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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 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.

Core Principles

Let’s start with a few basic rules.

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.

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).

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.”

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.

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)

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).

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 to Five Authors

The first time you cite three to five authors, provide each name:

Pointdexter, Hannity, de Gaulle, Musselman, and Pannekoek (2011) found …

(Pointdexter, Hannity, de Gaulle, Musselman, & Pannekoek, 2011).

Subsequent citations of the same source require only the first name, followed by the Latin abbreviation et al. (and others):

Pointdexter et al. 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)

Six or More Authors

For six or more authors, all citations should be shortened to the first name, followed by the Latin abbreviation et al. (and others):

Incorrect: (Headman, Fellows, Grey, Gray, Goat, & van Assen, 2017)

Correct: (Headman, et al., 2017)

Notice that the abbreviation is not italicized.

For instructions on how to differentiate identical shortened citations, see the previous section on three to five authors.

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 parentheses:

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

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

The PLSG (2010) argued …

Just make sure your reader can still locate the source in your references list. Finally, if the name is short, write it out each time.

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, please see pp. 174-79 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.).