Citing in-text sources according to the APA rules

Date published by Date updated: March 27, 2017

When you use a source, you are required to cite it directly in the text. The APA Style requires that you always note the author and year of publication.

The basic rules for in-text citations

It’s important to remember that you must cite every type of source in exactly the same way. For instance, there is no difference between a book and a Facebook message. However, there is a difference between quoting a source and paraphrasing or summarizing a source.

With an in-text citation, you always note the author and the year of publication of the source. If you use a quote then you also always mention the page number of the relevant quote.

So:

  • Paraphrase/summary: Author and publication year
  • Quote: Author, publication year and page number

Examples

Example: Citing sources in-text with a paraphrase or summary
Option 1: Research by Scribbr shows that there is a great need for an APA Generator (Swaen, 2014).
Option 2: Swaen (2014) writes that there is a great need…
Option 3: In 2014, there was concern that Swaen forgot to think about…

When you use Option 1, always put the source before the final punctuation mark of the sentence. So, the period of the sentence always comes after the source reference. Always use a comma between the author and the year of publication.

Example: Citing in-text with a quote
Option 1: This is also true from the business plan: “making an APA Generator is a lot of work but many students benefit from it” (Swaen, 2014, pp. 14-15).
Option 2: Swaen (2014) states the following: “making an APA Generator is a lot of work but many students benefit from it” (pp. 14-15).
Option 3: In 2014, Swaen wrote as follows: “making an APA Generator is a lot of work but many students benefit from it” (pp. 14-15).

When quoting, the period still comes after the source reference.

More APA examples

Multiple authors

Has the source been written by multiple authors? With three or more authors, the rules change slightly.

For two authors, you use an ampersand (&) at the end of the text, and you use ‘and’ in the running text.

Example: 2 authors
Research by Scribbr shows that there is a great need  (Swaen & Driessen, 2014).
Swaen and Driessen (2014) write that there is a great need…

In the first in-text reference, you note all of the authors. In the following reference, you only note the first author, followed by ‘et al.’.

Example: Citing 3-5 authors at end of text
First citation: Research by Scribbr shows that there is a great need (Swaen, Driessen, & Van Laak, 2014).
Subsequent citations: In addition, many students make use of it (Swaen et al., 2014).
Example: Citing 3-5 authors in running text
First citation:  Swaen, Driessen, and Van Laak (2014) argue that much research about this phenomenon has been done.
Subsequent citations: Swaen et al. (2014) notice the differences becoming greater.

Here, you should note only the first author, followed by ‘et al.’. Be careful! If this abbreviation causes this short reference to be identical to another source from the same year, then add extra authors until the sources can be distinguished from each other. Again, as long as you leave authors out, you end the citation with ‘et al.’.

Example: Citing 6 or more authors at end of text
First citation: The authors argue that the difference is becoming greater (Swaen et al., 2014).
Subsequent citations: Despite these differences, the agreements remain influential (Swaen et al., 2014).
Example: Citing 6 or more authors in running text
First citation: Swaen et al. (2014) see the differences becoming greater but they remain optimistic.
Subsequent citations: Swaen et al. (2014) remain not only optimistic, but they are also going full steam ahead.

A complete overview of citing with multiple authors

Number of authorsFirst citation in text (paraphrase or summary)Subsequent citations in text (paraphrase or summary)*First citation in text (quote)Next citation in text (quote)*
1 author(Swaen, 2014)(Swaen, 2014)(Swaen, 2014, p. 4)(Swaen, 2014, p. 4)
2 authors(Swaen & Driessen, 2014)(Swaen & Driessen, 2014)(Swaen & Driessen, 2014, p. 4)(Swaen & Driessen, 2014, p. 4)
3, 4 o 5 authors(Swaen, Driessen, & Van Laak, 2014)(Swaen et al., 2014)(Swaen, Driessen, & Van Laak, 2014, p. 4)(Swaen et al., 2014, p. 4)
6 or more authors(Swaen et al., 2014)(Swaen et al., 2014)(Swaen et al., 2014, p. 4)(Swaen et al., 2014, p. 4)

* The ‘subsequent citations in the text’ means that with multiple uses of the same source, you write the reference in short form beginning with the second use. See the example with 3, 4 or 5 authors.

Unknown author or publication date

It may happen that you can’t find the author or publication. This is a common problem for internet sources. See these examples of what to do when information is missing.

An organization as the author

It’s also common that instead of a person, the author is listed as an entire organization. An example here is the Royal Bank of Scotland. When this happens, the name of the organization is used as the author.

Layout rules for quoting according to the APA Style

In addition to always specifying the page number for the source reference of a quote, APA also has rules for the layout of the quote. For example, there is a difference between a quote of fewer than 40 words and a quote of 40 words or more.

No page number for the quote

Sources that come from the internet often have no page numbers. If the source does have paragraph numbers, then use the paragraph number instead of the page number. The abbreviation is ‘para.’.

Example: Paragraph instead of a page number
This is also true from the business plan: “making an APA Generator is a lot of work but many students benefit from it” (Swaen, 2014, para. 2).

You will find that with internet sources, there is often no mention of paragraph numbers. If there is a title (heading) for the text, then take the title and count from there to determine the paragraph number from which the quote originates.

Example: Paragraph with a heading instead of a page number
This is also true from the business plan: “making an APA Generator is a lot of work but many students benefit from it” (Swaen, 2014, Conclusion, para. 2).

If the title is very long, then you may also shorten it in your reference.

A source within a source

Using a source that is cited in another source is called an indirect reference. The APA Style requires that you include the indirect source text as well as the actual source.

The location of the repeated sources to multiple paragraphs

If you use the same source multiple times in a paragraph or section, you will have to include the citation each time. However, you can be creative about this. The important thing is to make it clear to the reader that the information comes from a source. See these examples (which include explanations) that show where to place your citation.

Noting sources in the reference list

In addition to citing the source reference directly in the text, the APA Style prescribes that you note the source as a reference in the reference list.

Use the APA Generator

All of these rules and exceptions are automatically applied in our free APA Generator.

Start APA Generator

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Article by Bas Swaen

Bas is co-founder of Scribbr. Bas loves to teach and is an experienced thesis writer. He tries to help students with writing clear and easy to comprehend articles about difficult topics.

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