APA In-Text Citation: Basic Rules

Introduction

When you cite your sources in the text of your essay (what is commonly called in-text citation), you normally need to give just enough information so your reader can easily find the source in your final list of references. As with MLA style, citations are included in the text and not in the footnotes, though you are of course allowed to add footnotes for clarification and extra information.

There are a few sources that can be cited only in the text, and not in the reference list:

  • Personal communications that are not easily accessible
  • General references to websites, journals, apps, etc.
  • Quotations from research participants
  • Epigraphs

Core Principles

APA in-text citations focus on the author and the date of publication. If you’re quoting (rather than paraphrasing) you should also add the page number.

Here are a few sample in-text citations using the same source:

Jones (2017) argues that children who are unable to blow bubbles with their bubble gum are more likely to experience bouts of depression during adolescence.

In 2017, Jones argued that children who are unable to blow bubbles with their bubble gum are more likely to experience bouts of depression during adolescence.

Children who are unable to blow bubbles with their bubble gum are more likely to experience bouts of depression during adolescence (Jones, 2017).

For children unable to blow bubbles with their bubble gum, the results can be tragic: “Around 16% suffer from depression in their teenage years” (Jones, 2017, p. 44).

The first two examples are called narrative citations because they are part of the sentence itself. The last two examples are parenthetical citations: they enclose all the information in a final set of parentheses.

If you’re familiar with a different method of citation, watch out for the following features of APA style:

  • Authors are cited by last name only, though in the final list of references, initials may also be given.
  • All elements within parentheses are separated by commas.
  • Page numbers are introduced with a “p.” or “pp.”
  • Suffixes (e.g., Jr.) are omitted.

You will also note that APA essays frequently engage with the overall argument of a source, rather than some small detail or snippet. That is why often only the author and date are given, and no page number is provided. However, page numbers are important for direct quotations and can be helpful when paraphrasing a specific passage in a longer work.

The Ampersand

When citing works with multiple authors, you should join the names with “and” in the text of your essay, and with an ampersand (&) in parentheses:

Urchin, Urnwood, Unction, and Creep (2007)

(Urchin, Urnwood, Unction, & Creep 2007)

No Date of Publication

Should it happen that your source lacks a date or has not been published yet, then you can add “n.d” or “in press”:

(Crikey, n.d.)

(Flaky, in press)

Repeated Citations

When you use the same source multiple times in the same paragraph, you don’t necessarily need to cite it in every sentence. For example, when paraphrasing a source, make sure it is cited in the first sentence. Subsequently, when naming the source in the course of a sentence (as opposed to in parentheses), you can omit the date. If you introduce a different source or start a new paragraph, you’ll have to cite your original source in full again:

Fleaburg (2005) argued that giving more expensive roses on Valentine’s Day provided a greater happiness quotient than during the rest of the year. Part of the reason appears to be that the added cost is a marker of investment in the relationship. However, Fleaburg points out that once the cost reaches a certain threshold (typically around three times the normal price), the emotional returns start to dwindle, and may even be reversed should the parties be struggling financially or be of Dutch heritage. Similar research by Tillbury (2009) and Muffin (2018) confirms these findings. Nevertheless, it has been pointed out that more research needs to be done to take into account the effect of Costco wholesale flower prices (Fleaburg, 2005).

Numbers of Authors

One Author

When citing a single author, drop any suffixes (e.g., Jr.), and provide both the author’s name and the date:

Obermaus (2016) determined that psychotic taxi drivers are less likely to cause accidents.

Psychotic taxi drivers are less likely to cause accidents (Obermaus, 2016).

As mentioned above, if you’ve mentioned the author’s name outside of parentheses, then you can omit the date the next time you mention the name outside of parentheses (and in the same paragraph):

Obermaus (2016) determined that psychotic taxi drivers are less likely to cause accidents. Obermaus believed that … However, Obermaus (2016) also found that psychotic taxi drivers are more prone to road rage during traffic jams.

However, if you are citing multiple sources, or if the name is in parentheses, then make sure you provide both the name and the date in your next citation. This rule also applies if you’re citing more than one author.

Two Authors

For a single work by two authors, provide both names in every citation:

Frock and Flinck (1999) found that among some of the Bogo tribes, ritualized courtships consisted of elaborate handstands and cartwheels.

Among some of the Bogo tribes, ritualized courtships consisted of elaborate handstands and cartwheels (Frock & Flinck, 1999).

Note the use of the ampersand when names are joined in parentheses.

Three or More Authors

Anytime you’re citing a source by three or more authors, list just the first name followed by the Latin abbreviation et al. (and others):

Pointdexter et al. (2011) found …

(Pointdexter et al., 2011)

Notice that the abbreviation is not italicized.

If the shortened citation and date are the same as for another publication (that shares a similar group of authors), cite as many authors as necessary to distinguish the two sources. For instance, let’s say you want to shorten the following lists of authors:

(Smiley, Gaylord, Sanguin, & Giggles, 2009)

(Smiley, Stephens, Smith, & Stitch, 2009)

You would shorten as follows:

(Smiley, Gaylord, et al., 2009)

(Smiley, Stephens, et al., 2009)

If the last author is the only one that’s different, then just write out all the names.

Groups

Some sources are authored by groups (e.g., associations, societies, institutions). Spell them out fully the first time. If you intend to shorten them later, add the abbreviation in the parentheses:

The Pathological Liars Study Group (PLSG, 2010) found that …

(Pathological Liars Study Group [PLSG], 2010)

After the first citation, you can provide just the abbreviated form:

The PLSG (2010) argued …

Group names should be spelled out fully in your reference list.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve learned the author-date system, check out also our other page on in-text citation, which covers some more unusual types of citations. 

 


For more information about APA in-text citation, see chapter 8 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).