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APA Format Style Guide: In-Text Citations

This guide will assist you in writing research papers using the American Psychological Association (APA) Style. It will help explain formatting your paper as well as proper citation for various resources.

In-Text Citation Basics

APA style uses the author-date citation system, in which a brief in-text citation directs readers to a full reference list entry.  The in-text citation appears within the body of the paper (or in a table, figure, footnote, or appendix) and briefly identifies the cited work by its author and date of publication.  This enables readers to locate the corresponding entry in the alphabetical reference list at the end of the paper.

Each work cited must appear in te reference list, and each work in the reference list mst be cited in the text (or in a table, figure, footnote, or appendix).

Both paraphrases and quotations require citations.

The following are guidelines to follow when writing in-text citations:

  • Ensure that the spelling of author names and the publication dates in reference list entries match those in corresponding in-text citations.
  • Cite only works that you have read and ideas that you have incorporated into your writing.  The works you cite may provide key background information, support or dispute your thesis, or offer critical definitions and data.
  • Readers may find a long string of citations difficult to understand, especially if they are using assistive technology such as a screen reader; therefore, only include those citations needed to support your immediate point.
  • Cite primary sources when possible, and cite secondary sources sparingly.
  • Cite sources to document all facts and figures that you mention that are no common knowledge.
  • To cite a specific part of a source, provide an author-date citation for the work plus information about the specific part.
  • Even when sources cannot be retrieved (e.g. because they are personal communications), still credit them in the text (however, avoid using online sources that are no longer recoverable).

Appropriate Level of Citation

The number of sources you cite depends on the purpose of your paper.  For most papers, cite one or two sources for each key point. Literature review papers typically include a more exhaustive list of references.

Provide credit to the source whenever you do the following:

  • paraphrase the ideas of others
  • directly quote the words of others
  • refer to data or data sets
  • reprint or adapt a table or figure, even images that are free or licensed in the Creative Commons
  • reprint a long text passage or commercially copyrighted test item

Avoid undercitation and overcitation.  Undercitation can lead to plagiarism, while overcitation can be distracting and unnecessary.  

It is considered overcitation to repeat the same citation in every sentence when the source and topic have not changed.  Instead, when paraphrasing, cite the source in the first sentence in which it is relevant and do not repeat the citation as long as it remains clear and unchanged.

Parenthetical vs. Narrative Citations

In-text citations have two formats - parenthetical and narrative.

In parenthetical citations, the author name and publication date appear in parentheses.

In narrative citations, the author name is incorporated into the text as part of the sentence, and the year follows in parentheses.


Parenthetical Citations

Both the author name and the date, separated by a comma, appear in parentheses for a parenthetical citation.  A parenthetical citation can appear within or at the end of a sentence.

Falsely balanced news coverage can distort the public's perception of expert consensus on an issue (Koehler, 2016).

If other text appears with the parenthetical citation, use commas around the year.

(see Koehler, 2016, for more detail)

When text and a citation appear together in parentheses, use a semicolon to separate the citation from the text; do not use parentheses within parentheses.

(e.g., falsely balanced news coverage; Koehler, 2016)


Narrative Citations

The author's surname appears in running text, and the date appears in parentheses immediately after the author's name for a narrative citation.  The author's name can be included in the sentence in any place it makes sense.

Koehler (2016) noted the dangers of falsely balanced news coverage.

In rare cases, the author and date might both appear in the narrative.  In this case, do not use parentheses.

In 2016, Koehler noted the dangers of falsely balanced news coverage.

Secondary Sources

In scholarly work, a primary source reports original content; a secondary source refers to content first reported in another source.

Cite secondary sources sparingly - for instance, when the original work is out of print, unavailable, or available only in a language you do not understand.

If possible, find the primary source, read it, and cite it directly rather than citing a secondary source. 

When citing a secondary source:

  • In the reference list, provide an entry for the secondary source that you used.
  • In the text, identify the primary source and write "as cited in" the secondary source that you used.

If the year of the primary source is known, also include it in the text citation.

For example, if you read a work by Lyon et al. (2014) in which Rabbitt (1982) was cited, and you were unable to read Rabbitt's work yourself, cite Rabbitt's work as the original source, followed by Lyon et al.'s work as the secondary source.  Only Lyon et al.'s work appears in the reference list. 

(Rabbitt, 1982, as cited in Lyon et al., 2014)

If the year of the primary source is unknown, omit it from the in-text- citation.

