How to Document Sources Using APA Style

APA style is a citation style used by the social sciences. It stands for the American Psychological Association, which has arranged this method of presentation in publications to be consistent throughout all works.

Citation of works is necessary when composing papers and disserations to avoid possible occurances of plagarism. Plagarism is punishable and considered extremely unethical. By noting where and from whom information was obtained, it proves that the author borrowed information for reference and has given due credit, rather than copied works verbatim and has tried to pass of as his or her own. Plagarism can also occur through close paraphrasing and similar tactics, which are considered unethical as well.

APA style is a paranthetical style, and therefore provides the citation information upfront, rather than through footnotes and the like. This means sources are cited within the paper in parenthesis, so that they are distinguished as the paper is read. APA style also requires specificity to the headlines, punctuation, graph/charts/statistics, and reference page. It is described specifically and is not too difficult to follow.

If writing a work for school, the instructor will typically discuss which type of style he or she prefers, however, when putting a paper or article together for a different source, some people are unsure when to use APA style, and when to use Chicago or MLA. Because APA style is geared towards the social (and behavioral) sciences, and is guided by the American Psychological Association, all social science works should be assumed to use APA. This would include Psychology, Social Work, Anthropology, Philosophy, Sociology, Humanities, and similar fields.

As noted on the UW-Madison’s Writing Center page (, “The APA style calls for three kinds of information to be included in in-text citations. The author’s last name and the work’s date of publication must always appear, and these items must match exactly the corresponding entry in the references list. The third kind of information, the page number, appears only in a citation to a direct quotation.”

Depending on how you are writing your paper, there are different ways in which you can depict this information. For example if you say, Dr. Psychology says that, ” quote “, you only need to place the date of the publication used in parenthesis at the end of the sentence. If you mention the source and the date, then no parenthesis are needed, because you have already listed the required information. On the other hand, if explaining a particular topic, the author, a comma, and then the date of publication must be listed at the end of the sentence in parenthesis.

To site multiple authors, only surnames are necessary, in alphabetical order, followed by the date. If mentioning this source more than once, list the last name of the first-listed author “et al.”, and then the date. The UW-Madison site also states that it differs slightly between 3-5, 5-7, and 8+ authors, however, this typically is what can be used. When there is no author listed, simply the title of the article followed by the date is all that needs to be listed, or if an editor’s name only is provided, then that can be used in place of the author. For electronic sources, exactly how I cited the UW-Madison website is how you would cite a similar source. You mention the name of the source, and then put the URL in parenthesis.

The Long Island University website has a great color-coded page of examples for each possible circumstance when citing information: , to see these explanations in action.

What’s more, there are other technicalities to look out for when using the APA style. For example, it is necessary to avoid using passive verbs, where action is being done to the subject; rather, the subject should be doing the action. I wrote the article is better than the article was written by me.

Sexual bias also needs to be avoided, as well as racial/ethnic and disability bias. The APA style website ( discusses these topics in depth. For example, the site states that disabilities refer to what is in ailment of the person, whereas handicap refers to what is preventing them from a particular function. As for avoiding sexual bias, one should stray from using solely male pronouns, and if gramatically correct, defer to using “one”, “others”, or “they”; however, it is not gramatically correct to do so in certain circumstances, and “he or she” would be preferential.
As for racial and ethnic bias, listing as many descriptors as possible is preferred, as association or origin, etc., when referring to human samples in a study. Also, as this site states, “people” or “nation” is preferred terminology to “tribe”. Furthermore, using descriptors in regards to discussing minorities, it is in bad form to add terms that appear as qualifiers or exceptions to the rule.

Finally, when putting it all together, standard paper size and format, with one inch margins and double spacing is required for APA style. As the Owl at Purdue page states (, “Your final essay should include… as many of the following sections as are applicable, each of which should begin on a separate page.”
The page number must be on every page on the upper-right-hand corner, starting with the title or cover page. There must be a title page, with the title centered, in the middle of the page, with your name and organization or school/class subsequently and double spaced. Sometimes a running head is required, but most often just a page number is sufficient. Some papers might also require an abstract, which is a 75-100 word overview of the paper or experiment.
For visuals (charts, graphs, etc.), “Figure 1”, with subsequent numbers following for multiple visuals, must be listed above and to the left, with the source noted below.

There are other intricacies to APA style, and it could possibly get quite confusing, however citing properly and following the general format for the layout of APA style papers is a good way to start. Using active speech and maintaining equality in word choices is always in good taste, and should err on the side of falling into APA style as well. The APA style website and most college writing center sites are extremely helpful for examples of layout and form.

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