APA Citation Unveiled: Your Comprehensive Guide to Accurate Academic Referencing

Home » APA Citation Unveiled: Your Comprehensive Guide to Accurate Academic Referencing

Using other people’s findings is natural when working on research or academic projects. It helps to develop ideas and build an argument with supporting evidence. Students and scholars need to have a proper citation style to use sources correctly. 

In this guide, you will learn all the intricacies of APA style and how to apply it easily. 

Mastering APA Style: A Foundation of Academic Excellence

Before we get into details on how to cite in APA, it is crucial to understand what it is and why it is so important in academia. 

APA stands for the American Psychological Association, which created this style around 1929. Since then, it has undergone several changes. The newest seventh edition was released in 2020. It is a current guideline for correct citations. 

Researchers and students use APA in Social and Behavioral Sciences (Psychology, Education, Sociology, Anthropology, or Business). Its main goal is to unify the citations in different works. Before it was introduced, researchers could cite sources as they like. It created many difficulties in finding references and navigating works. On the contrary, APA provides standardization for convenience and ease of scholars. 

Also, APA allows students to work with sources correctly and avoid plagiarism. Plagiarism is a complex issue that might occur unintentionally. For example, if a student paraphrases the source and forgets to mention the author in the text, it is considered a case of plagiarism. Even if a student mentions the source but paraphrases it incorrectly, it might be considered plagiarism. 

Such rules might sound strict at first, but they serve the primary purpose – ensuring the integrity of academic work. Even unintentional plagiarism can undermine the whole work of a student or researcher. All of that time and effort will go nowhere. It is crucial to learn how to use APA correctly to avoid that.


There are two main parts of this style: in-text citations and references. The first one covers any citation or paraphrasing that appears in the text and leads the reader to the reference list for complete information, for instance:

…anger response (Brown, 2018, p. 38).

References cover sources given at the end of the work, for instance: 

Brown, H. (2018). Emotional regulation in adults with late-diagnosed ADHD (3d ed.) Penguin Books. 

The Art of Citing: Navigating In-Text Citations and Reference Lists

Let us start with details on in-text citations. 

How to cite APA in text?

Usually, two ways to cite a source are direct quotation or paraphrasing. In any case, the writer must signify the author and year in the brackets at the end of the sentence. Researchers can also include a specific page or timestamp:

(Wallenstein, 2021, p.13)

This order is called parenthetical citation. Another option is to use a narrative one, for instance: 

Wallenstein (2021, p.13) notes that…

In this case, researchers introduce the author directly in the text, leaving the publication year and a page in brackets. 

However, what if there are two authors? Then, you will need to mention both of them:

(Barnes & Holstein, 2011) or Barnes and Holstein (2011). 

Similar logic applies to three or more authors: 

(Barnes et al., 2019) or Barnes et al. (2019).

If you do not know the author’s name, use the name of the source first (Source Name, 2018). When the date is missing, use “n.d.” (no date) instead of it (Brown, n.d.). 

How to create an APA references list

The references come at the end of the work. They include:

  • The author; 
  • Publication date;
  • Name of the work; 
  • Source (publishing house or website). 

It is common practice to add the journal’s name along with the issue when using periodicals. It is vital so that a reader can easily find the source. Everything plays an integral part in the reference list, from punctuation to italicization. 


Lacey, J.M. (2017). Behavioral Science and Shopping: A Complete Guide (2nd ed). American Psychological Association. 

Journal article: 

Dash, G.F.,Carter, E., Karalunas, S.L., Hundson, K.A., Fair, D., Feldstein E., Sarah W. (2023). Twin study of caffeine use, ADHD, and disrupted sleep in ACBD youth. Health Psychology, 42(12), 889-893. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0001252


National Institute for Mental Health. (2010). Bipolar Disorders (NIMH Publication 7-12). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. 

Digital Era Citations: Tackling Electronic Sources in APA

Nowadays, almost any information or publication can be found online. That is why students might wonder how to cite APA in text if it is an electronic source. Do not worry; there are clear guidelines in this regard as well. 

First, two types of links are used in APA – URL and DOI. URL is a typical link you see on the top of any page on the internet, like https://wikipedia.org

DOI stands for Direct Object Identifier. Usually, it looks like https://doi.org/xxxx

It is a number that publishers of journals and periodicals create for articles. DOI is helpful because it is constant, unlike URL. URLs can be broken or outdated, so the link from the reference list no longer works. DOI allows researchers to combat this problem because it is static; it never changes. 

If an article or publication has a DOI number, include it. It is a preferred way in any academic work. Nevertheless, if there is no DOI, it is okay to include a URL. 

Other important rules to remember for electronic sources are: 

  • Do not put a period at the end of the link or citation; 
  • Always include a retrieval date (the exceptions are sources that change regularly, like Wikipedia pages); 
  • Naming the database is not necessary; 
  • Break long links (longer than one line) before a punctuation mark. 

Here are several examples of how to cite digital sources in APA. 

Devis, L.J., Corey M.D., Sorens K. (2017). Autism in bilingual teenagers: A qualitative interview study. PsyArXiv. https://doi.org/18403304/ids/4629

In-text: (Devis et al., 2017) or Devis et al. (2019). 

Emerson W., Louson K.J., Santiago R. (2022, September 17-19). ADHD in Women: The main problems in early-age diagnostics [Conference presentation]. APA 2022 Convention, Chicago, IL, United States. https://convention.apa.org/2022-video

In-text: (Emerson et al., 2022) or Emerson et al. (2022). 

APA Pitfalls and Pro Tips: Avoiding Common Mistakes

Although the rules are clear, it is not uncommon for students and researchers to make mistakes in citation style. Often, it is a case of inattentiveness or lack of proofreading. At other times, one might be dealing with a source they are unsure how to cite in APA. That is why we collected the best tips on how to avoid mistakes. 

  1. Always quote a source correctly with direct in-text citations. Copy it exactly word for word; otherwise, it can be considered a plagiarism case. You do not have to use the entire sentence, but the part used has to be the same as in the original source. 
  2. When paraphrasing, do not substitute the original words with synonyms. It might change the initial information. 
  3. Always proofread citations and references slowly and with precision. Pay attention to punctuation and italicization. It is one of the most common ways to avoid mistakes. Make sure all the commas and periods are in the right place. 
  4. Have guidelines nearby while proofreading the work. This way, you can always have a look to make sure you remember how to in text cite APA in each particular case. 
  5. APA style has an official page at https://apastyle.apa.org/. There, you can find the latest updates, rules, and many examples. There are examples for any type of source, from an e-book to a Facebook post. 
  6. Google Scholar offers automatic APA references for sources. Students can simply copy and paste it. However, it is better to still proofread them just in case. 

Alternatively, one can use citation software and online tools. Some of the best are Citation Machine, APA Format Generator by Grammarly, and Free APA Citation Generator by Scribbr. Remember to proofread them, just in case.