Main rules for citing according to the APA citation style

The APA Citation Style says you should cite each source you use in both the text and the reference list – but this is done in different ways.

Why cite your sources?

You should note the sources you consult in your paper so that readers can identify and look at them. It’s also important to both give the authors of the source their due honor and avoid plagiarism.

Before using a source, always evaluate if the information provided is accurate and true. A good tool to use for this is the CRAAP test.

The main rule of APA

Every time you use a source, you should both cite it directly in the relevant sentence or paragraph using an in-text citation and include it the reference list (which is also called a source list or literature list).

The reference list is usually at the very end of your document but just before the appendix.

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In short

Cite source directly in the text and List source in the reference list

Examples

What does this look like? Below is an example (the source is marked in yellow).

Reference in the text – Method 1

Attitude is one of the primary concepts of consumer behavior. Attitude can best be described as a learned manner of reacting positively or negatively regarding a certain object, thought or behavior (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975).

Reference in the text – Method 2

Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) concluded that attitude can best be described as a learned manner of reacting positively or negatively regarding a certain object, thought or behavior.

Reference in the text – Method 3

Fishbein and Ajzen concluded in 1975 that attitude can best be described as a learned manner of reacting positively or negatively regarding a certain object, thought or behavior.

Source in the reference list

Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, attitude, intention, and behavior: An introduction to theory and research. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.

Citing a source with multiple authors

In the examples above we cited a source with two authors (Fishbein and Ajzen). Some sources have three, four or even ten authors. Depending on the number of authors the rules are slightly different. Read this guide about in-text citations with multiple authors.

The rules of notation

The main rule is always the same: cite each source you have consulted directly in the text and include it the reference list.

However, the rules for different sources are all slightly different. For instance, book titles should be put in italics, as shown in the example above. The rules related to citing different sources are collectively known as the citation style.

Check out more APA examples

Exceptions to the main rule

Just to make things more interesting, the APA Style has many exceptions. One of them is that you don’t need to include a source in the reference list if the reader is not able to look it up (such as a private Facebook page that the reader can’t access).

You can solve this problem by treating the source as one of the following:

Plagiarism

If you don’t cite your sources in the correct way, you are committing plagiarism. There are many types of plagiarism such as self-plagiarism (plagiarising yourself), patchwork plagiarism and more. Committing plagiarism can have serious consequences, so do your best to avoid plagiarism.

If you want to know if your paper contains plagiarism you can use the Scribbr Plagiarism Checker powered by Turnitin’s Originality Check

Learn more on APA citation rules

Now that you have an overview of the APA citation style, it is important that you understand how to handle each type of source. In the following two articles, we further explain the basic principles:

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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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