A Definitive Guide to APA Format/Citation Style


APA is an acronym for the American Psychological Association. The APA format is a style of documentation of sources used by the American Psychological Association. It is mainly used by researchers and students in the social sciences, for example, anthropology, psychology, sociology, etc., as well as those in education and other fields.

The APA format was first published in a psychological bulletin in 1929, the article laid out the basic guideline of the referring format. Subsequently, these guidelines were developed into the APA publication manual. The APA was initially proposed for the social sciences in an attempt to allow researchers and students to communicate information about their experiments and ideas in a consistent manner.

Having a consistent style and sticking to it will allow readers to know how to look for and locate the sources cited in journal articles in a particular field. The APA citation guide provides the necessary information on how to go about the in-text citations as well as the reference page. (Can you cite Wikipedia?)

APA, over the years, has become one of the most common referencing formats among others like Chicago and MLA referencing formats. When writing a paper, it is essential to know which referring format you are to adhere to. However, if you have never used a particular format before, you might find it rather challenging, as different formats have different writing styles and guidelines.

Example of APA format
Example 1: APA format


How Does the APA Format Work?

When you are using the APA format, there are two main things you need to know. They are In-text citations and the reference page.

In-text citations

You are expected to include an in-text citation when you are summarizing, paraphrasing, or quoting another source. This is a clear and concise way to let the readers know where the idea came from as well as a great way to give credit to the original author. For every in-text citation, there must be a corresponding entry included in your reference list.

In APA’s in-text citation, you are to use the author’s last name and the year of publication, all enclosed in parentheses, for example (Smith 2020). When you are quoting a source, it is important to include the page number where the quote is located, for example (Smith 2020, p. 6).

In the in-text citation of the APA style, there are no distinctions made between journal articles, books, website documents, or any other source type. Unless for the quotation of electronic documents that do not provide a page number. In this case, you are expected to use the paragraph number.

When Citing in APA Format:

1 author APA format1 author

Climatology has played a significant role in the understanding of geological processes……… (Bastien, 2018)

(Bastien, 2018) explained how Climatology played a major role in the understanding of geological processes………

2 authors APA citation format2 authors

When two authors write the source of the information you include in your work, then you are to separate their last name with an ampersand (&), or with the word ‘and’ when citing them in a text.


There are online applications that are available for……… (Al-Adwan and Smedley, 2012).

Al-Adwan and Smedley (2012) stated that there are online applications that are available for………

3-5 authors APA citation style3-5 authors

When your source has between 3 to 5 authors, you are expected to separate their last names using commas. However, the last two authors’ last names are to be separated with both a comma and an ampersand or and.


The revolution of the Internet has also led to the development of…….. (Aba, Beetseh, Ogban, and Umogbai, 2015).

Aba, Beetseh, Ogban, and Umogbai (2015) noticed that the revolution………….

When you are citing the same source again in your paper, you are expected to shorten the citation by including only the last name of the first author followed by “et al.”


Following the discovery in numerous studies…… (Aba et al., 2015).

Aba et al. (2015) found out that……………

6 author apa format6 or more authors

If the source is having six authors or more, you are expected to use the shortened version of the citation to save space


Climatology has helped understand climate change……… (Ramili et al., 2011).

Ramili et al. (2011) discovered that………….

  • An organization as an author

A source might not have an individual author listed. It is most likely attributed to an organization.


Several studies have shown that the coronavirus disease………. (WHO, 2020).

WHO (2020) discovered that the coronavirus disease…………

  • Multiple sources in a citation

There are instances whereby a sentence would require the citation of more than one source. You are allowed to combine them in one set of parentheses. Each source is to be separated by semicolons.


Several studies have shown that the development of…….. ( Lau and Yuen, 2014; Leeming, 2014; Ison, 2015).

  • A quotation

When you are quoting a source, you are expected to add the page number of where the quote can be found in the source.


“The greenhouse effect is a natural process that helps to warm the surface of the earth………..” (Zillman & Steven, 2017, p. 5).

  • Authors with multiple works

If the various sources used in a sentence are works by the same author, then you are expected to use the last name of the author, followed by the dates in chronological order.


The increased use of the Internet for instructional purposes has caused some debates………. (            Ison, 2007, 2013, 2017).

Ison (2007, 2013, 2017) stated that the increased use of the Internet for instructional purposes had caused some debates……….

  • Authors with multiple works in a single year

When you are to cite different sources that have the same author in the same year, then they should be cited with a, b, c, etc. following the date. Subsequently, these letters should be included in the source’s entry in the reference list.


As a result of the rapid rise of the use of the Internet among…… (Hee, 2012a)

Since the Internet have been incorporated into people’s………. (Hee, 2012b)

Hee (2012a) stated that of the rapid rise of the use of the Internet among……

Hee, (2012b) realized that the Internet had been incorporated into people’s…………

  • A secondary source

When citing a source as it was cited in another source, the last name of the original author, as well as the date of the publication, should be stated first, followed by “as cited in” followed by the last name and then the publication date of the secondary source.


The Climate system is an interactive system that consists of five major components……. (Baede, 2000, as cited in Ahlonsou, 2006).

Baede (2000), as cited in Ahlonsou (2006), defined the Climate system as an interactive system that consists of five major components…….

