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Welcome to our introduction to the APA style guide. APA stands for the American Psychological Association, a body that provides guidelines for a number of disciplines, particularly those in the social sciences. In this guide we explain the essential APA rules for citing sources and formatting your paper. For the official (and complete) style guide, you’ll have to buy the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Common Features

APA, like MLA, uses in-text citation, by which we mean that sources are cited in the body of the text, as opposed to in footnotes or end notes. Unlike MLA, APA puts more emphasis on the date of publication. Often it is enough to cite the author’s last name and the date:

Bobbejaan (1999) argued …

… melancholy (Hrapniuk, Irate, & Wyrd, 2017).

This is sufficient if you’re referring to the general argument of the source you’re citing. On the other hand, if you’re quoting or drawing attention to a specific passage, you will also need to provide a page number:

(Smith, 2008, p. 11).

In APA style, the final bibliography is called a reference list. Again, the date of publication receives more emphasis, and is placed close to the start of each entry:

Frenetick, J. (2014). The psychology of trout tickling. LNG Press.

Clearly, APA papers value research that is current and up to date.


APA style can seem overwhelming, since it covers not only citation and formatting rules, but also gives advice on how to do research properly. Our focus is on the former. As you take courses in the social sciences, you will learn how to do everything from statistical analysis to conducting experiments. Don’t feel you need to know everything at once–simply consult whatever sections are relevant to you now.