Allport's diary (as cited in Nicholson, 2003)


A direct quotation reproduces words verbatim from another work or from your own previously published work.  It is best to paraphrase sources rather than directly quoting them because paraphrasing allows you to fit material to the context of your paper and writing style.

Use direct quotations rather than paraphrasing:

  • when reproducing an exact definition
  • when an author has said something memorably or succinctly
  • when you want to respond to exact wording

Instructors, editors, or publishers may establish limits on the use of direct quotations.  Consult your instructor or editor if you think you may have too many direct quotations in your paper.

For quotations fewer than 40 words, add quotation marks around the words and incorporate the quote into your own text.  Do no insert an ellipsis at the beginning or end of a quote unless it is included in the original source.

Effective teams can be difficult to describe because "high performance along one domain does not translate to high performance along another" (Ervin et al., 2018, p470).

For a direct quotation, always include a full citation in the same sentence as the quotation, including page number or other location information such as paragraph number.

  • Place a parenthetical citation either immediately after the quotation or at the end of the sentence
  • For a narrative citation, include author and year in the sentence, then place page number in parentheses after the quotation
  • If the quotation precedes the narrative citation, put the page number after the year and a comma
  • If the citation appears at the end of a sentence, put the end punctuation after the closing parenthesis for the citation
  • Place periods and commas within closing single or double quotation marks.  Place other punctuation marks inside quotation marks only when they are part of the quoted material.

Format quotations of 40 words or more as block quotations:

  • Do not use quotation marks to enclose a block quotation
  • Start a block quotation on a new line and indent the whole block .5 in from the left margin
  • Double-space the entire block quotation
  • Do not add extra space before or after it
  • If there are additional paragraphs within the quotation, indent the first line of each subsequent paragraph an additional .5 in. 
  • Either cite the source in parentheses after the quotation's final punctuation or cite the author and year in the narrative before the quotation and place only the page number in parentheses after the quotation's final punctuation
  • Do not add a period after the closing parenthesis in either case

Classroom/Intranet Sources

Some works are only recoverable by certain audiences, which affects how they are cited.

For example, a student writing a paper for a course assignment might cite works from the classroom website or learning management system.  These sources can be cited in the assignment because they are recoverable by the instructor and fellow students.  Likewise, an employee might cite resources from the company intranet when writing an internal company report.

For example, use the following format to cite a recorded lecture or PowerPoint presentation available on a class website or LMS for a student assignment.  Because the LMS requires users to log in, provide the homepage URL of the LMS rather than the full URL of the work.

Mack, R., and Spake, G. (2018). Citing open source images and formatting references for presentations [PowerPoint slides]. Canvas@FNU. https/://

Likewise, use the following format to cite a report on a company intranet.  Because this company intranet requires a login, provide the homepage URL not the full URL of the work.

American Psychological Association. (2019). Policies & procedures manual.

If the work is for professional publication or intended for a wider audience who will not have access to these sources, cite the sources as personal communications.


Plagiarism is the act of presenting the words, ideas, or images of another as your own, and denies the author of the content the credit they are due.  Plagiarism, whether intentional or unintentional, violates ethical standards of scholarship.

Writers who plagiarize disrespect the effort of original authors by failing to acknowledge their contributions, stifle further research by preventing readers from tracing ideas back to their original sources, and unfairly disregard those who exerted the effort to complete their own work.

To avoid plagiarism, provide appropriate credit to your sources by adding in-text citations in your paper.  If you model a study after one conducted by someone else, give credit to the original author of the study.


A paraphrase restates another's idea in your own words.  Paraphrasing allows you to summarize information from one or more sources, focus on significant information, and compare and contrast relevant ideas.

Published authors paraphrase their sources most of the time, rather than quote sources directly. Student writers should do the same.  When you paraphrase, cite the original work using either the narrative or parenthetical citation format.

It is not required to provide a page or paragraph number in the citation, you may include one when it would help interested readers locate the relevant passage within a long or complex work.

Webster-Stratton (2016) described a case example of a 4-year-old girl who showed an insecure attachment to her mother; in working with the family dyad, the therapist focused on increasing the mother's empathy for her child (pp. 152-153). 

If you read a paraphrase of a primary source in a published work and want to cite that source, it is best to read and cite the primary source directly if possible; if not, use a secondary source citation.

A paraphrase may continue for several sentences.  In such cases, cite the work being paraphrased on first mention.  Once the work is cited, it is not necessary to repeat the citation as long as the context of the writing makes it clear that the same work continues to be paraphrased.  If the paraphrase continues to a new paragraph, reintroduce the citation.  If the paraphrase incorporates multiple sources or switches between sources, repeat the citation so the source is clear.  Read your sentences carefully to ensure that you have cited sources appropriately.

