 2010, p.14).
  • If unethical behavior occurs, they should report it (Neil, et all., 2008).
  • Walmart is considered to be the largest retailer (Kitlertphiroj, n.d.).
  • Employees are sources of new ideas (Wal-Mart: The Key to Success, 2007).
  • According to Walmart’s Equal Employment Opportunity Report (2005), over 40 percent of management is female.
  • They extend a warm welcome to customers (, 2011c) and hold the ten-foot rule.
  • This gives them on the job training (E. Sexton, personal communication, November 1, 2011).
  • A telephone system produces sounds at a distance, where those sounds are converted into electrical impulses for transmission (by wire or radio waves) (“Telephone,” 2010).
  • Paperwork would be minimized, and there is no annual fee for these cards (University of Washington, 2007a).
  • "Wal-Mart has had a history of opposition to unions and the best way to avoid a union is to go into states where it's more difficult to unionize” (Schepp, 2011, para. 20).

APA Footnotes and Endnotes

APA does not recommend footnotes or endnotes, but if you must use them to clarify your point, following the instructions on the Purdue OWL: APA Formatting and Style Guide.

How many times have you had to use the APA style of writing?

  • Never
  • 1-2
  • 3 or more
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Specialized APA Issues

1. Quotations: There are a variety of ways to cite a quotation, but it must always include a page number. Examples of how to do this include:

a. According to Bryan (2013), “a soft heart is easy to mend” (p.123).

b. In 2013, Bryan noted that “a soft heart is easy to mend” (p.123).

c. In fact, “a soft heart is easy to mend” (Bryan, 2013, p.123).

d. “A soft heart is easy to mend,” according to Bryan’s (2013, p.123) analysis.

e. Bryan’s (2013) findings were that a “soft heart is easy to mend” (p.123).

2. Facebook or Twitter: Monica K. Jacobson uses Twitter ( and Facebook ( to keep up to speed.

3. You Tube Video: The reference would look like:

Betsy. (2010, May 9). Man caught cheating [Video file]. Retrieved from The in-text citation should be (Betsy, 2010)

4. Formal and Legal Materials: The founders of the United Nations encouraged countries to work together on “international problems” (U.N. Charter art. 1, para. 6). This style of citing legal materials is based on The Bluebook (REF SL 654 B99 2006).

5. Header – The header of the first page should be different than the header on the second and following pages. (1) Insert Header, typing in the text you would like for the first page. (2) The Design tab at the top of the screen should be highlighted. (3) This will allow you to type in different text within your header beginning with page 2. The title page's header should look like this: Running Header: SHORT SUMMARY OF TITLE. The rest of the pages should have headers that look like this: SHORT SUMMARY OF TITLE.

Summary of APA Style, Formatting, and Citations

Papers that are to be done in the APA writing style are typically for the social sciences. APA papers should have clarity, proper word choice, and not be written in a creative, poetic style. The two main types of APA papers are a literary review and an experimental report. In general, in-text citations show in parenthesis the author, a comma, a space, and the year. Punctuation is shown on the outside of the sentence. If a quotation is listed, it is done in the same layout, except the page number is added. For multiple authors with the same last name, letters (“a,” “b,” etc.) are used to distinguish between the sources. This Hubpage goes over how to cite in-text multiple authors, indirect sources, anonymous works, long quotations, interviews, organizations, unknown authors and dates, Facebook and Twitter, You Tube, formal and legal material, and the Internet. Footnotes and end notes are not encouraged in APA style papers. Once you become familiar with how APA style papers are done, you can easily do them, even if you are accustomed to doing MLA papers.

How to Complete APA References

References will be discussed in detail in the APA Paper – Part 2 Hubpage. Please read this Hubpage if you are writing an APA style paper. It is crucial that your “References” section be correct, as it could be half of your grade.

Comments 4 comments

Larry Wall 3 years ago

Research papers should be documented and there should be some basic style rules. However, it is getting to the point that each paper looks like every other paper. The emphasis on rules and style, is putting a crimp on creativity.

I wrote 12 term papers in my college career and two reports for a governmental committee. All were well received.

I had enough trouble with ibid, loc cit and op cit. I am glad I am not in a position where I have to write such papers any longer.

misslong123 profile image

misslong123 3 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma Author

I do enjoy writing research papers. However, when I entered graduate school, they required ALL papers to be written in APA Style, which was like a foreign language to me. Of course, after years of getting my Master's Degree, I understand it now, but at the time, I was only familiar with the MLA Style, and I thought the APA Style looked SO weird! It really takes some getting used to, and I'm hoping for those who struggled to learn APA, like me, that this Hub will help them out. :)

jgshorebird profile image

jgshorebird 8 months ago from Earth

Great resource. Am helping a student with APA Style. When I was in college -- ancient history -- it was certainly different.

misslong123 profile image

misslong123 5 months ago from Edmond, Oklahoma Author

Thank you! I agree with you; when I was in school we used MLA, but years later when I went to grad school I had to learn APA and it was like a foreign language to me. It took me awhile to get the hang of it and it definitely didn't come naturally! I was really hoping to help others like myself to learn the ends and outs of this format.

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