APA format
Example 2: APA format


Reference List – APA Format

At the end of your paper, you are expected to include a list of references, that is a single list of all the sources you have used and cited during your work. The reference list should be on a new page and be titled “References.” The title should be centered on the page; more importantly, each entry should have a hanging indent.

Every source that has been cited in your paper must be included in your reference list. Each reference entry must consist of the author’s last names followed by the initials followed by the date or year of publication, and the title of the source. Also, you are expected to list each item alphabetically by author’s last name, the title of the source should, however, be in italics.

However, unlike the case of in-text citation, the referencing format differs from source type to source type. Therefore, the necessary information that should be included is dependent on the type of source you are referencing. Variations include:

cititng a book APA format Referencing a book

When you are writing a paper in APA format and need to cite a book, the entry in the reference list must contain the following in this order: Author’s last name, Initials. (Year of publication). Book title(edition). City, State/Country: publisher.


Kowalski, R.M., Limber, S.P., & Agatston, P.W. (2012). Cyberbullying: Bullying in the digital age. Second Edition. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons.

referencing to a book chapter APA format Referencing a chapter in a book

The entry of a book chapter citation in the reference list should contain the following in this particular order: Chapter’s Author’s last name, Initials. (Year of publication).  Chapter title. In editors Initials, editors last name (Ed.). Book title (edition, pp. chapter’s page range). City, State/Country: publisher.


Samuel, D.J., Jr. (2014). Resetting of the aorta. In D.S. Joshua (Ed.). Clinical management of congenital heart disease: From young to old (pp. 142-170). Minneapolis, Minnesota: Cardioprint Publishing.

citing ebook APA format citation styleReferencing an E-book

The information required in E-book citation entry is the same as that of a book, except that the publisher will be swapped for the URL where the book was gotten: Author’s last name, Initials. (Year of publication). Book title(edition). Retrieved from URL.


Tokunaga, R.S. (2010). Following you home from school. Retrieved from https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/bulletin/ Following-you-home-from-school

referencing journal article APA format Referencing a journal article

The entry of a journal article citation in the reference list should contain the following in this particular order: Author’s last name, Initials. (Year of publication). Article title. Journal Name, Volume (Issue), Page Number(s). Digital Object Identifier


Naail, M. K. (2014). Factors influencing internet ethics at the office: A Study Of Professionals In South-East Africa. Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 9, 91-103. https://doi.org./10.1177/1527002500

referencing website document APA format Referencing a Website document

The entry of a website document citation in the reference list should contain the following in this particular order: Author’s last name, Initials. (Year, month and day of publication). Page title [OptionalType]. Retrieved (date retrieved) from http://webaddress


MacMillan, A. (2016, March 11). Global Warming, 101. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from NRDC: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/global-warming-101

citing report APA format Referencing a report

The entry of a report citation in the reference list should contain the following in this particular order:  Organization’s Name or Author’s last name, Initials. (Year of publication). Report title. Retrieved from http://webaddress


Pepito, A. (2017). How Does Climate Change Affect the Biosphere? Retrieved from https://prezi.com/zlq7l11qa-1c/how-does-climate-change-affect-the-biosphere.pdf

referencing newspaper article apa format Referencing a newspaper article

The entry of a newspaper article citation in the reference list should contain the following in this particular order: Author’s last name, initial(s). (Year, Month Day of publication). Title. Title of Newspaper, column/section, p. or pp. Retrieved from URL

You are expected only to include the URL if the article is online.


Schwartz, J. (1993, September 30). Reasons why the changes to citation formats shook the research world. The Washington Post, pp. A1, A4. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com

referencing magazine article apa format Referencing a magazine article

The entry of a magazine article citation in the reference list should contain the same information as that of a newspaper article citation with the exclusion of column and section number.


Pepito, A. (2017, August 21). How Does Climate Change Affect the Biosphere?. The environmentalist, pp. 21-25.

referencing to electronic materials apa format Referencing electronic materials

Electronic materials like an image, a song or movie can be cited in your work, and they have different formats for citations

Images: Author’s last name, initials. (date of publication). Title of image [media type]. Retrieved from URL


Slingo, J. (2017). Oceania [picture]. Retrieved from www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/Slingo-oceania.jpg

Song: Writer’s last name, initials. (copyright year). Song title [Recorded by artist name]. On Album title [medium of recording]. Location of the label: label’s name. (recording date)


Mathers, M. (2013). Rap God [Eminem]. On The Marshall Mathers LP 2 [ visual album]. Ferndale, Michigan: Effigy Studios. (October 15).

Movie: Producer last name, initials (Producer), & Director last name, initials (Director). (Year of Release). Title of film [Motion Picture]. Country: Studio’s name.


Dwayne, A. (Producer), & Hart, A. (1954) The soul of a king. United States of America: Paramount Pictures.

Formatting For Papers

When you are writing a paper in APA format, there are specific formatting rules that you have to follow. The basic rules are as follows:

Font: The font type should be “Times New Roman,” and the font size should be “12pt”.

Line spacing: The line spacing to be used is “double line spacing.”

Margin: The margin on your paper must be “one-inch (2.54cm)”.

Alignment: The text in your paper should be left-aligned, running head with a title and page number.

Title page: Your title page must include a running head, the title of your paper, the full name of the author(s) as well as the name of the institution.

APA format example 3
Example 3: APA format

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