APA Style-Citations

Publication Manual cover

What is APA?

APA stands for the American Psychological Association.  This group establishes the standards and conventions which determine how papers in APA style look and how sources are cited when used in papers in this style.  All of the latest information about AP style and citations can be found in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, sixth edition.  Various cites on the internet also have information about APA–be sure, though, that what you are looking at references the sixth edition and not an earlier version.

When do I use APA?

APA (American Psychological Association) is most often used for writing in the social sciences, but it has been adapted by other disciplines.  Therefore, if you are in one of the following classes, your instructor may also ask that you use this style: education, hard sciences, mathematics, international studies, journalism, linguistics, criminal justice, nursing, business, and technology.

APA is not used in the following disciplines: Communication, Humanities, Literature, Religion, and Theatre.  Many times instructors who are teaching classes in Fine Arts, Liberal Arts, or Philosophy also require students to use MLA.  They, may, however, ask that students use APA, Chicago style, or another style used by their discipline.  Often, this depends on the structure of the particular college and what division or school these classes are considered to be a part of as well as the preferences of instructors teaching the classes.

If your instructor hasn’t stated in the assignment guidelines or the course outline/syllabus which style you should be using, make sure you check with them before writing your paper.

When do I need to cite a source?

Any time that you have ideas or words from a source which aren’t yours, you need to cite where they came from.  If you use a direct quotation from a source (meaning what appears in your paper is exactly the same as the original source), you need to cite it.  If you paraphrase (so some of the words are yours, some come from the source, but the ideas are all from the source), you need to cite it.  If you have summarized information from the source (the words are all yours, but the ideas are from the source), you still need to cite it.

If you aren’t sure whether or not to cite something, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

Did I know this before I read the sources for my paper or before I started this project?

Is this a general fact that most people accept to be true and would just know without doing any specialized reading or research to know it? (ex. Abraham Lincoln was once the president of the United States.)

Did this idea originate in my head?

If the answer to any of these is no, then you need a citation.  If you knew something before you started this project, you still may need to cite it.  If it’s not common knowledge (a general fact like the statement about Lincoln) and/or it’s not your original idea, then you still should acknowledge where you obtained that idea from.  A good rule to follow is that if you’re unsure, it’s better to cite when you don’t need to than to not cite something when you should have.  Remember, if you have particular questions about this, your instructor or the staff in the WC can help you with this.


What does APA citation consist of?

APA citations have two parts:

  1. In-text parenthetical citations which follow the name-date format. If you are referring to an idea from a source but not directly quoting it (the ideas are from the source but the words are yours), then this is the only in-text citation you will need.  However, if you are directly quoting something from a source (both the words and ideas are from the source), then you must also include the specific page number (s) where the quotation appeared in the source. If summarizing or paraphrasing, you are not required to list the page number (s) where you found the information, but APA suggests that you do for clarity.  If you are thinking of not including them, be sure to check with your instructor to make sure that he or she does not prefer that they are included.
  2. A list of publication information for the resources you used at the end of your paper known as the “References.”

This chart helps you see how to create in-text citations for different types of situations. The second column (First citation in text) shows what it looks like if you are using the author’s name in the lead in.  For example, ” Walker (2007) observed that…”  The fourth column (Parenthetical format, first citation in text) is a bit different.  It shows you how to create the reference if you haven’t stated the name of the author in your text already.  For example, “Researchers observed that…” While Walker may have been one of those researchers, we haven’t named him directly.  Therefore, we have to include his name in the parenthetical reference.

Image result for when to cite in APA

The APA Style blog has several easy to follow examples of how to reference page numbers when using direct quotations.

What information will I need from my sources in order to cite them on a references page?

Here are the core elements you will need to know about any source you site:

  • First and last name of author (s)
  • Date of Publication
  • Title of source (If you are referencing an article, make sure that you also have the title of the longer work in which appeared.)
  • Volume and number of the source, if assigned
  • Location of Publication
  • Name of Publisher
  • DOI for digital resources
  • URL if a DOI is not assigned

What is a DOI?

The Digital Object Identifier (DOI) is a string of letters and numbers which work as an active link to digital sources. They are more stable and longer lasting than URLs.  This is why APA recommends using them whenever they are available instead of a URL.  Some publishers list the DOI on the first page of an article; however, many do not.  Several publishers “hide” the DOI  under a button that says “Article” or that is some abbreviation of the publisher’s name. In these instances, it is necessary to click on these buttons to view the entire article.  What you are viewing before doing so is an abbreviated version of the article.

What if I can’t find all of that information?

Okay, well, a few things might be going on here.  One is that some of these elements don’t always apply to every source.  For example, if you are looking at a hard copy book, then you aren’t going to have a container name because the book title is both the title of the source and the title of the container.  It doesn’t exist as a part of something larger.  Does that make sense? Also, not all articles that you find in a database are going to have a DOI listed (although if they do, you should use this instead of the URL).

Secondly, that information may not be available.  If there’s no author listed, then of course, you can’t provide that.  (However, if there are several elements not available, then you really need to question whether or not you should be using this source in an academic paper.) Finally, the information is out there, you just don’t know where to look for it.  If that’s the case, then you have an obligation to provide it.  As an ethical scholar, researcher, and writer, you have to provide accurate and complete information to your readers about your sources.  You can’t just skip it. If you’re having problems locating information or knowing if what you’ve found is the right information to cite your sources, talk to your instructor, the writing center staff, or one of the librarians at the DACC library for help.

What does an entry on my References page look like?

This is the basic pattern that all of your entries will follow.  Some, such as journal articles or electronic sources are more complex, but they still build on this pattern.

Image result for when to cite in APA


Find advice on how to cite social media in APA here: http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2013/10/how-to-cite-social-media-in-apa-style.html.

The OWL at Purdue has extensive information on how to cite a variety of sources here:

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/1/. Use the index list on the left side of the screen to look up the type of source you need to cite.

Isn’t there just a program that will do all of this for me?

Uhm…yes, and no.

As a DACC student, you have access to Noodle Tools which, among other things, is a citation creator.  You can use your account to store research information, help you organize notes, create an outline for your paper, and help you create your citations which can be exported to a word document for your works cited list.  However, you need to realize that it is just a computer program which assists you with these tasks. You still need to be able to know what type of source you are looking at in order to tell it which type of citation to create and you need to be able to locate all of the elements for the citation so that you can give it the correct information.

You can access Noodle Tools here: http://dacc.libguides.com/noodletools. If you are working off campus or using your personal computer while at DACC and haven’t used Noodle Tools before, you will need to contact the DACC Library staff to get the log in information.  You should not have to do this if you are using a DACC computer on campus. You can contact them at  443-8739 or library@dacc.edu.

Now that you have a better understanding of the basics of APA, you are ready to start working on your project.  If you have questions or need help, be sure to talk to your instructor or contact one of the tutors in the writing center for help.  The APA Style blog also has a page with some FAQs if you need more detailed information about the topics we’ve discussed here, and it has a search box you can use to access their information. Their page is easy to navigate and understand, even if you aren’t used to using APA.