Quotations from Research Participants

Quotations from participants you interviewed as part of your research are treated differently than quotations from published works.

  • When quoting research participants, use the same formatting as for other quotations
    • Present a quotation of fewer than 40 words in quotation marks within the text
    • Present a quotation of 40 words or more in a block quotation indented below the text
  • Because quotations from research participants are part of your original research, do not include them in your reference list or treat them as personal communications.  State in the text that the quotations are from participants.

In focus group discussions, participants described their postretirement experiences, including the emotions associated with leaving work and its affective and practical implications. “Rafael” (64 years old, retired pilot) mentioned several difficulties associated with retirement, including feeling like he was “in a void without purpose . . . it took several months to develop new interests that motivated [him] each day.” Several other participants agreed, describing the entrance into retirement as “confusing,” “lonely,” “purposeless,” and “boring.” In contrast, others described the sense of “balance” and “relaxation” retirement brought to their lives.

When quoting research participants, abide by any ethical agreements regarding confidentiality or anonymity agreed to between you and your participants during the consent or assent process.  Take care to obtain and respect participants' consent to have their information included in your report.  You may need to:

  • assign pseudonyms to participants
  • obscure identifying information
  • present aggregate informaiton

Personal Communications

Works that cannot be recovered by readers are cited in the text as personal communications.  Personal communications include emails, text messages, online chats or direct messages, personal interviews, telephone conversations, live speeches, unrecorded classroom lectures, memos, letters, messages from nonarchived discussion groups or online bulletins boards, and so on.

Use a personal citation only when a recoverable source is not available.  For example, if you learned about a topic via a classroom lecture, it would be preferable to cite the research on which the instructor based the lecture.  However, if the lecture contained original content not published elsewhere, cite the lecture as a personal communication.  

When communications are recoverable only in an archive (e.g., a presidential library), cite them as archival materials.

Do not use personal communication citations for quotes or information from participants whom you interviewed as part of original research; instead, quote those participants directly.

 Because readers cannot retrieve the information in personal communications, personal communications are not listed in a reference list.  Instead, they are cited in text only.  Give the initials and surname of the communicator, and provide as exact a date as possible, using the following formats:

  • Narrative citation: E.-M. Paradis (personal communication, August 8, 2019)
  • Parenthetical citation: (T. Nguyen, personal communication, February 24, 2020)

The method of citing Traditional Knowledge or Oral Traditions of Indigenous Peoples varies depending on whether and how the information has been recorded - only certain cases use a variation of the personal communication citation.

  • If the information has been recorded and is recoverable by readers, cite it in the text and include a reference list entry in the proper format. 
  • Maintain the integrity of Indigenous perspectives.  Ensure that information about Indigenous Peoples is accurate and appropriate to share before citing these works.

To describe Traditional Knowledge or Oral Traditions that are not recorded and therefore not recoverable by readers, provide as much detail as necessary in the in text citation.  For example, if you spoke with an Indigenous person directly to learn information, use a personal communication citation.

  • Provide the person's full name and the nation or specific Indigenous group to which they belong, as well as their loaction or other details about them as relevant, followed by the words "personal communication," and the date of the communication
  • Provide an exact date of correspondence if available; if correspondence took place over a period of time, provide a more general date or a range of dates.  The date refers to when you consulted with the person, not to when the information originated

We spoke with Anna Grant (Haida Nation, lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, personal communication, April 2019) about traditional understandings of the world by First Nations Peoples in Canada. She described . . .

  • Ensure that the person agrees to have their name included in you paper and confirms the accuracy and appropriateness of the information you present
  • A reference list entry is not used, as there is no recoverable source.
  • Capitalize most terms related to Indigenous Peoples.  These include names of specific groups (Cherokee, Cree, Ojibwe) and words related to Indigenous culture (Creation, the Creator, Elder, Oral Tradition, Traditional Knowledge, Vision Quest).  The capitalization is intentional and demonstrates respect for Indigenous perspectives.


Changes from 6th Edition to 7th Edition

Regardless of medium, all sources with three authors or more are now attributed using the name of the first author followed by "et al."

Exception - when this would cause ambiguity, e.g. if two papers have first listed authors with the same name.  In these cases, list as many names as needed to differentiate the papers, followed by "et al."

Oral traditions and traditional knowledge are now treated as a distinct source category.

New guidelines for presenting quotations from research participants.